Friday, February 19, 2010

365/49 Any !@$% light available!

365/49 Any !@$% light available!

"Mr. Smith, is the only good light available light?" came the question.

He leaned into the microphone. "Yes," he baritoned, and paused.

A shudder ran through all of us. That was it! No more flash! God's light or nothing!

But then he leaned back into the mic, "By that, I mean, any &*%%@$ light that's available."

Joe McNally

For those that have followed me, you'll know that I have a certain affinity for photographing fire. There's a certain appeal to watching the flames lick the air while being tossed around a dancer's body like it was nothing but a cheap child's toy. I've been doing this for a few years now and occasionally go back to some of my earlier work to see how I've progressed since I began.

The most prominent difference between then and now is that I seem to be focusing less on the fire and more on the person. Capturing faces mixed with the flames is where I really dig the image. It was a bit of a novelty to do extended shutter times before, drop the aperture to a good F8 or F11, and then click away until the flash card went full. I loved the tracing arcs and random flips. It was a fiery light painting for which I could do no wrong.

But, as time went on, I found myself getting more and more bored with it. If you're around fire spinners for awhile, you get to see what the routines are, what the moves are, what the pace is. Pretty soon, those images begin to look all the same. I began looking for new people to photograph playing with fire. If it was the same old dance, I just moved along. But, when someone new came out, I would watch them. You could tell when someone was going to do something new and different. The focus was different because I paid more attention to what they were experiencing within the circle of flames than I was watching the flames themselves.

I went from poi, to staff, to fire swords, to ... well, whatever I hadn't seen before.

The more these photos evened out, repeated, and circled back, the more I wanted to stop shooting fire. But, then I began focusing more on the person, watching their expressions while the flames licked at their heels. They were often so focused on the task at hand, they let their guard down, relaxing from the day's stress, and letting the fire wind them down. These were the moments I wanted to record. The intensity, the creativity, the expression.

So, I began focusing on it. The more I did it, the more I realized that it was the expression that brought the photo to life, not the fire. And now I find myself paying attention to this before I even think about touching the fire.

I've tried a few times mixing flash and flame with not much notable success. I haven't yet figured out how to control the two together. It should be like any other light, right? Not when you have another person doing a controlled chaotic throw of one of your light sources. This is one hell of a continuous light ... it continually moves all in the right or wrong direction. Makes you get better at anticipating where the flame will be when you need it in the frame. The last thing you want to do is trigger the shutter and find that the face has been plastered over by hot, burning flames o' death.

But I digress. I'm having fun with the portrait side of flame. Even if it tinges everything a nice, glowing orange.

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