The Week of the Dragon - Fifty Two Weeks Project #2

For this week I decided to get off my backside and go shoot something I've been meaning to do for nearly a year - shoot a fire-breather!

I've shot fire before and it's quite tricky to get the exposure right. It's incredibly easy to burn out the highlights - no pun intended - and getting any kind of person or context in the same frame as the fire is more luck than judgement.

I shot all my test images in manual using the 6D, keeping the shutter speed quite fast, the aperture quite narrow to ensure maximum depth of field and used the ISO to control the overall exposure. This approach worked pretty well I think!  Trust me it needs to be viewed larger to fully appreciate it :)

Here is the completed image from week 2... The Week of the Dragon!

As I say, shooting fire can be quite hit & miss even when you have dialled in the correct camera settings. Burst mode, manual focus and keeping a keen eye on the subject give you the best chance of timing it perfectly. Sometimes though, things don't quite pan out as you'd hope and elements of your shot need to be fixed. This is the case in the image above.

For reference - here's the starting image.

Quite different in some respects! I loved the fire and the guy doing it, but this image has a few problems I needed to fix first.

  • Another guy is standing directly behind the fireball - no performers were harmed during the making of this shot, but they did sometimes get in the way! He needed to go.
  • Another performer is very faint standing right behind the main subject
  • The main firebreather himself is blurry, the focal point here is about halfway between him and the front of the fire and even at f/10 the DOF wasn't sufficient.
  • The fireball is clipped on the left and the top of the frame.
  • The torch they use to ignite the fire is visible on the bottom of the frame and is a bit distracting.

I began by removing the main distraction, the guy with the singed eyebrows standing right in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cloning him out was very easy and cloning back in some of the "fire-spray" masked the join nicely. This removed the lit torch at the bottom too, removing two problems in one go.

Next up I extended the canvas slightly by anchoring it in the bottom right corner and adding 1.5cm to the left and 1cm to the top. I used content-aware fill to change the jet-black new canvas colour to match the faint orange glow from the fireball. I then used elements of flames from other photos I shot on the night to "round out" the left hand side of the fireball, blending them in so you can't see the join.

This just left the main guy. In the end, the fact he was just slightly out of focus was too distracting so I removed him completely. On the night, at this moment, each performer would come to the front of the stage in turn and puff out the biggest fireball they could. The guy with his head cut off in this frame was next in line, so I pulled together his image & combined it with this fireball to produce the final shot. Neatly removing the "ghost-man" at the same time. The final effect is a composite, taking the best of a few back-to-back frames and putting them together to showcase the best of the performance.

An 'also-ran' image is below, I very nearly used this because of the nice lighting on the guy & the shape of a horse-head in the flame! In the end I went for the final image above because it simply has much greater impact and matches what I wanted to achieve (and what I saw on the night) much better.