Fire Trails

029_AbqFireDancerFire trails are a unique form of light trails created by fire in constant motion.

Fire trails are not well defined streams of light like those left by other light sources.

Fire streaking through the air, or running along the ground, creates flames all along the path of movement.

Opportunities to capture fire trails are rare indeed. Contained fires are usually stationary and burn as a hot mass. Out of control fires spread and grow in unpredictable ways, but frequently do create blazing trails along the way.

But let’s be smart. Trying to track down fiery trails in the middle of a fire emergency, like a burning building or a forest fire, might reap spectacular results, but is a lot more dangerous than wise. Not an activity being promoted here.

On the other hand, there are people who perform with fire in a safe and orderly manner. Such activity affords us the opportunity to capture fire in motion as an expanded moment.

Fire trails are a form of light painting in a controlled environment. The difference is that we are recording someone else performing the drawing with light, someone who’s a seasoned veteran and knows how to play with fire.

When we find such an event, it is a chance to capitalize on our practice of photographing light in all of its forms, and an opportunity to capture an uncommon image.

HOW TO : Photograph Fire Trails

Use the suggested f-stop outlined in aperture settings. Typical exposures should be just a few seconds to avoid overlapping trails.

Leave the shutter open only while the fire is in motion to capture the subtle details in the flames. Watch for patterns created by the moving flames to determine when to close the shutter.

Knowing how to photograph fire as outlined in my earlier post is a must.

IMAGE : Fire Dancer, Albuquerque, NM

I had the opportunity to photograph a practice session of a group of fire spinners as a part of my “Rhythm of the Night” portfolio for the Albuquerque Arts Program in 2010.

The fire trails were created by a man swinging burning balls hanging at the end of 2 ropes.

This image is the result of a 4 to 5 second exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. It was selected from 2 rolls of film I shot over a period of 2 hours. I captured a lot of variations, but this image was the most unexpected.

  • Mouse over the image above to view the original BW image without toning. If mouse over does not work, go to Fire Trails on my blog.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryFireGolden

The warm to hot toning was chosen to emphasize the fire trails by adding color contrast to the flames. This is a good example of using toning to colorize a black and white image.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile derived from the “GalleryFireGolden” Color Map created in Mac App SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Fire Trails

Seek out a group or an individual who performs with fire in the night. Get permission to photograph an event or a practice session. Always keep yourself and your camera at a safe distance from the flames.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that tossing or twirling burning objects around yourself to get shots of fire trails is a really bad idea. As they say, “Do not try this at home.”

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Fire Trails

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

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