How To Photograph Fire Performers


Fire Performer Photography

Fire spinning is a dangerous and beautiful art form. In my experience, far too many photographers obsess over finding the perfect camera settings so that they can capture pretty fire textures and siiiiiiiiick fire spinning trails — all while they’re ignoring the human performer who is risking serious injury or death every time they light up their props.

If you want to learn how to photograph fire performers without falling into boring cliche, then don’t try to photograph the fire. Focus your attention, and thus your viewer’s attention, away from the fire and on to the performer where it belongs.

The best images of fire performers depict the art and danger of fire-performance by focusing on the performer for maximum visual impact. It’s never about the pretty flames and siiiiiiick textures.

Below, I’ve compiled a growing list of my best photography tips, tricks, and camera settings to help you improve your photography of fire performers and other flow artists. It is my hope that these methods can help you add a new dimension to your photography.

My intention is to help you learn to see past the fire itself in order to photograph the soul of the performer by combining the best photography techniques from photojournalism, sports photography in particular, with different elements of portrait photography.

How To Photograph Fire Performers

Bonus Fire Performer Photography Tip

If you want to create the best photos of fire spinners and other flow artists, then the most important thing you can do is to forget about the fire. Learn how to see the human being behind the pretty flames, instead. I promise that your flow artist photography will improve!

The Most Important Fire Photography Tip

Are you looking for an experienced fire-performer and flow artist photographer?

If you’re near Boston, MA and want to refresh your social media, EPK, or performance website with some seriously good photography, then drop me a message!

I can confidently assure you that my photography will always focus on you, the person behind the siiiiiiiick fire trails and pretty lights, first.

TL; DR


How do you photograph fire performers?

Here are the basic steps you need to keep in mind when you’re photographing fire performers. I’m assuming that you’re already reasonably comfortable with the controls of your camera and aren’t trying to use Auto or any of the semi-auto modes to your camera. Photographing fire performers is an advanced style of photography and isn’t for the point-and-shoot or smartphone photographer.

long haired man with glasses eating fire from a torch

Required Equipment:

– A camera with manual settings (I use Canon dSLRs)
– A fast prime or zoom lens to freeze motion (F1.4 to F2.8, ideally)
– A speedlight that uses TTL (I use a Canon 580EX-II)

Got your gear ready? Let’s get started:

Step 1 – Start to think like a photojournalist

Learn the skills and techniques unique to photojournalists and, especially, sports photographers. Fire performers move at a fast pace and you should never try to get them to slow down their performance, just for you.

Step 2 – Learn about “safety third” and “consent”

You owe safety to the audience and performer first, the venue second, and yourself third. Get consent from the perfomer(s) as soon as possible. Some don’t like flash. Some are okay with it.

Step 3 – Basic Rifle Marksmanship

Your camera is not a rifle but BRM techniques certainly help. Steady your position, use proper aim, control your breathing, gently squeeze the shutter release. It really works!

Step 4 – Shoot. Move. Communicate.

No, you are not a soldier, but without movement and communication with everyone around you there’s a good chance that you’ll end up more disruptive to the performance than anything else. Don’t be that guy!

Step 5 – Learn to overcome boredom

Believe it or not, once you get over the novelty of trying to capture siiiiiiiick trails with super sharp textures in the flames or encountering yet another narcissistic performer trying to demonstrate their latest tech moves (flow is always better), you can then use that boredom to your creative advantage.

Step 6 – Practice your technique until it becomes second nature

Muscle memory makes a difference! We’re talking about knowing where the buttons and controls are, how many clicks it takes to dial the control wheel, anticipating a performer’s next move, using back-button auto-focus, the center focus point only, the limitations of your lens (they all have limitations), how far your flash can reach, and so on — all with your head on a swivel and your eyes fixed on the performer.

Adrian Feliciano