Fire Photography Portraits With Shayna Rose

Wall of Fire Portraits with Shayna Rose

WEST BRIDGEWATER, MASSACHUSETTS – The other day, I wrote some background about creating a wall of fire during a portrait photography session. After getting fairly comfortable with the over all process, I wanted to go live with a full portrait session so I contacted my dear friend Shayna, a model and gifted flow-artist, to arrange a photoshoot together. I arrived with Artemis, a Boston psytrance DJ, audio-visual tech, and my ever patient photography assistant. I planned to enlist Shayna’s boyfriend, Stephen, to be an additional assistant and fire-safety. You can never have too many people involved with fire safety, right?

We began with discussing exactly what I had in mind, and walking around the backyard with Shayna to map out where to place lights, the camera tripod, where she would be posing from, where the fire assistant would walk (including which direction made the most sense to walk), and how to properly extinguish the wick in between shots. We also discussed what Shayna would be comfortable wearing, what materials would be safer to use for fire photography than others (in a nutshell, absolutely no synthetic fibers), and suggestions for poses with her fire fans.

After explaining the overall walkthrough with Shayna, I delegated roles out to Artemis and Stephen as fire assistant and fire safety. The fire assistant would be responsible for fueling and, on command, igniting the wick and walking in the direction of the fire safety. The fire safety would be responsible for being the second set of eyes on the assistant, insuring s/he did wasn’t accidentally immolated, and would receive the wick at the end. Finally, both would work together to smother the flame on the ground. In the end, both of them took on each role and got comfortable with both roles as the shoot progressed. 

Pro Photographer Tip:

As a photographer working with a model, never reach out to your model to touch them in any way without their consent, even to adjust a little bit of hair or brush off lint. It is so easy to forget, and a shockingly simple boundary to cross without realizing it. Unless they are experienced and can pose themselves it is best to strike the desired pose, yourself, so they can mirror the pose. From there, you can first help them to fine tune their pose at a distance. I will do things such as give visual cues with my fingers to help tilt a head, give rotational direction with a hand, adjust my own stance, twist my hips, etc, to help guide a model. When holding props, I will ask to hold them myself, and then model the desired pose. Especially if the model is female bodied/identifying, I will ask if my female bodied assistant could help adjust hair, clothing, or a pose as needed. It is only after every other option is exhausted, only after I have gained clear consent because I have clearly explained what I am wanting to demonstrate or do, will I reach in to adjust/guide/pose.

Photo Gallery of Shayna Rose’s Fire Portrait Photography Session

Finally, the shoot itself began. It was windy, so we needed to take extra time in between shots to gauge the direction of flames coming off the wick, as well wait for the wind to die down as needed. Camera settings were dialed in to show as much flame texture as possible during a long exposure. Lowest ISO, and about f18-f22 for about 4 seconds. The flashes were set to eTTL and at about a 4:1 ratio to give both good key and fill/side light as needed. After enough wall of fire portraits, Shayna also lit her fans for some live action photographs and some posed portraits.

After nailing some shots with Shayna, I wanted to take some portraits of my assistants, in appreciation for all their hard work. Stephen is highly musically inclined, recently recorded some heavy metal tunes, and has plans for throwing future events of his own. Artemis is, well, Artemis. An experienced psytrance, suomisaundi, psychedelic-breaks, darkpsy, drum and bass, techno, house DJ, operatic singer, welder, deco artist, violinist, performance artist, audio-visual tech, model wrangler, and invaluable assistant.

Photo Gallery of Additional Fire Photography Portraits

I have included linking information for Shayna, Stephen, and Artemis below. If you are so inclined, please give their respective pages, websites, and profiles a visit, like, follow, subscription, and/or whatever other social-media signals matter for support. They are each talented individuals, hard working, creative artists, and people I am proud to consider friends.

Shayna Rose:

Stephen Spacey:


If you want to learn how to photograph fire performers, I am in the process of writing and compiling my best tips. I hope you find them useful!

Wall of Fire Portrait Photography Test

Wall of Fire Portrait Photography During a Backyard Birthday Party

MONTAGUE, MA – If you have been following my photography work lately, it should be obvious that my favorite subject is fire performer photography. It’s a photography niche that I fell into back in 2010, when I began hanging out with fire spinners and performers in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Since then, I’ve interviewed and photographed fire dancers in order to produce photography and web content for a feature newspaper story on Western Massachusetts Fire Performers that I pitched to the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton. I’ve been sure to find the fire performer circles at festivals and events in order to continue producing the best fire photography I can for my own fun and for their promotional material. At events I try to give other photographers the best tips and tricks for taking better photos of fire performers whenever I can. I’ve even started to write a blog series in order to share my favorite techniques for fire photography that I’ve learned over time. Yes, I consider myself an experienced fire performer photographer. I admit to a certain level of pride in that. 

Recently, I’ve been playing with a light-painting technique to create a wall of fire as a background for a portrait session. I’d been wanting to do something involving fire performers that was outside of my typical live performance, photojournalistic style, of fire photography. The inspiration for the wall-of-fire came from this entry on Petapixel and I made some small changes to the overall technique, and improvised other changes: Different fuel, slightly different strobe set up, different theme, and subject. My hope was to bring out the different personalities of the performers with or without their favorite props.

For this first series of photos, I had purchased all the materials that I figured I would need and at the last minute was gifted a six-foot length of kevlar wick by one of my long time fire performer friends just before I arrived at a backyard birthday party. I wanted to make sure the flash output was consistent, rather than variable via eTTL, so I took some test shots with a voice activated lightstand-and-flashgun set to a fixed distance. Literally, I set the flash to manual, dialed in a power setting, then set camera ISO/Aperture/Shutter to taste, opened the shutter and said “Fire!” to my hapless assistant.

After that, I set the flash into place and set it to trigger from my main flash, mounted on camera. We did a couple of live walk throughs with another assistant pretending to light the wick, and walking to where he would extinguish the wick, with safeties in place in order to get comfortable with the vocal commands, and the timing. Not difficult to do since the party itself was full of experienced fire performers celebrating the birthday of one of their own. From there we lit the wick itself for a final test shot without, and then with, the flash while tweaking camera settings to get a feel for them.

Needless to say, once the wick was lit and the first test shots were shown I suddenly had a very excited, and very willing, party of folks eager to get some amazing portraits done!

Photo Gallery of Backyard Fire Portrait Photography

How To Photograph Fire Performers Safely

Q – How do you photograph fire performers without killing yourself and everyone around you?

A – Learn about “Safety Third” and “Consent Always.”


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.

Safety Third:

The Alpha Betas burn their frat house down

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:

  1. The Audience
  2. The Venue.
  3. Yourself.
  4. Your equipment
Uploaded by Walsh Family on 2016-05-10.

As a photographer trying to take good pictures of fire spinners, how does safety third apply to you?

  1. The Audience. Don’t kill anyone, remember? You are part of their Safety First layer and they are part of your Safety First layer.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Don’t be this idiot.

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. 


Consent Always

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.

Adrian Feliciano
  1. Always
  2. Get
  3. Consent

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.

Is iPhone Good For Portrait Photography

How good are portraits with iPhone and Hipstamatic?

2017-09-16, Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA – Last night I had an on-location photoshoot with Dani at Goddess Tower, her aptly named apartment in Boston. The circumstances were a little different from my normal portrait photography sessions. There was little planning, not a lot of pre-shoot discussion, and no real idea what our theme would be. Similar to the boudoir photography sessions I’ve done, the number one request made by Dani (and the primary goal for both of us) was that she have a photography session to help boost her confidence.

The photography session started with ordering pizza while her roommate, Joy, joined us in chatting, sharing random music together, discussing hiring her for a couple of graphic design projects, and fiddling with her website. To make a long story short, Dani cleared a corner of her room and set some blankets out while Joy started suggesting wardrobe options. 

By this stage, I decided that we would skip breaking out the dSLR, flashguns, tripod, and umbrellas — the corner was really bright, the walls and ceiling were fairly white(ish) and we’d see what happens with just an iPhone and a couple of small handheld LED lights that I always carry in my camera bag.

To me there is something to be said about iPhone photography that is especially intimate and lighthearted.  The camera is utterly unobtrusive, absolutely familiar and comfortable to be around, and everywhere which makes it completely non-threatening. Plus, iPhone’s camera is pretty damned good. One of my favorite iPhone camera apps, over the years, has been Hipstamatic. I’ve always loved the simulated  “lenses,” “films” and “flash” combinations it is capable of using — especially when setting everything to “random.”

Regardless of how good iPhone’s camera is, and the software engine behind it, the basics of paying attention to lighting still matter. It’s a small lens that has a relatively decent, but fixed, aperture and almost zero control over exposure. The built in flash may be “true tone” but it is still weak, incredibly small, and very direct.

The only real way I’ve found to effectively use iPhone’s LED light in a photograph is to use it as a fixed light for someone else’s selfies, the same way I use the LED video lights. Thankfully, between Dani, Joy, and me we were able to make use of both LED lights by acting as each other’s lightstands (Sorry, Diana!)

It’s important for any model to feel as comfortable as possible especially when the whole reason for the shoot is to help bring his or her confidence up. Dani picked up different things that held deep meaning to her as props: her hula hoops, faerie wings, a small glass ball, sat with some of her crystals, and her beloved kitten, Noah. We incorporated them all into different segments while constantly showing her results as we shot.

I am glad that we were able to come together with only one goal in mind, utterly zero ideas how to accomplish it, and start improvising together to create some images that are technically mediocre at best given the self-imposed limitations of the gear at hand but helped to push our collective creativity and, most importantly, the photography session gave Dani the confidence boost that she was needing to find.

In the end, sometimes it’s refreshing to put down all the camera gear, and just shoot for the fun of it.

Photo Gallery of iPhone Portrait Photography With Dani Mac

How Does a Photojournalist Photograph Fire Performers

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

That’s all.

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
2011-03-12 Western Mass Div I High School Basketball Finals at the University of Massachusetts Amherst: Amherst vs Longmeadow

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)
Julie Dion in a backbend buzzsaw at the Quincy Quarry, Quincy, MA.

In the case of this photograph, those elements are depicted in the effort it takes for Julie to:

  • Bend backwards
  • 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:

  • Makes EFFORT
  • 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.

Fire Performer Photography at Fractalfest

Fire Performer Photography at Fractalfest: Reflections

STEPHENTOWN, NY – For anyone who knows me, my favorite subject to photograph is fire, and the way people interact with fire. Fractaltribe provided me a unique environment to grow with my fire photography from the first Fractalfest I attended, back in 2015. This year, Fractalfest, provided another unique opportunity for me to indulge a little in more fire photography. This year included portraits of everyday people beneath an art display demonstrating fire as a fluid, or performance artists dancing with fire as part of a story. Standard disclaimer’s apply: fire can hurt or kill you, please treat all fire with respect, do not try this at home, leave fire to the professionals, danger, danger, danger, danger, danger, don’t be stupid, never play with fire, only you can prevent forest fires, seriously, do not attempt, etc, etc!..

Also, I’m starting to collect the best fire photography tips I can think of together, based on my own experience. Please let me know what you think!

Photo Gallery of Fire Portraits and Fire Performers at Fractaltribe Presents Fractalfest: Reflections

Fine Art Nude Body Painting Photoshoot in Grafton, NH

Fine Art Nude Portrait Photoshoot

2016-02-05 GRAFTON, NH – I was invited to Grafton, NH, for what became a very informal promotional photoshoot for an upcoming festival in March. Body painting, nude fine art portraits (in the wind, and snow???), and homemade pizza.

What more could anyone ask for..?

Sensual Boudoir Photography

Boudoir Photography Session

I was asked by a friend to shoot some sensual photos of her, boudoir style, as a present for her boyfriend, back in 2012. I prefer on-location photography rather than using a studio because I like to work with what is present in an already familiar environment — it’s where clients feel the most comfortable. Sometimes, I am not always able to scout out the location, prior to a shoot so I am often times presented with multiple challenges immediately,

For this location, the challenges were that I had a very limited time window, a very small apartment / bedroom to shoot in, walls that were not a neutral color, and a very shy subject. Given the constraints, I opted to keep the shooting close and tight and used a black blanket for the backdrop on the bed. After arranging the Speedlites around the bed, and making sure I didn’t knock any over as I lay down for different angles, I made sure to keep talking with her and showing her some shots as we progressed to keep her involved in the shoot. Thankfully, as shy as she was, she took direction very well, and the occasional distraction of viewing photos as they were taken helped to keep her relaxed enough to let her natural sensuality come out.

Pro Photography Tip – It’s the worst thing in the world to just mechanically photograph while giving very little to no feedback to the model during the shoot. Have a conversation with your model, and keep the atmosphere lighthearted.

Overall, I am pleased with the results. Boudoir photography is completely focused on the model, and making her (or him!) feel comfortable in her own skin — it’s pampering the model and helping them to feel their most beautiful and then capturing those moments of beauty.

It’s a wonderful challenge!

Boudoir Photography Photo Gallery

Portrait Photography Session With Angil

On-location Portrait Photography Session with Angil

I set up a mini studio for an on-location portrait photography session at Angil’s home in New Jersey: Two flashes, two umbrellas, and a black backdrop for a photoshoot with a part time model, dancer, artist, and an always full-time mommy. 

Somewhere, in the middle of shooting, her newborn baby got hungry. We agreed that there was no point in stopping and breaking the flow of shooting, so we continued with photography, and incorporated him into some portraits. 

Breast feeding is no big deal and shouldn’t ever be seen as a big deal.

Baby’s gotta eat, yo…

Photo Gallery of Angil’s Portrait Photography Session