A screenshot of an email I received, asking if I would host an infographic. It’s a valid strategy used in order to boost SEO via building backlinks . By the way, clicking the screenshot takes you to my main web-page because using internal links with relevant anchor-text is another boost to SEO…
Your email request for a backlink will get immediately deleted and probably made fun of here
Hi <generic person>,
Thanks for reaching out via email, but for a variety of reasons, no thank you:
You reached out to an email address specifically used to request licensing images of mine rather than made any effort to find a more appropriate email address, contact link, or social media account which shows laziness and a shot-gun approach. I’m sure it works, just like most spam, if your outreach volume is big enough.
You didn’t even bother using my name in your greeting. IT IS PLASTERED ALL OVER MY PAGE.
You clearly have an interest in gaining a back link, spreading some sort of brand awareness, or social marketing yet not a single mention about what may be of benefit to me for hosting your infographic.
Q – How do you photograph fire performers like a solder?
A – Learn US Army Basic Rifle Marksmanship
In Part One of this series of blog posts on How to Photograph Fire Performers, we covered how three compositional and conceptual elements help photojournalists and sports photographers create powerful images by depicting the human being, interacting with an object and struggling against adversity. In Part Two, we looked at always getting consent and “Safety Third” because fire-performers are not props, they are people. There is nothing wrong with actually working with them, and the other people around them — photography becomes a dance, as a result.
Which brings us to this post. You’ve now got the consent of the venue/promoter to photograph on location, and consent of the performer(s) to take pics of them from within the safety circle doing some really cool things with fire during a free-form performance, you’ve even asked if it is okay to use flash during some shots, and everyone is cool with it, and you’ve grabbed yourself a great spot, but holy hell, they move fast! How are you supposed to take a good shot if they’re constantly moving?
You can either wait until they line back up, at some point, with you and your position or you can say screw waiting and begin moving with them. You can be a passive marksman, or a kinetic shooter. Both have their advantages, and disadvantages.
Steady Position – Your stance, grip, body position, orientation, all combine to give a relaxed and steady platform to shoot from.
Proper Aim – You’re looking down the barrel, through your sights, to your target and your sight picture is consistent.
Breath Control – Your breathing is relaxed and steady, not elevated and erratic.
Trigger Squeeze – You aren’t pulling the trigger, you’re gently squeezing it, so that the act of actuating the trigger itself does not throw off your aim.
What does any of this have to do with shooting a camera?
When you’re a dark environment, using much slower shutter speeds and relying longer focal lengths can all combine to cause any minor unsteady movement by the camera to be greatly magnified which will increase motion blur. Add to that the use of much wider apertures (with the right lenses, you’ll be between 2.8 all the way to 1.4 and fiddling with ISO in order to raise those shutter speeds faster) and your depth of field gets razorthin.
In my experience, shooting a camera is no different from shooting a rifle and the basics of hitting a target are no different than getting a sharper, well composed photograph:
Steady Position – Hold the camera with both hands, one on the camera body and the other steadying the lens and acting as the support for the camera, lens and possibly an external flash.
Proper Aim– Look through the viewfinder, held to your dominant eye, pulled in lightly against your face for additional steadying. I shoot with both eyes open. It helps greatly with my situational awareness as I am weaving in and among active fire performers.
Breath Control – Steady breathing helps to lower your heartbeat, and muscles to relax, reducing a tense/anxious grip, and camera sway as a result.
Trigger Squeeze – I keep my finger lightly on the shutter release button, half-pressing to lock focus, and re half-pressing to re-lock focus (I tend to shoot in single focus mode, rather than servo focus, preferring to control autofocus myself). When I actually release the shutter to take a photo, it’s a matter of a very light twitch. When the camera fires, I do not fully remove my finger from the shutter button. I reduce pressure until the internal spring resets — you can feel it reset, it’s subtle — it me to helps take follow up shots quickly, with the same focus.
Continuing with the idea of tacti-cool photography, in the next post on fire performer photography tips, we’ll look the pros and cons of Passive Shooting, Kinetic Shooting, and how Shoot-Move-and-Communicate helps you not trip up multiple performers, accidentally block the fire safety, or step on people in the audience. In other words, “Safety Third.”
Q – How do you photograph fire performers without killing yourself and everyone around you?
A – Learn about “Safety Third” and “Consent Always.”
RECAP OF PART ONE
In the first part of How To Photograph Fire Performers and Flow Artists, we started with a very broad level topic and looked at how to improve your fire performer photography by trying to see through the lens as a photojournalist. Those elements involved capturing the effort made by a human being with something against adversity. As a sports photojournalist, that “something” is usually a ball, puck, shuttlecock, a javelin, their fists, or even themselves. As a fire-performer, that “something” is their prop: poi, dragon staff, fire fans, hula hoop, sword, scythe, or whatever else has been modified with appropriate wicking.
I’ll start by going out on a limb here. Camera settings, and the the type of camera, at this stage are mostly irrelevant. The most important element to be aware of, at all times, is not the flames, not all the cool tricks, flashy tech, the fire trails, burn offs, and dragon breaths. When photographing a fire performer, it is not the fire that matters. It’s the performer.
In this next segment we’ll touch upon three things that will, hopefully, help keep your awareness squarely on the fire-performer where it belongs. We’ll look at safety third, and how to help them maintain safety third via consent.
No, seriously. Safety Third.
Everyone is familiar with the idea of safety first. Protect yourself because your life and safety are your responsibility, so always do things with your safety in mind. That mindset is obsolete once other people are involved.
Performers, artists, photographers, contractors, and business operators use a slightly different set of safety protocols because of liability reasons. In the multiple layers of liability involved, your safety must not come first. It is third. Your duty to protect always lies, in order, with:
As a photographer trying to take good pictures of fire spinners, how does safety third apply to you?
The Audience. Don’t kill anyone, remember? You are part of their Safety First layer and they are part of your Safety First layer.
The Venue. Don’t burn the fucking place to the ground. Don’t interfere with the performance. Don’t knock shit over. Don’t risk bumping into the performers.
Yourself. Don’t Die. Don’t get high. Don’t get drunk. Don’t be like The Naked Guy, above, and take too much 2C-I.
Your equipment. Better to drop a lens than trip onto a performer. Better to fall on to your camera than knock fuel everywhere. Equipment can be replaced. People can’t.
How do you help each other to maintain each other’s Safety Third? You start with realizing that you and the performer(s) are both now a part of a dance together. How do you properly begin any dance? You ask for consent from everyone.
While most fire performances are outdoors, some are indoors. Unless you are clearly on any publicly owned way, you are most likely on private property, even if it is at an outdoor space. Photography of any public event, any person in a public way, and any person reasonably visible from a public location does not require consent to photograph as there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
That does not matter.
How many problems are caused by photographers who do not gain consent? From paparazzi to sexual predators, photographers already have questionable reputations in some people’s perception. You can help change that perception with three simple words: always get consent.
bUt AdRiAn WuT iF tHe VeNuE SeZ PeOpLe aRe Ok WiTh PiCtUrEs So I dOn’T HAVE tO AsK tHeRe pErMiSSiOn?
It does not matter.
From the venue, from the performers, from anyone you point your camera towards to photograph. There is really nothing more I need to write about on the topic.
Think about this: is it really that difficult to ask for permission, or are you just lazy, entitled, and possibly predatory? Always. Get. Consent.
Coming up, I’ll start giving my favorite tips and techniques on how to take better photos of fire performers. Have you ever fired a rifle before? It helps.
Q – Hi Adrian! If you could give just one tip on how to photograph fire performers, what would it be?
A – Learn photojournalism and sports photography
What makes a photo amazing?
As photojournalists, we are taught that powerful images revolve around the human element and their struggle within the environment around them. In those images, the human expends energy to overcome an obstacle. Success or failure is is irrelevant — what matters is the emotion captured in that moment.
So, in photojournalism, what makes a great photo? It takes just three simple elements:
Effort – A human being struggling
With Something – A ball, a baby, a partner, an animal, themselves, whatever
Against Adversity – An opponent, a sidewalk, rain, Donald Trump, racism, you get the idea
In the case of a great sports photograph, the most memorable images capture, in an single instant, a three-way marriage of:
The athlete’s EFFORT
WITH SOMETHING (typically, a ball)
While “overcoming ADVERSITY”
In the example photograph, those elements are demonstrated by the combination of the basketball player taking a shot for Amherst High School, off-balance, while nearly triple-teamed as her teammate and the crowd behind her anxiously watches. The photograph also leaves you with potential unanswered questions:
Does her effort achieve the implied goal by making the basket or does she miss? (Nailed it)
Did her team’s effort achieve a win or loss? (They won)
Finally, images from both the winning and losing side(s) help to frame the story. To hijack something the narrator for “Wide World of Sports” once described, the best images capture “…the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
Conceptually, there is absolutely no difference in elements when photographing fire-performers in action than when photographing a basketball player. A powerful photograph is created, in an instant, when the performer is caught in a three-way dance combining:
The performer’s EFFORT
WITH SOMETHING (their prop)
in the face of ADVERSITY (the inherent danger, performance failure, a photographer getting too close, heckling crowd, etc)
In the case of this photograph, those elements are depicted in the effort it takes for Julie to:
Spin a prop on fire
Maintain balance, and composure, while in an unnatural position in the dead of winter
What are some possible unanswered questions that you could consider as a result of Julie’s photo?
Finally, what about the three-way challenge that exists when a photographer:
WITH SOMETHING (their gear)
against ADVERSITY (their own level of experience, technical limitations, environmental challenges, performers, other people, etc)?
Finally, photojournalists thrive in chaotic environments through a near psychic ability to use their equipment under difficult conditions. Flames don’t ignite, your camera settings are way off, batteries die, lens focusing motors fail, and people get in your way.
Shit happens. So what?
What matters is nailing the shot.
Here’s some questions to think about before your next photography event:
How quickly can you adjust settings without looking away from the viewfinder?
How many batteries do you have charged and ready to go?
Do you know where they are?
If, for some incredibly irresponsible reason, you decided to partake in intoxicants at a weekend festival, could you still use your camera through sheer muscle memory?
Have you ever heard of the concept of “Safety Third?”
Embracing it can separate you from the rest of the photographers hovering around the fire performer‘s circle.