Earlier this month, I did a photoshoot for a friend of mine by the name of Alliebee Henna. The concept behind it was to simply shoot a dramatic portrait of myself breathing fire in the middle of a sand pit. Nothing more. Feedback when I tossed the image up on Facebook was absolutely phenomenal – over 750 likes and on 500px, I managed to reach page 1 of the Most Popular.

One problem though, my photo was beaten by none other than this picture of an (admittedly cute) kitten.

500px  Al acecho by Alejandro Rodriguez 1

This prompted a whole bunch of reactions on Facebook that generally ranged from people complaining how cats get all the love on the internet so with that in mind, figured I’d do a little social experiment.

This is more or less what it sums up to:

Fire vs cats copy

So if I take a totally awesome shot of myself breathing fire… and slap it next to a slightly less explosive shot of me posing with a kitten on my shoulder, both for the purpose of showcasing the work of Alliebee Henna… which would be more popular?

This is the photoshoot that resulted:

So which image do you find the most interesting? My biased opinion is the fire one is totally far more badass but some people (*Cough* ladies) tend to lean towards the cat stuff so let me know!


Now for the techy guys out there I’m sure you’re all curious to know how the images were shot so this is just for you:

Shot #1 – the fire stuff.

For those of you who have never shot with fire before, I highly encourage you to read this little bit before.

For the rest of you, you should all know by now that shooting fire spitters requires a high shutter speed to capture all the texture & detail in the flames.

All that is fine and dandy if you’re just trying to capture the flames but what happens when you want to add some off camera flash goodness into the mix?

What normally happens is that you hit the flash sync speed limit of 1/250th of a second.

This is where the Pocketwizard’s Hypersync comes in handy allowing me to shoot with flash at 1/800th of a second.

Since I was shooting with fire, we didn’t want to mix colour temperatures so a CTO gel was slapped on my Elinchrom Ranger Quadra lights to balance all the lights out.

From there, all that had to be done was to properly place myself and my camera assistant Claude Campagna Lupien in position and tweak until we got the image we wanted.

Here’s a (beautiful) light diagram:

Camera on hill

VON 8235 Edit

Nikon D800E | 24-70mm f/2.8 | 1/800th sec at f5.0, ISO 100 | Flex TT5 |Elinchrom Ranger Quadra

Shot #2 – the baby panther stuff

Actually there’s really not that much to say about this shot – to be honest the work wasn’t really in the lighting or technique so much as it was in the “OMG CAT STAY IN PLACE”.

Our tools of choice to keep the cats attention were a laser pointerfly swatter, and lots and lots of patience.

Lighting was a simple two point lighting setup – An Elinchrom Deep Octa on camera right as the main light and a brand spankin’ new LumoPro LP180 on camera left to make our cute little kitten pop out just a little bit. We were actually dealing with relatively cramped conditions so I had my camera assistant Chance Nguyen shoot me through a small window with a 70-200 as I tried to flex, pose, look awesome while balancing a cat on my shoulders. (Being a model is hard work!)

Shot2 kitten

VON 8660 Edit

Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f2.8 | 1/125th sec at f6.3, ISO 100 | Flex TT5 |Elinchrom Ranger Quadra

In Conclusion:

I’m quite curious to see the results of this challenge especially since I sacrificed almost all the hair on the right side of my head to make the second shot possible. (Kinda ironic how I lost my hair on the kitten shoot as opposed to one where I’m breathing fire… but I digress…)

I’d like to thank all of you who take the time to comment and vote, and also would like to point out that you can head over to my fan page to run the chance to win a print of your choice (fire or kitten) sponsored by theprintspace.

Also, I’m totally down to accepting a free haircut to fix up my head in either Vancouver or Edmonton where I’ll be for the next two weeks giving a series of workshops and conferences!

The lopsided haircut:

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  • Just got the most amazing tripod ever from 3 legged thing. Check it out.
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  • NEED YOUR HELP! I’m currently doing a reader survey of people that follow me and would greatly appreciate you taking 5 minutes to reply!

Special Gear used:

See what else is in my camera bag when I travel!


  • Eva

    Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.

    • gwen

      i say the world will end in kittens

      • It’ll be like a zombie apocalypse but with…Kittens

  • Sam Tsang

    Fire FTW!!!

  • Dave Clendenan

    If anyone else is having trouble getting to the
    vancouver event page, it worked for me if I stripped the ‘https’ off. Looks like the host has a bad redirect for the SSL site. Don’t know if this will affect the registration process (sadly I am otherwise committed and will miss what looks like a great event)…


  • Brian Reese

    What power settings were used on the Ranger? Could the same result be achieved with speedlights? 1 or 2?

    • Always max power settings to have the longest flash duration.
      Speedlights, you might be better off using auto FP

  • I love your little drawings Ben! very artistic!
    But I vote kitten 🙂

  • Lily

    Fire definitely 🙂

  • Jessica Katharsys

    I actually am more intrigued by the second picture. The overall lighting and mood + framing of the shot is much more interesting to me, especially knowing the back story. The fire breathing pic is awesome, but I almost found it to be a bit too busy for my tastes, with so many different textures and patterns happening simultaneously. (perhaps that’s what you were going for though?)
    Keep in mind that this response is coming from a professional pyro who thinks just about everything looks better on fire. I like both pictures, but when faced with a choice between the two, I’m going to have to go with the cat 😉

  • Richard Rocco Vier

    Fire, absolutely.

  • Alex

    There is only fire!

  • Eric Daoust

    Without a single second of hesitation… Fire!

  • Fabrizio Garbolino

    Hi Benjamin, I love your work.
    Fire photo is really great…. but i’m a cat photographer… hahahah!!!! so I have to chose the cat picture.
    You really inspire me alot
    Hope to see you one day in Italy

    thank’s for your super blog


  • Sam

    Fire of course …. and thx for the inspiration : I did this “whitout fire” but with a single Elinchrom Quadra to try to get the light as if it comes from the fire … 🙂


  • Daniel Lalande

    The fire shot is just amazing. In the fire shot, is all that fire from one exposure or did you combine some flames from other frames to create such a big fireball?

  • Collin-Zoё

    Definitely fire. Really sick of cats. And if you happen to pass through Seattle when you’re done in Vancouver, I’ll give you a free haircut.

    • hahaha i’m in seattle right now ^_^

      • collin-zoe

        sent you a message on Facebook. Text me and I’ll meet you scissors in hand…

  • The cat one, of course! But then, I sculpt cats for a living so I may be a little biased. All said and done, the fire one looks like it could be on the cover of any ol’ video game or action flick. The kitten one is unique and intriguing. The lighting is incredible. The subject contrast is lovely (man versus kitten). The second pic tells more of a story.

  • Dorothea Nicole Agborg

    At last i found you. Hi i am an auther from Sweden now publishing my debut Novel. There is a photo from your Storm serie i would very much like to have as a cover of my book.describe the story in one pic. i know you own the copy right so pleas contact me on above e mail adress. i would bvery much like to bye the picture. anyone that can help me…..Thank you so much
    Dorothea Nicole Agborg