Thursday, October 6, 2022

Photographing fire dancers - The fun and the challenge!

A couple of weeks back I photographed a really fun event that culminated with a group of fire dancers putting on a show along the edge of a small lake. I was only told about the surprise about 30 minutes before the show, but this gave me just enough time to think about how I would capture this unique show. 

The first thing I did was to ask the fire dancers when the show would start. They said that they were ready to go, and as I watched the blue hour fading away, I encouraged them to start right on time. 


At first, I thought that I might be better off using a flash (with the power turned down), but after taking a couple of photos, I did not like the images I was capturing. They looked too "flashed". 

I figured that the best way to capture the fire dancers would be with a slow shutter speed, and since I had very little ambient light to work with, and I really didn't want to crank my ISO to some crazy level, my shutter speed was slow regardless. I started with my Canon R3 (with the RF15-35mm lens) at ISO 800 and a shutter speed of 1/10th of a second. 


I shot a lot of images knowing that any large movement by them or me would result in a poor image. 


I tried to take the most photos when the dancer's face was still, so that I could get their face and eyes sharp, while having motion in the fire. As it continued to get darker, I increased my ISO to 3200, and still only had a shutter speed of 1/20th sec.


This is one of my favorite images, because I love the reaction of the kids reaching out towards the fire. The smiles and excitement on their faces is priceless.


Once again, I was waiting for the dancer to stay still while twirling the fire.



Because of the slow shutter speed, I was getting really nice motion in the fire.


I should mention that each of these photos have been retouched in Photoshop. I did not do too much to them, but decreased the highlights (so that the fire was not too white), and increased the shadows (so that you can see the people and blue sky better).


The closer the dancer and flames were to me, the more light I had, therefore getting a slightly faster shutter speed. This photo was taken at 1/50th of a second with the same ISO 3200 and f/2.8 settings. 



Just like when I photograph sports, I look for the peak of action and the best reactions. 


This woman was putting the flames in her mouth and the intensity on the kid's faces says it all.


This guy was spinning the flames and I saw that his body was subtly lit by the flames. I waited for him to hold the one flame in front of him to rim light his face and fired away.


Towards the end of their performance, they came out and danced in a group. I debated my choice of lenses before the show started, but having the RF15-35mm wide angle zoom lens proved to be the perfect choice for this show.


As the show was wrapping up, I did get up and move closer to the dancers.


I also moved from my original spot (I was sitting right in front with the crowd) to get shots of the dancers and the party guests, who were thoroughly enjoying the performance. 


The show started at 7:40pm, and as you can see, by the time this photo was taken at 8pm, the blue hour was over and I only had darkness in the background. 


Assuming that I already had some nice photos captured, I decided to experiment and lower the ISO to 1250, shooting some images at 1/2 sec to get even more motion blur. The face of the dancer is not as clear, but I do like the movement of the fire.


The dancers came out for an encore, so I quickly switched back to ISO 3200 to capture the last images.


Half way through the show, this guy did a quick movement of the baton and the flames exploded from each end. The kids went wild.  I did not get great shots of that. But he told me that he was going to do it again. This time I was ready for it, and bam! 


The show ended and I went over and showed the dancers some of the images on the back of the Canon R3. They loved them. I was happy to share these images with them as well.

As I always say, I love capturing new things!

Thanks to everyone at Pyrophoria Fire Troupe for the entertainment and challenge!

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