Playing with fire Burning rubber
Studio photographer Dan McClanahan reveals how he adds a creative spark to portraits
FIre painting had always intrigued me, so one night I tried it for myself in the alleyway behind my studio. This photo came about as a creative collaboration with a friend who manages a hair salon – we wanted to amplify the model’s hair colour using a photography style that’s unlike typical studio work. I incorporated a motorcycle and leather jacket because I thought the textures and reflections would look awesome with the fire, and would create maximum contrast between the dark subject and the bright fire in the final image.
First, I took a shot to nail down the composition, pose, and flash power. I chose a low angle to make the model look empowered, and used flash lighting from four Profoto strobes. The main light was a gridded beauty dish that created a splash of dramatic lighting on the model’s face without spilling too much onto the rest of the scene. I added two rim lights and a light under the motorbike, with orange gels to help my artificial light blend in with the ambient light from the fire.
Once these details were determined, I captured a perfect posed shot before adding any fire, to use as a base image when blending multiple exposures later. For this I used a pop of flash to freeze the model and make her appear sharp.
For the fire in this shot I used a 20cm piece of Kevlar rope (which withstands multiple burnings better than regular rope) tied to the end of a metal pole, and dipped it in tiki torch fluid. The fluid burned for approximately 30 seconds, giving a handful of exposures per burn.
I had my model hold as still as possible while my friend ran back and forth through the frame several times to create fire streaks with interesting composition. At this point I experimented with shutter speed to dial in the amount of fire I wanted to capture. I landed on a four-second exposure, at f/14 and ISO 100.
To finish the image, I blended my favourite exposures together by layering them in Photoshop and using the Lighten Blending mode, so that only the lighter areas would show up from an exposure placed on top of my base image.