a19 May 2011

Tutorial: Fire photography made easy

For many, fire is one of the most difficult subjects to shoot. It's very dynamic and unpredictable - changes colour and shape every single second (much faster in fact). All this makes it very hard to take good photo of it. At the same time it's very fascinating, can help in creating very artistic and abstract works. In this short tutorial I will try to give some simple tips on how to take a good fire shot.


  1. Shoot in Manual Mode - getting the right exposure for the fire might be difficult at first (as it's very bright and can easily fool camera's sensors). Before shooting anything serious I usually take a few test photos to get the best exposure. Another reason for shooting in Manual is that you have to both control the amount of detail in the flames (and this you can do by changing Shutter Speed) and depth of field for which you need to set Aperture.
  2. Use fast Shutter Speed - in most cases I shoot using Shutter Speeds of 1/320 - 1/1250 or even faster. That fast Shutter Speeds reveal amazing details in the flames and produce images we are not really used to (making them more interesting and abstract). The slower the shutter speed the more blurry and smooth the flames become (sometimes you may want it so you might try to use 1/200, 1/100 or even slower in such a case). Another benefit of shooting using that fast Shutter Speeds is that you will be able to handhold most of the photos even in quite dark environments.
  3. Magical fire
  4. Fire looks best on black - when photographing fire make sure the background is dark. The closer to black the more powerful your photo will become. It will create fantastic contrast (orange, reds and yellows look best on black). It's rather easy to achieve if you shoot using fast shutter speed as recommended in #2.
  5. Use longer zooms - one of the problems with shooting fire is that when you get very close to it, it really gets hot after a while. I remember myself shooting with short 50 mm prime lens. Although the images turned out to be very good I had to make short breaks every few shots because I couldn't stand the warmth of the fire for a long time. Also that high temperatures aren't good for your camera. So it's better to zoom in and stay at some distance - it's better both for you and your gear.
  6. Look for detail and textures - fire doesn't exist on its own. Something have to burn to make it exist. So focusing on this something is sometimes a good idea. You can try using shallow Depth of Field to emphasize it.
  7. As hot as fire
  8. Look how the fire changes - fire is changing all the time. You can create inferno like images when shooting fire just after it started to burn. You can get some amazing tones of reds when fire is dying out (take a look at the image to the right).
  9. Take many photos - to get really good fire photo you have to take a series of pictures (as fire is very very unpredictable). Of them a few will probably be good. As usually try different angles, focal lenghts, different depth of field etc. Focus on something different.
I hope it helps a little bit.

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