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How to Photograph Fire Twirlers

IMG_9726If you’ve not tried it before, photographing Fire Twirlers, Fire Breathers and other types of fire performers can be a little tricky.  For maximum effect, most performances of this type are done in low light (if not completely dark) areas so apart form anything else, you need to be fairly comfortable with your camera’s layout and how to change settings without too much fiddling about.

Like most things photographic, there is no  “definitive setting” that must be used to take these types of photos – as the specific situation, and the type of effect you are trying to achieve will vary… but this post provides a guide to some of the basic settings you should start out with – and gives some ideas about things you could try to change the effect.

Low Light Photography Fundamentals

As this is a low light situation, it is most likely that you will use longer shutter speeds so stability is critical (hand holding is not really ideal for anything less than than 1/50th of a second).  The following basics are suggested for low light photography :

  • A sturdy tripod is highly recommended (alth0uhg you could probably manage with a stable surface, such as a table or backpack at a pinch).
  • A remote trigger or cable release, although a shutter delay can be used if you don’t have a remote trigger
  • Manual Focus – in low light auto focus tends to be unreliable
  • Turn OFF image Stablilisation – you should do this any time you use a tripod as it can actually introduce movement
  • As low an ISO as possible – I suggest starting at ISO 100 and only increasing it if necessary to reduce shutter speeds
  • A fairly large (narrow) Aperture – I suggest F8 or higher as this will give a decent depth of field (allowing you to focus over a wider area) and show more flame
    detail – as opposed to flame trails (unless of course this is the effect you are after).

Experimenting with Settings

IMG_9747Once you have the basics (above) setup, take some trial shots and adjust some of the settings outlined below to create the effect you are trying to achieve

  • Location – check the background and try to minimise other light sources… Street lights, Cars and other lights can be a distraction and ruin the shot.  Try to locate yourself somewhere where the background is as dark as possible.
  • Shutter Speed – Long shutter speeds (5 secs +) can produce interesting effects , but can be very cluttered and busy.  You will probably find that shorter shutter speeds (1-3 secs) may  be best, although this will depend on the effect you are after and the type of fire performance.
  • Aperture – decreasing (widening) the aperture will decrease the depth of field, making it harder to have the whole performance in focus (particularly if the twirler is moving around), but increasing (narrowing) the aperture will require longer shutter speeds or higher ISOs.
  • White Balance – Daylight balance is probably best to start off with as it will give you a warm looking result, but you can try experimenting with this for different effects – Cloudy and Shade settings will warm it up, whereas Tungsten and Flourescent will  create a bluer (colder) effect.
  • ISO – Don’t increase your ISO too much. Most long exposures (especially at night) will produce a lot of noise using higher ISOs.  If you want to decrease the shutter speed or freeze the motion, increasing ISO is an option though.

What about Flash ?

If the focus of your photo is to be the flame itself then you wouldn’t consider using flash. However, if you want the performer to be a feature, you may like to consider flash to highlight and freeze the motion.

Without using flash, the performer will be blurred and/or ghosted.  To bring the performer into focus you may like to try using a a slow shutter speed to capture the environment and a flash strobe to freeze the performer. This will give you the benefit of capturing your fire trails with a sense of movement and fluidity, while also having your fire spinner in sharp focus.

For fire trails, a flash technique worth trying is rear (or 2nd) curtain sync – this means that the flash fires at the end of the exposure and when doing long exposures is a good way to get fire trails and still freeze the performer.  (Check your camera to see how to setup 2nd Curtain sync).

Note that direct on-camera flash can be cold and flattening – a side strobe light or off-camera flash could be ideal to add drama and depth to your image.
It can be a delicate balance to find the right settings to create good fire trail photos – each situation will be different depending on available light and how fast the performers are moving. However, following the steps in this guide (and experimenting) should provide you with  a good basis for creating interesting and impressive photos of fire.

Headshot Tips – Getting the Jaw Right

Peter Hurley - NY Headshot Photographer

Although it may initially feel a little strange to the model, bringing their chin forward and down (or moving their forehead towards the camera) will usually dramatically improve the quality of the photo.

World renowned portrait photographer, Peter Hurley is  based in NYC and specializes in Actor’s Headshots, Fashion, Beauty, Corporate and Commercial portraiture.

In this video Peter highlights one of the fundamentals of a great headshot – getting the Jaw right.

Peter Hurley on Actors Headshots

Peter Hurley - NY Headshot PhotographerPeter Hurley, a world renowned portrait photographer based in NYC specializes in Actor’s Headshots, Fashion, Beauty, Corporate and Commercial portraiture.

In this video Peter expresses his philosophy of getting a great headshot, including:

  • how to choose a headshot photographer
  • what to wear during your shoot
  • and things you should know to prepare for your headshot session.

Here are some of Peter’s top tips :

  1. Choose a photographer who’s work you love
  2. Meet the photographer and make sure you like them (you have a rapport)
  3. Be prepared to listen and accept advice and suggestions
  4. Prepare for the shoot and make sure you are happy with your look (if not, DON’T do the shoot)
  5. Wear something that you LOVE
  6. Be expressive – don’t  be vanilla, but do be yourself
  7. Use your imagination and Have Fun !!


Why Use a Model Release ?

There is often confusion about model release forms, and new models are sometimes concerned about signing them.  This post attempts to provide a brief outline of what model releases are, who they protect, and when they should be used.

What is a Model release ?

model releaseA model release is a legal document that gives a photographer permission to use a model’s likeness to create and sell content covered by the release. It will often also state that the model will not be further compensated beyond what is agreed on at the time of the shoot.

Who does the Model release Protect?

Model releases help protect the photographer, the model, the agency (if any) and anyone else who may buy or uses the image in the future.  With the proper paperwork, everyone knows what to expect from each other, and should any disagreements arise later on, this document can be the deciding factor.

When To Use a Model Release?

The short answer is, that a photographer should really get a signed model release any time they take a photo of a person.  Even under circumstances (see below) when it may  NOT seem necessary, sometimes situations change.

When is a Model Release Not required ?

  • If you are only using the images for personal or editorial use then you don’t need to get a release. However if at some stage you would like to license your work for a commercial purposes, then the publisher will require a release form.
  • If you can’t identify the model or property then you don’t need a release form. However, identifying a person in an image does not just come down to their face being visible, there are plenty of other factors that can allow a person to be identified (e.g. scars, birth marks, tattoos, silhouettes, etc…).
  • If you take photos in a public place, you will probably not need a release – in most countries the law state that you give up your right to privacy in public places, however this does not automatically mean that you can take photos of people in public and sell the images.

When is a Model Release Necessary ?

  • If a person is in any way identifiable in your image, you’ll need to get a signed model release.  Ask yourself: Could someone, other than the model himself/herself, recognize the person in this photo?  – If you’re leaning towards a yes, regardless of how much or little of that person is shown, you should get a model release.
  • Even if a model is not identifiable at all but is nude or even partially nude then you should get a release.
  • If you plan to submit photos to a stock library,  every image with an identifiable person requires a model release. This includes; the deceased, self-portraits (i.e. yourself), children (minors), movie stars, political leaders, anyone…

Can I use digital model releases?

A digital model release is usually acceptable and most of the main stock photo services accept digital model releases from the following approved iPhone, iPad, and Android applications:


If there is ANY doubt, it is usually better to get a release than not….It’s always better to do it on the shoot then wishing you did after the fact


What is Time For Print (TFP)

photographerMany photographers will work with models, stylists or makeup artists on a trade basis – providing professional photos for your portfolio instead of paying you in dollars This time for print (tfp) or time for cd (tfcd) is an effective way to gain images to add to your emerging portfolio.

In a TFP / TFCD photo session, you trade your time and talent for the photographer’s time and talent. The photographer gets images for their portfolio and the model gets images for her portfolio. It’s a win-win situation for each of you and a terrific way to add to your model portfolio.

In a TFP shoot, no money changes hands. The model doesn’t get an hourly or session fee, and the photographer doesn’t get an hourly fee, a session fee, or any pay for providing the model with prints and/or digital images (the “CD” part – usually the model gets a CD-R with her image selection burned onto it.) All participants are doing the shoot in hopes of getting good quality images for their portfolios, which they can use for self-promotion to get more, and hopefully paying, work.

What to expect from a TFP shoot:

  1. A professional attitude from the photographer. Even if the photographer is an amateur, or a beginner, that’s no excuse for not treating the model as a valuable contributor to their work.
  2. A reasonable standard of work. TFP is not “second-class” photography and it should be of good quality.
  3. A signed release specifying what the model is to receive as her compensation in the form of prints or digital images. This protects both the photographer and the model by making their rights and obligations clear to each other.