How To Photograph Fire Performers By Thinking

how to improve photography of fire performers photo bearded man wearing glasses spinning fire poi during backyard party surrounded by fire faeries copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
After reading this blog post, could you figure out what is wrong with this shot?
More importantly, could you explain what would you do differently
1/320″ @ f2.8, ISO 3200, no flash.

Q – What’s a surprisingly good technique I can use to photograph fire performers?

A – Thinking.

In Part One of this series on improving your fire performer photography, we looked at using concepts from photojournalism to keep the focus on the human performer. In Part Two we looked at Always Getting Consent and Safety Third. Fire performers are not props. They’re human. Treat them that way. For Part Three, we looked at Basic Rifle Marksmanship. A camera is no different, conceptually, from a rifle. In Part Four, combat shooting, er, improving photography with Shoot, Move, Communicate. In Part Five, even boredom and creative ruts can be effective photography tools.

Today, we’ll take a fairly high level look at how camera settings interact with each other, and what happens when you don’t fully think through what you’re trying to do. This is not a tutorial on how your camera works.

Generally speaking, shutter speed will control the size of the plume or length of the trail. The longer duration your shutter is open then the flame that gets recorded will be larger. Because light from the flames will also be, in most cases, your key-light, the slower the shutter the more you risk overall motion blur as well.

Aperture and ISO will control exposure. The smaller the aperture, and the lower the ISO, less details will get blown-out to white in the flames and the darker the photo will become at a given shutter speed.

This is, usually, where I see most people stop. Once they record super detail in the flames they feel that they nailed the shot, regardless of how badly they under exposed the photo to actually get there. The flame, and lust to capture “SIIIIICK” texture overrides all other considerations, including the human element.

Think of it this way: Imagine a photograph of, say, Thomas Edison, standing next to a brightly lit light-bulb with his hand holding the lamp, and the exposure on the light-bulb is SO good that you can see all the details of the tungsten coil wire, even as it is glowing yellow-hot. You can also see the texture to the glass bulb, but you can barely see Edison. Sure, you can see his hand holding the lamp but his arm is really dark and maybe, just maybe, you can see a hint of his face, but only if you squint. 

Maybe he is a little brighter in frame but, at best, he looks muddied and muted compared to the bulb, and the details you see in the bulb are so much clearer than than the half smile he has or the texture in his exhausted brow. 

Could you connect, emotionally, with that image?

Photojournalism 101:

For me, the flame is not the subject; the performer is. I’d rather nail the exposure, and action, with the emphasis squarely on the human being manipulating the flame than on any other element in the frame. I want to see the human, the effort made, countered with the inherent element of danger from the flames. The dance, to me, is more important than the costume. When present, the human element will always be the most important factor over anything else because people will visually connect more readily with people in an image. 

dark photo of fire performer spinning fire poi during backyard party how to improve photography of fire performers copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
1.3″ at f10, ISO 400, off-camera flash. Not quite Edison, but the overall effect is the same, even with flash for drama. This is also a case for shooting in RAW. There isn’t much I can do to rescue the image because I shot this one as a JPEG. If I shot the same image with RAW, though the image is dark, there would be enough latitude to regain a relatively useful exposure, but I’d still toss it. Compositionally, it’s horrid.
woman with red hair breathing fire off a torch how to improve photography of fire performers copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
1/160th” @ f5.6, ISO 100, eTTL flash, edited to taste.

Let’s take these concepts a little farther, and I am going to grossly oversimplify things to do it:

The primary effect of altering shutter speeds is the amount of motion that gets recorded. Faster shutter, less motion; slower shutter, more motion. The secondary effect of changing the shutter speed is altering exposure. A given amount of light (via the aperture setting) is dumped onto the camera sensor/film for a particular duration. Faster shutter, darker image; slower shutter, brighter image.

The primary effect of altering aperture is controlling the light for a given shutter speed. The iris of the lens opens more, or less. Wider aperture, brighter image; smaller aperture, darker image. Note: This is just like the pupils of an animal’s eyes in daylight or nighttime. The pupils of certain animals open wider than others. Cat’s pupils open far wider than those of humans. Think of them as having “faster lenses.” The secondary effect of altering aperture is controlling depth-of-field, the zone of focus (acceptable sharpness) from your subject. The wider the aperture, the narrower the zone of sharpness; the narrower the aperture, the wider the zone of sharpness.

ISO’s primary effect is amplifying the signal that is recorded by the sensor. The higher the ISO, the brighter the pixels become. The lower the ISO, the dimmer the pixels are. ISO’s secondary effect is a direct result of the first: everything is amplified, including the noise contained within the signal, especially in darker areas of the image where the camera may or may not have recorded much light data, but still recorded the noise present within that area. The higher the ISO, the brighter the noise becomes; the lower the ISO, the dimmer the noise gets.

Again, for most people, this is good enough. Fiddle with Aperture, Shutter, and ISO, and you’re golden.

What about distance, though? Just like Aperture, Shutter, and ISO, distance can affect the compositional side of the image. It can also have an enormous effect on exposure at the same time. 

Distance, in particular, affects composition and exposure both by what exactly is visible within the frame (and the overall brightness and darkness of the frame as a result) and specifically it affects exposure due to the Inverse Square Law of Light. In the simplest of terms it means the intensity of light gets less as distance increases both from the observer and from the object being illuminated. Light from you is dimmer with distance from you. An illuminated face is dimmer with distance from you. A face is also illuminated more weakly the farther the light source is from it.

Finally, the last factor to consider is focal length. For the purposes of simplicity, more focal length will equal more reach. At a given camera-subject distance a longer focal length will magnify the subject more. When objects are in the frame the distance between them will appear to be much less at higher focal lengths. At wider focal lengths the distance between objects will appear to expand. Focal length will also affect depth of field as well as motion blur. More focal length narrows depth of field and increases motion blur from camera/lens shake. Less focal length deepens depth of field as well as reduces motion blur from camera/lens shake.

Here’s a couple of scenarios to consider:

A photo of Finlay is well exposed and bright because you balanced aperture at f2.8 on a 50mm lens with an ISO of 1600 and set a shutter of1/800th of a second to really freeze motion and bring out some flame texture. He is well exposed and the noise in the image is very low but when you look at it more closely, the closer torch heads are super sharp but his face is ever so slightly out of focus. What happened?

bearded man wearing kilt spinning dragon staff during backyard party how to improve photography of fire performers copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
(Depth of field was too narrow)
1/800″ @ 2.8, ISO 1600, no flash. BTW, a dragon staff puts out a LOT of light.

How about a shot of a Kendra where flame trails are long enough at a 1.3 second exposure to have recorded an interesting spiral pattern, flame textures are reasonable with detail because you waited until most of the fuel burnt off and the flame brightness died down, even at yet still have decent exposure at f5.6 because your ISO was at 800 and you were far but framed tight at about 60mm on a zoom lens and but the she is a fuzzy blob and everything else in the background looks like a wiggly mess?

fire trail photo of poi spinner during backyard party how to improve photography of fire performers copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
At 1.3″ @ f5.6, ISO 800, with flash (someone else’s) the shutter speed was too slow for the exposure difference between Kendra and the background.

How about LED flow props? (Yes, yes, LED poi is not fire performer photography, but the concepts are completely the same. The advantage to LED props is they are much dimmer and their brightness does not change much at all. Lock in exposure and you’re good from the beginning to the end of the performance)

two flow artists spinning led poi in a dark nightclub how to improve photography of fire performers copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
2 second shutter @ f2.8, ISO 800, optically stabilized lens, eTTL.

How would you fix them?

(Mind you there are no right or wrong fixes to these particular scenarios)

For Finlay’s dragon staff photo, you could have been too close for the given aperture and angle, therefore narrowing the depth of field. Only the front most torches at that depth of field would have been in focus. Standing a little farther away or changing to a higher F stop would have increased the depth of field and made the angle somewhat irrelevant since DOF would have encompassed a wider area, but could also affect the exposure. Do you, then, lower shutter speed a little to compensate or reduce ISO? What if you reduce shutter speed it enough that even at 50mm, motion blur gets introduced? What if decide to avoid risking motion blur by changing the shutter speed after changing the aperture to increase depth of field but now your subject is even darker because of the aperture change? You could increase ISO, but that would push noise into obnoxious levels. Also, keep in mind the brightness of the fire prop is always getting lower and lower and that no prop will ever the same exact brightness as before. What about changing your auto-focus setting to AI-Servo and, using backbutton auto focus, prefocusing on the face, thus locking focus away from the torches? The face will be sharper, but not the torches. Would that work?

For Kendra’s photo, you could make a choice: either record trails or freeze motion. If you opt to record trails the only thing you COULD possibly do is freeze motion with flash (a powerful enough flash will freeze motion at a 1 second exposure simply because the duration of the flash can be something along the lines of 1/10000th of a second at low power). Or you could change your priority here, and opt to freeze motion — faster shutter, wider aperture (at 28mm, are you using a kit zoom lens at a max range of F3.5-5.6, another zoom lens with a 2.8-4.0 aperture, or do you have a 35mm lens at 1.4?), and higher ISO. What if F3.5 does not give you a fast enough shutter to freeze motion while keeping a decent exposure on your subject? What if an ISO above 400 is too noisy but you need 1600 at your given shutter and aperture combination to properly expose your image?

As far as the LED poi shot is concerned, using flash is no help when it is poorly bounced around a venue that is primarily black and eTTL is fooled because, well, black absorbs light. Also, optical lens stabilization makes zero difference to a moving subject. The overall exposure is fine; however, the image is awful. No one is sharp, no one is clearly visible. Just a couple of vaguely human shapes surrounded by squiggly lines but hey, siiiiiiiiiiiick patterns, and the room is bright…

What is the point to all of this? A good photograph is composed well and relies on effective use of one or two of these elements and is well supported by the rest, in order to show emotion and connect with the viewer. In order to use these different elements effectively, it takes a strong understanding of what each can do in relation to the others under fast changing conditions, incredibly variable lighting, and very little time to reach. A poor photograph, well composed or not, uses one or two of these elements and ignores the others, while failing to connect with the viewer. 

It’s that simple.

How to Light a Headshot with Speedlights

How to Use Manual Speedlights to Light a Headshot Portrait

red blue and purple headshot portrait of short haired woman copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
Portrait of Hanna Shansky, LMT, using gelled speedlights, to add some color.
corporate styled headshot portrait of short haired woman using grey background copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
Portrait of Hanna Shansky, LMT, corporate friendly, conservative, and simple.

I was hired by my friend Hanna to produce some photography for her massage therapy business in Brookline, MA. We tossed some ideas around for looks, and mutually decided that it would be best and most time-efficient to begin with a somewhat conservative headshot look, suitable for any corporate profile, before getting a little playful and creative with the photography.

I hadn’t seen the inside of her studio before, outside of a couple of smartphone photos that she sent that helped give an idea of color, so I was not certain where exactly we would set up for portraits. Even though her studio space was relatively small, it turned out that her office had a large enough blank wall that I could use as a backdrop for portraits fairly easily.

I didn’t have a light meter with me, so I opted to use my camera’s histogram as a quick and dirty light meter. To the right are the lightest pixels, to the left are the darkest pixels. I also set up a manual flash on a stand and reflected umbrella to camera right (about 45 degrees from where Hanna would stand) and at about a 30-40 degree angle downwards as the key light. I marked a spot on the floor to act as a visual reference I could use to help guide Hanna where to stand, well away from the wall. Distance and angle of light would prevent any shadows from showing up on the wall in the portrait background. 

This first shot shows the straight image off the camera and histogram based on the initial settings I chose. It gives an idea of the wall, and the kind of ambient lighting that was present.

lightroom screenshot dim ambient light Headshot Portrait Photography Session with Hanna Shansky copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
Dim and warm. F5.6, 1/125th, ISO1600.

The next shot shows what happened after I turned on the flash — my initial estimate was fairly mid to low strength, at 1/16th power. Of course, everything is over exposed: note the wall pushed to clipping white (the extreme right of the histogram shows it) while the black jacket is grey-ish (the left of the histogram confirms no black tones/shadows. It does not reach to the edge). At the settings chosen, I wanted to keep the aperture at f5.6, as it’s sharp for portraits on my chosen lens. If I increased the shutter speed, the ambient light would get dimmer but not subject exposure. The way light was hitting, there was zero ambient light registering — it was all wall/jacket subject exposure.

lightroom screenshot over exposed wall and leather jacket Headshot Portrait Photography Session with Hanna Shansky copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
I could have opted to lower my flash power or lower ISO. For the time being I decided to start reducing ISO from 1600 to 800.

In the next shots, take note of the difference the black leather jacket and in the corresponding histogram. The blacks and shadows creep further and further to the left. Drop the ISO more, to 400, and the jacket is mostly black with the histogram nearly fully extended to the left.

At this point, I brought Hanna over to stand at the spot I designated, while I took a test shot or two at F5.6, 1/125th, ISO400, and flash at 1/16th power. Shadows and midtones are good (left and center segments of the histogram) and given the wall color (not white), there isn’t much white to expose for. There is the white thermostat to the left on the wall but it would’t be lit to white anyway, otherwise I’d blow out Hanna. Almost dead on, I’d say. Exposure can be pushed to the right as needed. Noise won’t become a huge factor in the shadows, since Hanna’s shirt has plenty of texture and Canon RAW files can withstand a lot of noise reduction before getting horrid detail loss.

  • Headshot Portrait Photography Session with Hanna Shansky copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
    Test shot at f5.6, 1/125th, ISO400, 1/16th power, single speedlight and umbrella. Note the harsh shadows to Hanna’s face.
  • Headshot Portrait Photography Session with Hanna Shansky copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
    F5.6, 1/125th, ISO400, 1/16th power, single speedlight and umbrella, with white art foam used as a reflector to camera left. Better, but the shadows are still a little harsh for my tastes.
  • Headshot Portrait Photography Session with Hanna Shansky copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
    Shot at f5.6, 1/125th, ISO400, reflected umbrella key light at 1/16th power, shoot through umbrella fill light at 1/32nd power. Bam!

One niggling factor that bothered me was the contrast between the lit side and the shadow side on her face. It was too dark, for me, and for the use I had in mind for her headshots, so I asked the RTMS2000 to hold a make-shift reflector to camera left in order to try and pop some light back towards the shadow side of Hanna’s face. Some difference, but not enough, so I set up a second flash with a shoot-through umbrella to the my 7 o’clock position behind me. Though it would be farther, and therefore a little dimmer, even at the same power setting as the key-flash at 1/16th, I wanted to still have a gentle transition between shadow and light across Hanna’s face, so I reduced the second flash to 1/32nd instead. A quick explanation, demonstration, directing, and tweaking of Hanna’s pose lead to the final shot. Some quick sprinkling of pixie dust in Lightroom, and she has a simple, conservative, headshot for use.

Noting that we still had some time to experiment a little, I incorporated a 3rd flash to about camera 10 o’clock, on a flash stand about waist height and pointing up towards her shoulders, with an impromptu snoot (a Rogue Flashbender worked perfectly!), but with a blue gel. I wanted the splash of color to rake her arms and back as a rim-light. I also bumped the shutter to 1/250th of a second, the maximum sync speed for my camera and flash. I wanted to lower exposure a tad for the background and bring more color out from the gels. By the next shot, I had decided to not use the Flashbender in favor of unmodified light with a relatively wide throw, and after adding a red gel, the third and final shot.

  • Headshot Portrait Photography Session with Hanna Shansky copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
    Same set up and nearly the same settings as photos above, but added a 3rd flash, snooted and blue gelled, as the rim light.
  • Headshot Portrait Photography Session with Hanna Shansky copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
    Decided to go with the rim light unmodified and at a fairly wide throw for the flash beam.
  • Headshot Portrait Photography Session with Hanna Shansky copyright adrian feliciano boston massachusetts
    And there it is! Final Settings were: Camera @ F5.6, 1/250th, ISO 400; Key Light @ 1/16th; Rim Light @ 1/32nd, blue gel; Background Light @ 1/32nd, red gel

There you have it, a headshot portrait photography session, on location at a small studio space, lit quickly and efficiently with a bare minimum of equipment, and making use of what is available in the environment. Realistically, this was overkill if I were creating photos for the newspaper. It could easily have been done with just a single off-camera flash and umbrella. Even simpler, I could have used on-camera flash set to eTTL modified with a black foamy thing and been done with it.

Instead, I used the extra time and assistance available to craft images that provided plenty of opportunity to experiment, relax, and bring out Hanna’s personality at a pace that was quick enough to keep from losing her interest and participation and efficiently enough that I wasn’t wearing myself out in the process.

By the way, if you’re in the Boston area and are looking for an excellent massage therapist, Hanna is wonderful!

Hanna Shansky, LMT
1318 Beacon St, Suite #10
Brookline, MA 02446
(508) 395-4226

How To Photograph Fire Performers With Boredom

Q – How can you improve your photography of fire performers?

A – Believe it or not, get bored. It helps.

In Part One of this series on Fire Performer Photography, we looked at how the discipline of photojournalism brings the focus back to the human being behind the fire prop. In Part Two we covered Consent Always and Safety Third. Performers are people, first. Not props. Treat them with respect. In Part Three, we looked at how learning to shoot a camera is essentially the same as Basic Rifle Marksmanship.  In Part Four, we took the rifle concept a step further and looked at how the combat-shooting techniques of Shoot, Move, and Communicate can improve your photography. 

Photographing fire performers and flow artists has become a specialty of mine over the years. Obviously not every prop is fire based and not every prop is represented but every event that I have been to since 2010 has had its share of some combination of fire eaters, fire breathers, poi spinners, hoopers, dragon-staff spinners, fan dancers, pixel whips, levitation wands, palm torches, glovers, and so on, and they are inevitably surrounded by the folks and photographers who love them. More often than not I end up seeing the same people, regularly, with the same props at all the semi regular events, weeklies, monthlies, and outdoor festivals I’ve been to whether or not they are jam band based events, Christmas themed raves, or psytrance oriented festivals.

Are you bored, yet? I hope so. That’s exactly the point of this post. I’ll let you a big secret. As a photographer, I find it all to be very boring. Often.

You know what, though? Boredom is perfectly okay. In fact, boredom is an incredible creative asset.

My Very First Photos of Fire Performers

how to photograph fire performers woman with red hair breathing fire in a backyard setting copyright adrian feliciano
Amanda introduced me to fire performers in 2010. This is the first time I tried to photograph a fire-breather.
how to improve photography of fire performers blurry photograph of poi spinning fire trails with sharp flames and siiiiiiiiick textures copyright adrian feliciano
Early on, I was all about the trails, and getting the perfect textures. This is from the second spin-jam I ever attended.

“I did not say I, personally, find festivals, flow artists, nightlife events, or the people who attend them to be boring. Quite the contrary. I’ve made wonderful friends, met incredibly talented and creative artists, passionate crews, and interesting personalities in all the various ‘scenes’ I’ve been blessed to be a part of. ”

–Totally Necessary Disclaimer

Art and artistic expression is necessary and healthy and very human. It’s easy to fall into a routine, a creative rut, without even realizing it. It’s normal and it will happen. Same with boredom. It, too, is normal, will happen, and is perfectly okay. As an artist, photographer, musician, fire performer, flow artist, author, welder, banker, real estate agent, partner, spouse, parent — as a human being — recognizing when boredom strikes, understanding why you feel stagnant, and using it as motivation to change, is absolutely necessary in order to grow.

Can you imagine how a photographer who specializes in, say, weddings feels at having to take the same types of shots from a set list of must-haves, with the same general flow of activity, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year?

Let’s take this even farther. Can you imagine growing bored with photographing fine art nudes? Maybe you just cannot stand people at all and prefer landscapes? 

Maybe, though, photography is your life’s blood and you really enjoy the energy and warmth and genuine compassion from flow artists? Have you considered that you could put the camera down and mingle? Get out from behind the lens and really put yourself out there. You could always pick up a set of poi and try your hand at spinning. One photographer I know is currently trying his hand at at last year’s Fractalfest I made the choice to let others concentrate on the glory shots of the stage, the different DJs, producers, and the various bigger-perspective moments that always get the attention. I wanted to experience Fractalfest differently from the past incarnations that I attended so I chose to primarily stalk the dance floors, photograph The Firefly Caravan, the art projects, and interact more with the attendees, strange creatures, masked characters, and live blog about the experience whenever possible. When photographing fire spinners at Petrified Forest III in Maine, I set up a spot to do portraits of people with a wall of fire behind them. 

woman performing with fire hoop in front of a stage at fractalfest in stephentown, ny copyright adrian feliciano
Nikki from The Firefly Caravan at Fractalfest 2017.
This image was the result of boredom. I found an art display with fire on it and decided to make it an impromptu portrait station for anyone who happened to pass by at Fractalfest. Wiggles was one victim.

During my second festival, ever, at Tir Na Nog in Saratoga Springs, NY, I ran into my friend Kaitlyn after putting my camera away, and nearly quitting photography all together, who asked to do some portraits. Under the conditions that we were under, giving explanations while photographing was particularly difficult, so I asked her to just do whatever came to mind and I would try to take some shots. After about fifteen minutes, I was distracted by someone who decided to nearly set himself on fire next to me while pouring Kaitlyn’s fuel onto a dying fire pit (no, seriously, dude was that fucked up), so after making sure no one was injured or killed, I shouted back over, “KAITLYNNNNN, I don’t care what you do, just keep moving, PLEASE?..”

Kaitlyn at Tir Na Nog in Saratoga Springs, NY

My photography has completely changed, forever, as a result of these images of Kaitlyn.

I am forever grateful.

blurry photo of fire trails copyright adrian feliciano
Siiiiiiiiiiick fire trails!

For me, I hit that boredom point long ago. At some point, every photographer ends up dazzled by the pretty lights and challenged into recording mesmerizing textures and patterns to the detriment of a good shot of the performer behind the lights. I don’t really focus on that anymore. Rather than photographing light trails, I aim for faces and the try to photograph performer. Light trails are just a secondary element in the shot, they’re just another prop. 

If you’ve been following this series on improving fire performer photography at all, none of this should be a total surprise, or shocking advice, and is applicable to any kind of people-centered photography.

To take it one step further as a photographer, try any or all of the following:

  • Get away from Auto settings.
  • Try change modes on the P/A/S/M dial. (P/Av/Tv/M if you use Canon)
  • Change lenses.
  • Change cameras.
  • Change apertures.
  • Change shutter speeds.
  • Vary the size of the heads in your photos.
  • If you think you are close, get closer.
  • Get even closer. (If you’re careful, there is no such thing as too close)
  • Remember Consent Always and Safety Third.
  • Be okay with happy mistakes. I made friends with fire faeries entirely by accident.
  • Make eye contact, and try silent communication. Direct with your hands.

Stop trying to photograph the fire and start photographing the performer. It will absolutely change your entire photography technique, I promise. 

Are you ready to learn how to photograph specific types of fire performers?

I hope so. In the next post we will start taking a high level look at camera settings for fire performers and how those settings interact with each other.

Portrait Photography in Greenfield, MA

Portrait Photography and Interview Session – The Premise

2010-11-30, GREENFIELD, MA – This editorial portrait photography and interview session was my final project for Dennis Vandal’s Photojournalism 101 class at UMass Amherst. Dennis gave us regular weekly photography assignments that basically consisted of going out into the community and finding “interesting people” for an editorial photography session and then conduct a sit down and interview session, all while increasing the requirement load per week. Our first photography assignment was to just photograph people. The next week was to photograph people and put together a slideshow. As time progressed, we would do things like add an music track. Then transitions. Then add a voiceover track. Then add narration. Then weave things all together, for the final project: Photos, voice, audio/music, narration, slideshow, in whatever way we felt told the story of our subjects.

I was inspired to do this photo project mostly due to another classmate’s approach to her presentation a week before our final projects were announced when she timidly asked if nudity was okay to show in her weekly assignment. It was a tastefully done shot of man-butt for the second to final frame in her slideshow. I felt that it would be a good idea to push the envelope just a little more, so when Dennis asked what our final photography projects were going to be about, the following week, I said “I know someone who sells sex toys for a living. I was gonna interview her.”

There was a moment very awkward silence in class before Dennis replied, “Uhhhh. Before you actually submit it for review, would you mind sending it to me first, so I can be sure you don’t end up just taking photos of someone waving dildos at the camera?”

More awkward silence. 

Someone behind me whispered to another while giggling, “Oh my God, he actually said ‘dildo!'”

“Sure,” I replied. “If it doesn’t measure up, I already have another project done that I can submit.”

“Seriously? Why not just turn THAT one in..?”

“I want to see if I can handle a potentially questionable topic tastefully, even IF it involves dildos. Also, there would be more than one person interviewed; I wanted to see if I can handle two women at once.”

More awkward silence.

“Well, since you obviously put SOME thought into this already…”

Portrait Photography and Interview Session – Multimedia Project

So, that weekend, Amber and I set up for a photoshoot and an interview in Amanda’s nightclub basement in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

This would have been my first portrait photography session where I would be making full use of multiple radio triggered flashes, and using colored gels to create splashes of color on the background for separation, and figuring out how to properly key-light in a small confined space. It would also be the first interview that I had done that would need clear pauses between questions and answers since there would be the potential of an interview turning into a blended three way conversation — it’s really difficult to get good soundbites isolated that way.

As the interview progressed, I found myself more and more fascinated by Amber’s enthusiasm, and clear passion for what she does. She likened the exploration of sex to discovering the kinds of food one likes and that “the bedroom is no different than the kitchen, especially if you have enough counter space. ha!”

Selling sex toys for Athena’s was just one aspect of Amber’s belief that sexuality, and the open exploration and expression of one’s sexual side, is crucial to one’s own mental and emotional health. For her, it’s a world view that she takes very seriously. “I’m someone that wants to show other people that it is okay…when it comes to sex. It needs to happen. It’s a world I really want to live in and that’s why I do what I do.”

Not that a conversation with two women about sex was a hard thing that required me to remain stiff for long in order to handle well. The three-way interaction between Amber, Amanda, and myself had moments of playful innuendo, energetic back and forth banter, genuine laughter, and true wisdom.

God gave us a clitoris and we should use it!


Looking back, I am glad for deciding to explore this topic, as it provided some specific challenges. First, it was a my first attempt at using multiple remote triggered Speedlites in order to light a portrait session. Secondly, it was both a portrait session and a documentary photography session that involved multiple subjects interacting in a live setting. It was also conducted in the equivalent of a small nightclub complete with the random lights, dark walls, multiple sources for highlights, different textures, and surfaces. Finally, it was a topic that can carry some unnecessary stigma especially especially because it involved women discussing sexuality, empowerment and healing through the consensual exploration of sex. Is there anything wrong with women, specifically women, being sexually empowered, and comfortable as human beings with sex and sexuality? Is the expression of sexuality, something to be gasped over; wink-winked; admonished; objectified; lusted after; shamed; considered repulsive, salacious, scandalous, and scary, especially when expressed by women? Is it gross, sinful, harmful, or dirty or is sex just sex? Is sex Okay?

Portrait Photography and Interview Session – Aftermath

I intend to go back over older photography projects, from time to time, to see if there are others that I’d be inspired to re-visit. What would I do differently? What did I see then? I feel that it’s an important element of my photography to occasionally review my past work in order to see where I’ve come from in relation to where I currently am. 

These images are my attempt to re-cull, and re-edit, an older environmental portrait photography project with the intention to do so in the manner that I would do so, now, seven years later. It was a fun challenge to try and see what I saw then, compared to how I would see things now. There was some over lap, in terms of photos that I chose — you’ll see that in the accompanying photo slide-show — but even with the same photos, I edited them in order to better showcase Amber’s colorfully vibrant personality, and infectious laughter. 

Portrait Photography and Interview Session

  • portrait of woman in white dress black belt eyeglasses white necklace holding athenas brochures photography and interview session greenfield massachusetts copyright adrian feliciano
  • purple and orange braided rope portrait photography and interview session greenfield massachusetts copyright adrian feliciano
  • portrait of woman in white dress black belt eyeglasses white necklace standing over purple and orange braided rope portrait photography and interview session greenfield massachusetts copyright adrian feliciano
  • woman in white dress tying hands of woman in white dress with purple rope photography and interview session greenfield massachusetts copyright adrian feliciano
  • woman in white dress tying hands of woman in white dress with purple rope photography and interview session greenfield massachusetts copyright adrian feliciano
  • close up of tightly bound female hands with purple rope photography and interview session greenfield massachusetts copyright adrian feliciano
  • woman in white dress tying hands of woman in white dress with purple rope photography and interview session greenfield massachusetts copyright adrian feliciano
  • woman in white dress tying body of woman in white dress and red hair with purple rope criss cross pattern in red room photography and interview session greenfield massachusetts copyright adrian feliciano
  • woman in white dress giving thumbs up and holding woman in white dress and red hair with body leash tied with purple rope criss cross pattern in red room photography and interview session greenfield massachusetts copyright adrian feliciano

Engagement Photography Session at Bull Mansion

Lennen and Luna’s Engagement Photoshoot at Bull Mansion, in Worcester, MA

Bull Mansion was built in 1876, it was designed by Calvert Vaux who was contracted by Daniel Wesson (of Smith and Wesson) for his daughter Sarah’s wedding present. Bull Mansion is also known as G.A.R Hall (Grand Army of Republic Hall). It is an ornate Victorian Gothic/Stick style granite mansion, which is on US National Register of Historic Places.

— From Bull Mansion’s Website

2018-01-05 WORCESTER, MA – I was contacted to schedule an engagement photography session by a Lennen, a friend from my Western Massachusetts goth-club days, for him and Luna, his new fiancee. He would be flying in to Massachusetts during the holiday season and had some gothy/Victorian styled clothing that they wanted to be photographed in. After tossing about a few ideas, we felt that photography for their engagement would be perfect at an equally elegant location so I contacted my friend, Victoria, who graciously allowed us the use of Bull Mansion, a historic building in Worcester, MA that was originally designed as a wedding present and is now an upscale restaurant and event space.

We quickly worked out an affordable photography budget, took care of paperwork, and confirmed a date for photography while I started lining up resources that included a Felicia as a special effects makeup artist, on-call models for more conceptual images should the opportunity arise (thank you Bekah and Gabi!), a photography assistant or two (thank you Artemis and Kalomo!), and a potential second photographer by way of Connecticut wedding photographer, Courtney Robertson.

Of course, no one could have predicted that there would be a major snow storm the night before the engagement photoshoot and that temperatures would plummet on the day of the shoot itself. Unfortunately, it made things more complicated by changing the timing and freedom of availability for everyone. Some showed up later. Some could no longer stay as long as needed. Some could not make it at all. It’s winter in New England. Shit happens. Suck it up and drive on.

For this blog post, I got stuck here for a little bit about what to write next. I suppose that I could go on and on in several directions. Some may want to read about behind-the-scenes stuff and get into the nitty gritty of creating romantic engagement photos with multiple light sources in a beautiful venue. Others may wonder about contracts, how I got paid, how we juggled everyone, or the kind of equipment I used, feel that I edited too much / edited too little, lets chin-stroke over lenses, sensor resolution, dynamic range, and so on.

It’s really all irrelevant.

The most important thing I can pass on is that we somehow managed to find a way to pull everything together into a photography session that challenged us to find the best in what circumstance, timing, and other factors presented to us. When I could not scout the location the night before, I showed up earlier on the day of photography. When one person couldn’t make it, we lined up another. When another was delayed by brutal traffic, we shot photos anyway. When another couldn’t be there, we shifted roles to involve someone else. When people showed up, we worked them into the process. When we began running low on steam, we broke things into smaller pieces and decided to go all out for one final creative push. When the final concept proved too difficult for one person to pull off, we quickly organized into delegated roles and a by-the-numbers approach to photography. Together, we found a way to make it all work.

The romantic in me feels that there was something symbolic in the sudden challenges that came up out of nowhere to shake up the flow of plans we made and the correspondingly equal effort we all made to overcome them in the hopes of creating something beautiful. Engagement is the pinnacle of romantic idealism where more than one person makes plans together in order to create something unknown while hoping that what results is lasting and beautiful. Then life happens to challenge those hopes. 

So what? Love each other, anyway. 

In the end, storms will come. Delays will happen. People will drop out. Results won’t be what you expected. They may have even failed to match expectations. The Good Idea Faerie will pay a visit. Strong wills will clash. What else can you do, but react to the situation exactly as it has presented itself to you? 

It is my hope that the images from this engagement photography session reflect the dedication of everyone involved, the challenges, the hopes, and the effort it took to create them and reminds the betrothed that they can find a way through anything, together.

So, congratulations, Lennen and Luna, on your engagement. May you have a beautiful life together. May you create something beautiful and lasting in the face of every challenge to come. May you have the support of a loving community, friends, and family with you every step along the way.

Photo Gallery from Lennen and Luna’s Engagement Photography Session at Bull Mansion

Behind the Scenes at Bull Mansion

How To Photograph Fire Performers On the Move

Q – How do you photograph fire performers like a combat shooter?

A – Shoot, move, and communicate.

In Part One of this series of tips to help improve your photography of fire performers, we looked at seeing fire performer photography through the lens of a photojournalist as a way to create stronger, more impactful images. After all, the human element is what draws us into any performance. In Part Two, we looked at Always Getting Consent and Safety Third to remind you that a performer is not just a sparkly prop who happens to be spinning pretty fire — there are many factors to be aware of, especially the importance of everyone else’s agency. In Part Three, we began to delve into how to more effectively use the camera by using techniques taught to soldiers as Basic Rifle Marksmanship. You are, after all, shooting people with a camera.

In this post, I wanted to pick up where I ended off with the idea of Kinetic Shooting vs Static Shooting and which is better, as well as how Shoot, Move, Communicate helps to reinforce Consent Always and Safety Third. Ready?..

How and Why to Shoot, Move, and Communicate

TL; DR – Don’t stay in one place. Once you start moving around, don’t be an asshole. 

  • Always keep moving. Staying in one spot is boring for you, and does not help you make a picture interesting, especially one you realize that you happened to pick a bad spot to begin with. That’s it.
  • Once you start moving and shooting, but you are not communicating with people around you your intentions and gaining their consent as you move around (“S’cuse me, may I take a shot from here?”), being aware of possibly getting in someone’s way (“Am I in your way?”), to apologizing for getting in someone’s way (“Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll get out of your way — my bad!”) then you risk becoming the dreaded Uncle Bob that wedding photographers love to make fun of amongst themselves who is always in the way of a good view. At best.
  • At worst, you become like the Naked Guy who risks impacting the performance itself, and the safety of everyone around them. Imagine you are spinning a rope-dart, originally a weapon, requiring great concentration and awareness due to its sudden strikes and long reach. Now set the business end of it on fire. Along comes a Naked Guy who suddenly gets well within 10 feet and ends up between you and your safety, who is responsible for quickly putting you out should you somehow set yourself on fire, preventing them from moving our of your way JUST as you’re about to fire off a quick strike in that direction.
Seriously, don’t be That Guy™

Simple, right? That is all I wanted to go over for Moving around and Communicating, and all I will cover when it comes to the boring stuff. 

Okay, well, not exactly.

In the next post, I’ll explain just how boring fire performer photography can be.

Anyone Can Be a Photographer, Right?

While editing photos from my fire portrait photo shoot with Kayla Jane, I realized that I’ve described how I approach photography to other people as “instinctive” at this stage of the game. I always hate using that answer, as it feels dismissive, can be seen as a little uncertain, and somewhat pretentious all at the same time. The thing is that I’d never before thought about putting into words the thought process, the deliberate choices, and the actual photo editing that have become almost second nature to me. 

 An earlier shot at 1/40 An earlier shot at 1/40″ @ f1.6 ISO1600. Exposure is brighter, but her movement is ever so slightly blurrier.

In reality, it fails to answer “why should I hire you as a photographer when I can just ask someone else to show up and take pictures? For free. Anyone can be a photographer, anyway, right?”

It also gives no explanation to the follow up question about why are my photography rates even what they are? Even if I am not asked these questions directly, or indirectly, they are often at the back of people’s minds whenever I end up talking about photography.

Soooooooooo, to justify my existence, below are all the factors I needed to take into account to create one image of a tribal belly dancer, modeling with fire, in a dark setting:

 Original image, straight out off camera, with no adjustments made. Exposure was 1/320 Original image, straight out off camera, with no adjustments made. Exposure was 1/320″ @ f1.6 ISO1600. Notice the rim light on Kayla’s back and shoulders? Without it, you would only see whatever was key-lit by the torches.  Image brightened up +5 Exposure in Lightroom. I brought Highlights down by -66 bring Kayla's skin back. You can see all the distractions in the background, and the incredible noise levels as a result. Image brightened up +5 Exposure in Lightroom. I brought Highlights down by -66 bring Kayla’s skin back. You can see all the distractions in the background, and the incredible noise levels as a result.  To bring the picture back under control and to start hiding distractions, I dialed Blacks +30, Shadows +70. Notice the blueish hue to the sky and the LED lighting on Kayla's back? To bring the picture back under control and to start hiding distractions, I dialed Blacks +30, Shadows +70. Notice the blueish hue to the sky and the LED lighting on Kayla’s back?

 The vehicles were cropped out of the frame, and a vignette was added to provide additional darkening around the edges of the image. There's hardly anything left to do to finalize the image, except for a little bit of cleaning up leftover leaves. The vehicles were cropped out of the frame, and a vignette was added to provide additional darkening around the edges of the image. There’s hardly anything left to do to finalize the image, except for a little bit of cleaning up leftover leaves.  Color correcting adds blue across the entire image to cancel out the yellowish light cast, deepening the blue tones on her back and sky. The image was sharpened, noise reduced, eyes and lips touched up, and leaves cleaned up.  The final image, was sweetened a tad more via one of my favorite plug-ins. Color correcting adds blue across the entire image to cancel out the yellowish light cast, deepening the blue tones on her back and sky. The image was sharpened, noise reduced, eyes and lips touched up, and leaves cleaned up. The final image, was sweetened a tad more via one of my favorite plug-ins. Earlier, I had Kayla pose in-between both LED lights, and took a heavily underexposed shot “test shot” in order to get a feel for what their placement would do. I also knew that I would end up keeping it.

For starters, I decided to have the hillside in the background but with some visible sky and a nearby tree. It helped to have some subtle breaking-up of what will become an almost purely black background with some color and shape. 

I suppose that I could have the background more brightly exposed, but that would have shown all the leaves on the ground and thrown a lot of distracting lines from multiple branches, and tossed in more distracting background elements, like gravestones, to start with.

The problem is that in order to make that exposure, I’d have to use a shutter of about 1/40th while she was in motion, dancing. I did not want to risk blurring her movement. I could have frozen her with flash; however, it would have forced her to move in very specific ways, angled JUST right to be lit by flash modified and sculpted perfectly in order to achieve what I had in mind.

I chose, instead, to WAY underexpose the image with a shutter at 1/320th” for several reasons. Most importantly, it allowed me to freeze Kayla in motion in her most natural state. It also immediately removed the extra steps of setting up additional lighting and restricting Kayla’s dancing which would have added to both of our shared anxiety during the shoot. It also allowed me to minimize all the distracting elements in the frame. Using f1.6 pulled in enough light at ISO1600 to keep exposure on her face and skin within a reasonable range while using just the handheld torches as the keylight. 

Shooting in RAW gave additional advantages when editing the final frame. Most importantly was the enormous leeway it gave in allowing me to brighten her substantially, push more distracting elements back into the shadows, and keep from blowing out her skin at the same time.

My current camera is a “consumer” grade APS-C sensor Canon Rebel T3i from about 2011 — the sensor has nowhere near the dynamic range and ISO performance as more “modern” cameras, especially recent model Sony based sensors which means that if I am in a dark environment I can either pick a faster shutter to freeze motion, which darkens the image, and push ISO to brighten it back up. The problem is that the lack of dynamic range and poorer ISO performance means that I am limited to how much I can really push things. For my camera, ISO noise is relatively clean at 800. 1600 is pretty much the limit for my camera, in these conditions. At 3200 and above noise tends to become atrocious for most darker shots.

If I started at ISO 100 and then tried to pull exposure up, I could only realistically gain about 1-2EV at the shutter speeds and apertures I was deciding to use before shadow noise, once again, would become a problem. Could I have gone +3-4EV? Sure, RAW allows greater latitude, but it would have been at the expense of greater noise and ultimately less room to keep details in the final edit.

Because of those limitations, I use very fast prime lenses (f1.8 and f1.4), since they take in an enormous amount of light compared to the stock kit lenses. (The better ISO performance and dynamic range of more modern cameras can help make up a little for the f3.5-5.6 range of cheaper zooms in lower light, by the way)

Since faster prime lenses help take in more light they give much more ability to use ambient light sources in darker environments allowing me to really concentrate on exposing for the person more effectively. Since I am starting with more light striking the sensor at once, I can pick faster shutter speeds to freeze motion, and set ISO higher to keep the overall exposure useful.

Another thing to consider is that by choosing to start from a position of underexposure, and knowing that I would be darkening the photo even more, I wanted a way to use light to separate Kayla’s dark dress and dark hair from the dark background without setting up Speedlites to do it. Additionally, I wanted the light to also provide illumination for safety third reasons, as she danced with fire but not to interfere with the final image. I also wanted to use the additional lighting to add splashes of color that worked with the little bit of sky that remained visible in the exposure.

So, again, a deliberate choice was made to use continuous LED video lights rather than the flash from more powerful Speedlites, for speed and flexibility. They provided just enough light to give a subtle rim of light around Kayla, backlit the smoke from the torches, and their slightly blueish daylight tone would become a much deeper blue once I corrected for the strong yellowish light cast by the torches. The addition of blue across the entire image to cancel out the yellow would also cause a shift in visible sky as it, too, took on a deeper blue.

Are any of these choices “right” or “wrong” from a photographer’s perspective? Or even better, would another photographer do the same things that I would have done with the same model, same lighting factors, and same location? Of course not. What one photographer sees is entirely different from what another photographer sees and there are multiple ways to approach the same conditions.

So, can anyone be a photographer? Feel free to let me know.

Fire Portrait Photography With Kayla Jane

Fire Portrait Photography Session With Kayla Jane – Tribal Fusion Belly Dancer And Artist

WORCESTER, MA – I checked off a photography bucket-list item when tribal fusion belly dancer Kayla Jane and I finally managed to get together for a portrait photography session at Hope Cemetery. She has been an enormous photo crush of mine since we first met at Fractalfest 2015 during her choreographed tribal fusion dance performance to open Artemis‘ psychedelic breaks DJ set. I’ve been following her steady, and impressive, progression ever since. 

Warm, a little reserved, intimidatingly intelligent, and always gracious anytime we have run across each other at underground events, I’ll admit to being incredibly nervous about a portrait session with her — I really wanted to do this one well. We coordinated a time, and location, and discussed ideas involving costuming, props, and her fire props. We agreed that it made sense to arrive well before sunset, in order to scout out a location, and prep for outdoor sunset photography. I also wanted to make sure that we had enough time to work out any pre-game jitters and build rapport as the sky got darker. As always, Artemis accompanied me, providing matériel support and, additionally, immense morale support.

Lighting was fairly simple. During the day, I used two bare Speedlites primarily as near cross-lighting at her 2:30 and 8:30 o’clock positions. For headshots, I brought them in closer for feathered cross lights at about 2:45 and 9:15 o’clock positions. Once it grew dark, lighting was even easier. Her props, once lit, would be the key light and I set up two LED video lights to about her 7-8 o’clock and 4-5 o’clock to give backlighting and rim lighting.

Exposure was also simple. Since Kayla would be moving more often than using static poses, it made sense to underexpose the ambient/background and keep the Speedlites in eTTL to let them figure out flash exposure. While there was plenty of light, I kept settings flexible enough to record some flame texture but still keep reasonable exposure on her face. Once it was dark, underexpose the ambient in favor of just exposing for the face and adjust as the flames — the key light — grew weaker.

Never forget that models are human beings. You are, too. So are your assistants.

A few things thing that I realized during this shoot: 

  • It’s all too easy to get caught up in the what ifs, the technical details, specs, and lighting ahead of time so much that you psyche yourself out of a photoshoot.

  • It’s also too easy to get caught up trying to force a shoot to fit what you had in your head, reviewing photos, chimping, and rassin’-frassin’ over the LCD screen that you forget to involve the model in the shoot.

  • In both instances, you miss an opportunity to build a connection that can change the whole complexion of the shoot.

For Example

At one point Kayla was asked if we could do more side shots because, in her words, “I like how ….. well, the way the light hits …. it’s a really flattering angle … um … like, especially how … um … it’s hard to explain … umm… I just really like this shot … “

“You like how your butt looks?..”


Immediately afterwards, it felt like a lot of ice broke and we got very comfortable, so I asked her to give me as much sass and attitude as she could while she danced — to think of me as her audience and to really try pulling me in. Some of them turned out to be our favorite photos of the night!

Once we developed a rhythm and banter, working with Kayla was nowhere near as nerve-wracking as I was making it out to be in my own head and we could bounce ideas off each other, and have fun creating something unique. We changed lighting angles, Artemis helped with wardrobe, we tried different poses (I demonstrated a few ideas in keeping with the idea of Consent Always, she tried some of her own, and all three of us fine tuned), and showed her results. In the end, we each found ways to help each other stay involved with the shoot. 

I am really excited to create more photos with her again, and I hope it’s some time soon!

Shameless Promotion:

Please follow Kayla Jane’s social media pages, for updates, upcoming tribal fusion performances, and behind the scenes looks into her belly dance practice:

If you found this blog post helpful, please check out the best of my growing collection of fire spinning photography tips!

Fire Photography with Apogee Flow Toys

Fire Photography Session With Apogee Flow Toys and Multiple Models

It had been a year since I photographed with Liz Arruda, owner of Apogee Flow Toys and thought it would be time to update both of our portfolios. A year ago we organized a model photo shoot at the Quincy Quarries during the day. This time around we organized a night time model shoot at her place. Of course, I wanted to involve fire, especially now that I was comfortable with creating a background of fire and could easily instruct and direct movement as required. As always, I had the RTMS2000 along to assist.

Shortly after arriving, I noticed a garden arch that would make a perfect frame for portraits and set up 2 unmodified speedlites: a key light to approximately the model’s 1 o’clock, with the 2nd around the model’s 8 o’clock. On the ground directly behind the model’s position I also set up a Miluwakee LED work light, provided by the RTMS2000. I wanted to make use of its 45 degree angle upwards throw from the ground as additional backlighting for non-fire shots.

Test photo with Liz Arruda. The light in the background was from a car arriving in the driveway.

Because I feel it is best to use two people for flow and safety when using fire for the background I gave Liz a run down of what to expect, physically walked through each step myself, and asked who felt comfortable lighting and walking with the fire and who felt comfortable safetying the Walker, receiving, and helping to extinguish the wick at the end of the exposure and assigning each task accordingly. We also walked through a couple of practice unlit shots to get the verbal commands and timing down.

Test photo of Kayla Coyman. I just had her stand with absolutely, no additional guidance, during a 4 second exposure, so I could give the Fire Walker and Fire Safety a live walk-through.

I’ve worked with Liz and Samantha from last year’s shoot but Kayla was new and had never modeled before. I wanted her to get a feel for the over all flow (har har!), get an idea of how some poses would look, and get comfortable with hearing someone giving directions so I had Liz and Sam go before her. After a couple of test shots to nail down framing and tweak lighting we started shooting.

Photographer (me) and Model (Sammy) having a moment.
© Jeremy Rosenzweig, 2017, Used with Permission.

The most important thing for me to demonstrate, especially for a new model, was how respect and consent come into play. If I wanted a model to use a specific pose I would demonstrate the pose, myself, for them to mirror then fine tune with hand gestures and verbal explanation. If hair was in the way, I would ask if they would brush the hair off their eye or behind an ear, etc. If the things were close but still not quite where they should be, I’d ask if I could position the prop as she held it or ask if my assistant could help fix hair. Only when all other options are exhausted would I ask if I could help physically position the pose or brush hair away, etc., and always from the front, in plain sight — never from behind, out of their line of sight.


Don’t be a creep. Always get consent

The pace for this shoot was a little quicker than my normal pace as Liz wanted to get a few shots in for Sam who had to leave relatively quickly after beginning. We would do an unlit portrait first, sometimes as a “test shot” (which often times is the real shot), sometimes as the real thing, with the second shot involving fire. The lawn arch worked perfectly and became a wonderful framing element and the second speedlight and LED work light helped to separate the models (who wore dark clothing) from the dark night time background.

This was not a shoot that required a lot of photos of multiple poses to get good results, especially with the time crunch we were under. I took about 63 photos and ended up using 26 photos. I’m more than happy with a 41% hit rate on keepers. ;D

So there you have it — a shoot that did not have a lot of time, had a lot of moving pieces, a brand new model broken in, we played with a lot of fire, everyone was involved in the creative process, models were excited and happy with their photos, and no one was injured, immolated, impaled, insulted, offended, creeped out, molested, assaulted, punched, arrested, or signed anything questionable.

I’d call the photoshoot a total success! 

Photo Gallery of Fire Portrait Photography Shoot with Apogee Flow Toys

Some Outtakes

If you liked this blog post, I’ve been compiling more of my best fire performer photography tips together. I hope you find them useful!

How To Photograph Fire Performers Like a Soldier

Q – How do you photograph fire performers like a solder?

A – Learn US Army Basic Rifle Marksmanship

  • candid photo of photographer silhouetted against outdoor night time row of vendors and tents

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.

But, first…


When I was in the Army, soldiers were taught the Four Fundamentals of Basic Rifle Marksmanship

  1. Steady Position – Your stance, grip, body position, orientation, all combine to give a relaxed and steady platform to shoot from.
  2. Proper Aim – You’re looking down the barrel, through your sights, to your target and your sight picture is consistent.
  3. Breath Control – Your breathing is relaxed and steady, not elevated and erratic.
  4. 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?


  • long exposure blurry image of man breathing fire with wall of fire behind him copyright adrian feliciano

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 razor thin.

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: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Breath Control – Steady breathing helps to lower your heartbeat, and muscles to relax, reducing a tense/anxious grip, and camera sway as a result.
  4. 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.”

It also can help to prevent this:

(Sorry, Wiggles!)