A few weeks ago, I have the fun of photographing a trio of fire dancers for their official company portrait for Everlife Entertainment at sunset. It was a fun, yet challenging, photo session. The three stars were fantastic to work with and am looking forward to another session. Perhaps maybe in the mountains against a star-filled sky?
Trio of Fire
Tettra Hydra, Ignus Amar’e, and Ericka were great to work with. They also belong to the group that put on the show at Locust Beach a few months ago: The Heat was on at Locust Beach – Tips for Photographing Fire Dancing.
The difficulty was not with the performers, it was balancing the three sources of light: ambient sunlight, glow from the fire, and the portable strobe.
We met at Boulevard Park in Bellingham, Wash., at about an hour before sunset. I wanted the beautiful golden hour light for the images. As it was an evening photo session, I had to keep tabs on the light. I constantly measured it to keep the background exposed well while allowing for the motion of the flames.
To keep the fire from overexposure, I used a smaller aperture. This exposed the flames well while providing a long enough exposure to record the motion of the flames. It also helped to keep the background exposed well. So basically, if my ambient reading is 1/250th of a second at f/2.8, then I would stop to f/11 with the reciprocal shutter speed of 1/15th. I also kept my ISO at the lowest setting and my camera on a tripod.
Strike a Pose
To keep them rather sharp, I added in two remotely triggered flashes. I used my Nikon SB-910 speedlights with Phottix Odin radio transceivers. They helped me control my flash output while giving me cordless freedom. Just make sure you have fresh batteries. One of the receivers died 1/2 way through the session and I did not know.
The reason to use manual on your speedlights is simple: Better control of your light. The auto setting can be fooled by the flames, by a car’s headlights in the background, or just simple misread the scene. Manual is easily adjusted to fit your needs. For this session, I had two of equal power on the left and right about 45° from the camera.
The same with your camera: use manual. Control all that is controllable. The only light you can’t control is the flames from the performer’s tools and props. That light will vary depend on how fast they spin, how long it has burned, and level of ambient light.
To view more photos, visit the gallery Everlife Entertainment at Boulevard Park.
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Paul “pablo” Conrad
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Paul Conrad is a Bellingham wedding and portrait photographer living in Bellingham, north of Seattle, WA, in the Pacific Northwest. He has won awards in news photography, features, sports, portraiture, and documentary. 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.