Sunday, 30 September 2012

How to Photograph Fire

A Guest Post by Jon Beard
1/320 f/8 ISO1000 105mm
Fire is an interesting thing. Watch people around a campfire and it’s easy to see the spell it can cast on us. We have such a deep and instinctive relationship with it, there’s no wonder why including flame in a photo can have such an impact. In this write-up I hope to give you some examples, some understanding of how they’re done, and some direction toward creating your own fire shots.

Safety First

1/15 f/16 ISO200 105mm
In the wise words of Frankenstein’s monster, “Fire bad!” The heat and smoke can damage your equipment, the flame can quickly get out of control and burn things you don’t want burned, and most importantly, fire can flat out kill you. Plenty of great fire info can be found at but here are some basic safety tips you should already know (and follow!):
  • Think ahead and plan your shoot from beginning to end.
  • Have a plan for putting the fire out should it get loose.
  • Do not work near anything that you do not want on fire as well.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Be sure you’re working somewhere that if the worst happens, the worst isn’t all that bad.
  • And if the grandmothers in the area where I grew up can be believed: Don’t play with matches or you’ll wet the bed.
Well, folks… Break out the bed liners and a grab a change of clothes because here we go!
You’ll find fire used in three main ways in a photo. It can be the primary subject, an accentuating element, or the primary light source. Typically, you’ll have a combination of the three, but understanding them individually is the best way to start.

Fire as the Subject

With these shots, the main draw and focus is on the flame (or effects of it) and the detail that can be shown within it.
In most cases you’ll want to use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze motion in order to see the detail in the flame. As always, “fast enough” is relative to what you’re shooting, but a good starting point is around 1/250 or faster. As your shutter speeds increase you’ll need to use wider apertures and higher ISOs.
1/2000 f/5.6 ISO2000 105mm
1/250 f/13 ISO400 105mm
Sometimes, the more interesting detail will be in what the fire emits – the path sparks take when leaving a jumping jack or a sparkler, for example. Slower shutter speeds are the key to capturing this kind of photo.
1.6” f/40 ISO100 105mm
38” f/36 ISO100 105mm

Read more:
How to Photograph Fire

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