Behold my third attempt at photographing the fire staff in action - Inspired by another photographer I'd seen do something similar a while ago. I'm lucky to have a beautiful and patient fire staff girlfriend artist at my disposal, it's meant plenty of opportunities to try and get this complicated shot right. Click through for a few other images and an explanation for all you number nerds.
Put simply this photograph is a single long exposure in the dark that captures the fire and a quick flash at the beginning or end of the exposure to freeze the subject. In practise it's a little trickier, I've been asked how to do this shot a few times in the past and have given a more detailed and technical explanation below.
Head garment by 'Each Piece Unique'The most difficult part of this shot is balancing the flash with the flames from the fire staff. You have to determine an exposure on the flames that gives you zero ambient light and then adjust your flash to match whilst remembering to keep the flash durations as fast as possible (i.e less power) to freeze the action. One of the problems is that the flames' intesity (and exposure) changes continuously from initially being lit to burning out. I also noticed that they brighten up once they start spinning, presumably fuelled with the oxygen rushing around. After a lot of testing I decided that a 3 second exposure gave me the best look and number of spins with the fire staff, any more and you quickly end up mith a mess of fire / any less and it looks incomplete. The other thing to watch for is the flames lighting up the subject and causing movement blur, you don't want that.
I waited untill roughly 2 hours before it got dark and used an 8 stop ND Filter on the front of the lens to kill what little ambient light there was. This meant I physically could see what I was doing whilst the camera's sensor reads that it is effectively shooting in the dark. You can do this at night with no ND filter, it just means you need a torch and need to watch out for terrorist light-stand/tripod legs trying to break your neck. The key here is no ambient light.
With an 8 stop ND filter on a 50mm I was usually shooting at f/9 with a 3 second exposure using a tripod. If using rear curtain sync -It's important to mark the ground so the subject doesn't stray too far from the position you have prefocused to. As you can see from the pics I didn't use rear curtain sync (I wanted the flames in front). Shutter dropped from 3 secs to 1/60s. Hear wear - Each Piece Unique