I was recently invited to Singapore to shoot performance troop Starlight Alchemy and help them capture images of some of their latest tools in action.

Shooting a volatile substance like fire is all about understanding how fire reacts in different situations and being able to anticipate how they’re going to look on camera. With a variety of different tools from flamethrowers, to fire helixes solutions had to be found to create amazing imagery in each circumstance.

The key to great fire images, cheesy as it may sound, is experience.

  • Experience with flames: Knowing what they’ll look like, knowing how best to capture it’s texture, and knowing where to position yourself.
  • Experience with your camera: Being able to adapt your camera settings to the fire as it builds up and dies down.
  • Experience with postproduction: Being able to combine and manipulate factors that are uncontrollable.

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1/500 at f/3.5, ISO 100 Nikon D800E | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G – Custom flamethrowers and plexiglass shields.

How to shoot it: Faster shutter speed, wide angle lens to get nice and close, expose for the highlights.

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2.3 sec at f/14, ISO 100 – Nikon D800E | 24-70mm f/2.8G – Large wire cage wrapped in Kevlar

How to shoot it: Slower shutter speed, shooting on bulb mode to capture a different variety of textures with a rear sync flash. Elinchrom Ranger Quadra with a deep octa to freeze our character in place.

Flames truly look best when in motion – either as an explosion (fire breathing) or as a motion trail, and as they only cast a certain amount of light based on the effect, bringing in external flashes can really make or break an image.

They help you carve your characters out and give dimension.

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0.4 sec at f/9.0, ISO 100 – Nikon D800E | 24-70mm f/2.8 – Fire Helix and Fire staff.

How to shoot it: Slower shutter speed, shooting on bulb mode to capture a different variety of textures with a rear sync flash placed close to the water for an exciting reflection. Elinchrom Ranger Quadra with a deep octa to freeze our character in place from camera right to imitate the light from the torch.

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1/800 sec at f/6.3, ISO 100 – Nikon D800E | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G – Custom “phoenix” flamethrower.

How to shoot it: Fast shutter speed to capture the explosion out of the flamethrower. Elinchrom Ranger Quadra bare bulbed with hypersync to create a rear glow.

This doesn’t mean that amazing imagery cannot be achieved without flashes. Certain effects output more lights than others and when you understand how an effect works… you can start building up your images.

Starlight Alchemy VonWong 1
1/1250 at f/6.3, ISO 100 – Nikon D800E | 70-200mm f/2.8 – 3x Fire Staffs
performing a “burnoff”

How to shoot it: Fast shutter speed to capture the explosions with a telephoto lens to compress the perspective. Characters hidden behind the main subjects were responsible for tossing up the staffs.

Starlight Alchemy VonWong 2

1/200 sec at f/10, ISO 100 – Nikon D800E | 24-70mm f/2.8 – Fire wands, fire breathing.

How to shoot it: “Medium” shutter speed to capture motion and firebreathing. Multiple tries to get as much textures as possible and enhanced in postproduction. Ranger Quadra in a deep octa hitting the characters from camera right and another flash on camera left in a softbox hitting the back of the models to carve them out of the flames.

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And once you understand how to shoot with and without flashes, and master the variety of different effects… you can combine them all together to produce amazing imagery that has never been seen before regardless of the challenges you face.

If you’re looking to get into fire photography, look for professional artists in your area of town. Don’t do this alone at home!! Feel free to read this guide I wrote on how to shoot fire.

And once you’ve found your professionals and practiced your skills… I’m judging a photo competition in the category of “FIRE” and would love to see your submissions. Check it out here: http://circuscompetition.com/ and get a 10% off using the promo code: VONWONG10P_EXP_20140531


  • Fire performers: Starlight Alchemy
  • Helpers: Raymond Phang, Raymond Ee, Cornel Popescu, Clement Egyx, James Hii
  • Video: Ida + In
  • Video Assist: Ki Za Mezame


  • I’ll be streaming a photoshop workshop in San Diego! Don’t miss out on it!
  • I’ll be hanging out with SmugMug in San Francisco, be sure to check the fan page for updates on a free hangout session!
  • Upcoming travel plans in NYC and Vietnam! Send me a message if you’re around and want to hang out!

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  • Good heavens, no one captures fire like you do bud! Well done, love how you captured the fire helix.

  • Mark Zee

    great work Von Wong 🙂

  • Herman

    Normally elinchrome quadra can’t sync faster than 1/250, what trigger did you use?

  • Christopher Coleman

    Respect. That was very bad ass.

  • Yosef Adest

    Excellent, thanks for revealing this info!! Very helpful stuff from you, as always..!

  • whats up with his arm in “burnoff”?

  • Björn Lubetzki

    WOW! I had goosebumps when I watched the video and the video stopped playing I sat there, thinking about it and the next wave of goosebumps hit me.

    Which Ranger head did you use? I am thinking of shooting fire (but nothing on that scale, not even close). But I am a bit limited due to my Jinbei FL-500 flash which has a flash duration of “You aren’t able to freeze a snail”. The only way I can freeze motion is with the Supersync of my Yongnuo triggers. It works but there are certainly better ways