How to Photograph Flames
In many previous articles we have mentioned that almost anything can be photographed and it has probably been photographed already. Subjects range from a wide array of things, people, animals, abstracts, situations and occasions and almost anything that one can think off.
The digital age has proven to be an open window into the world of photography allowing even the most basic of amateurs into a realm where with a little practice good images can be obtained and made even better with some digital manipulation.
A technique which is seldom used on its own is to photograph a single element, in this case flames. We are not referring to photographing fires although to record an image of one you need the other. The theme involves recording images of the flames themselves, not the fire or anything extraneous to the scene, just the flames as they flicker as they "dance" and go about their usual business.
The size of the flame is not of too much consequence since with a long lens that allows you to get in close even the smallest of them can seem to be made bigger than they really are.
The source of the flames can be anything that produces a fire; candles are very good to work with since the ease of using them and their availability. Their flames however have a tendency to be small, so better examples can be obtained from other sources such as a bonn fire, a fireplace, burning materials such as papers and leaves.
With the majority of sources the flames will be available for quite some time thus allowing you to take your time and compose the images from many angles and perspectives. Other useful sources are those obtained from welding torches and they can be adjusted to produce a bluish flame which makes great images.
Take close ups shots and macros when this can be safely done. Concentrate on their centers but allow for room to make the entire flame fit in the frame. The best shots are off course done during the night hours and the studio is ideally suited for this due to the ease of access and the control that it allows the photographer.
If doing the project in a studio choose a very dark background and set the ambient light to a minimum, the flame will provide the illumination needed. Set your gear on a tripod because your exposure times will vary from probably half a second to a full second. Be very conscious and aware that anything that burns emits fumes and gases, even a candle, so the studio must be properly ventilated and some fire safety precaution taken and do not take any shortcuts here.
Do some research to acquaint yourself with the different materials and the types of flames that each produces since some materials produce yellow, some orange, some a mixture of yellows and oranges and some tend to be bluish in their center. Your goal should be to capture several samples that should be composed in a presentation format similar to a thumbnail.
Once you have recorded your fill of flames samples the next step will be to carefully look at them and select those examples that stand out, have no other elements present in the frame other than the flame itself and if necessary do some digital manipulation such as enhancing the color and hues. Follow this link for a Photoshop tutorial into enhancing colors.
This exercise is very simple so one must attempt to be creative; record images that are different from the rest and I know that this is easier said than done, nevertheless give it your best shot.
Photographs of flames abound but there are probably more that encompass both the source of the fire and the flames, such as burning wood or a fireplace than just the flames alone. Emphasize this and you are sure to get some nice examples which by their very nature full of a rich color are pleasant images.
Use a wide aperture to eliminate most outside elements that can distract an audience's views from the main point of interest and a wide aperture also helps with the shutter speed; the wider the more light that enters the camera thus the faster shutter speed that can be used.
Do some shots that are out of focus, this will create a blending effect upon the image and also has a tendency to "round" off the edges of the flames thus the entire emphasis is directly pointed at the color of the flame.
- Playing With Fire – How to Photograph Fire
Photographing Fire can be a tricky thing – in this post Peter Carey shares some tips on how to do it. All photography needs light. It’s at the heart of the word photography. For the most part that light comes from the sun or from an artificial flash.
© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez
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