The Heat Was On at Locust Beach: Tips for Photographing Fire Dancing


And the performers were enlightening!!! Fire performance artists entertained over 200 people during the evening of July 17th. As the Sun set, spectators flowed from the trail to the beach inundating a normally quiet park.

Locust Beach is the one park I like to go to that is close to town, but not well visited. There’s limited parking and a good 1/4 to 1/2 mile hike down to the beach. It’s rocky with no facilities. But super nice to get away from it all within town.

Throwin’ Flames

Lindsay McFinland of Bellingham spits a fireball into the sky while performing during sunset at Locust Beach on Sunday evening July 17, 2016, in Bellingham, Wash. A group of artists are attempting to make the third Sunday of each month a meeting time to perform at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

Lindsay McFinland of Bellingham spits a fireball into the sky while performing during sunset at Locust Beach on Sunday evening July 17, 2016, in Bellingham, Wash. A group of artists are attempting to make the third Sunday of each month a meeting time to perform at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

Photographing fire performers is rather easy if you are well prepared. The key it to balance the flames with the ambient light, and using a strobe to stop a certain point of the action.

Here’s my equipment for photographing this kind of event:

  1. A Sturdy Tripod with an easily adjustable head. I use a Manfrotto 055 tripod with the 327 ball head.
  2. Remote shutter release
  3. Portable flash (Nikon SB-910)
  4. Phottix Odin radio triggers for flash
  5. Attention: PAY A LOT!!!

Spin Out!!!

Matt Coble of Seattle begins his performance. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

Matt Coble of Seattle begins his performance. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

SAFETY FIRST!!! Make sure you are out of the direction of the spinning flames. The wicks the performers use throw off drops of burning kerosene. So pay attention to where the spinning will occur. During the event, one performer failed to “spin dry” the wicks so he was throwing fire drops into the crowd.

Surrounded!!!

Nika Roberts of Bellingham performs during sunset at Locust Beach on Sunday evening July 17, 2016, in Bellingham, Wash. A group of artists are attempting to make the third Sunday of each month a meeting time to perform at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

Nika Roberts of Bellingham performs during sunset at Locust Beach on Sunday evening July 17, 2016, in Bellingham, Wash. A group of artists are attempting to make the third Sunday of each month a meeting time to perform at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

Introduce Yourself to the performers. Don’t be shy and just shoot. But talk with them, ask questions, find out why they do it, find out some of their routines, get to know them. Not only will this make you feel more comfortable, but it will also make the performers more comfortable.

LED Madness!!!

Dan Stuen uses LEDs while performing during sunset at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

Dan Stuen uses LEDs while performing during sunset at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

I was looking for a position that would let me show the crowds watching the fire spinning as well as the performers. So I backed up against the cliff side, sat down, mounted my camera, w/wide-angle lens, on my tripod, made  a few test exposures to get good exposure on sky. When the first performer came out, I was reasonably ready. For white balance, I kept it on “auto,” but during post-processing, I noticed that the “daylight” setting in Photoshop gave a more natural color to the flame.

Starting Spinner

Dan Stuen begins his performance during sunset at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

Dan Stuen begins his performance during sunset at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

Choose a shutter/aperture combo that gives you a one or two stop under exposure for the sky. With that, set your flash on manual mode and set the power on the flash for the aperture you set and distance to the subject. This will give you the opportunity to stop the performer at some point in their performance.

Close Up

Matt Coble of Seattle performs during sunset at Locust Beach on Sunday evening July 17, 2016, in Bellingham, Wash. A group of artists are atttempting to make the third Sunday of each month a meeting time to perform at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

Matt Coble of Seattle performs during sunset at Locust Beach on Sunday evening July 17, 2016, in Bellingham, Wash. A group of artists are attempting to make the third Sunday of each month a meeting time to perform at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

For example: while shooting, I was testing the exposure for both the ambient light, the flames, and the flash. I adjusted my flash for the aperture I was using, adjusted the aperture for the flame, adjusted the shutter speed for the ambient light. So, I set my aperture to capture the flames well, then adjusted the shutter speed for the ambient light, then adjusted my flash output.

All Up in Those Flames

Matt Coble of Seattle performs during sunset at Locust Beach on Sunday evening July 17, 2016, in Bellingham, Wash. A group of artists are atttempting to make the third Sunday of each month a meeting time to perform at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

Matt Coble of Seattle performs during sunset at Locust Beach. (© Paul Conrad/Paul Conrad Photography)

For the flash, as the shutter was open, I watched and when the performer either looked towards me or to the side I manually fired the strobe. I also fired the strobe when the performer was facing away from me as the above photo. It will take a lot of trial and error to get a few images.

The flames will be bigger and brighter at the beginning of the routine. You’ll have better luck getting good flames while the wicks are still saturated in fuel.

The biggest tip I can give you is this: HAVE FUN!!! Don’t get stressed if you don’t get anything good. Enjoy the show and just have fun.

To view more photos of fire dancing, visit the page Fire Spinning at Locust Beach.

To see more of my editorial work, visit the galleries at My Work for the Bellingham Herald.

Thank you for stopping by to read and view my work. Feel free to comment, critique, or just ask questions.

Also, feel free to share and reblog, link to, and add your site in the comment section. Don’t forget to sign up for updates so you don’t miss on other postings with tips and tricks to improve your photography.

Paul “pablo” Conrad

Follow me on these various Social Networks:

  1. Instagram: @PaulConradPhotography
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Paul Conrad is an award-winning photographer living in Bellingham north of Seattle, WA, in the Pacific Northwest. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and in Europe. He is available for assignments anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Although his specialty is photojournalism covering news, sports, and editorial portraits, he also is skilled in family portraiture, high school senior portraits, and weddings.

His clients include Getty Images, Wire Image, AirBnB, The Bellingham Herald, and many local business in Whatcom County. Previous clients are Associated Press, the New York Times, L.A. Times, Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, and many others.

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