Light Performance

Light performances are amazing amazing to watch. To be more specific I’m talking about fire, LED light, light painting and steel wool performances. Beautiful but they can be quite difficult to photograph. These situations are usually in very low light environments with varying light intensity from the subject. LED lights are very dim. Fire can be bright but as a fire prop gets used up it starts to dim. There are some real challenges to learn about and a variety of ways to capture these performances and I’m going to cover the basics here.

Fire Performances

Fire performances are really impressive. Someone having fire and controlling into a sequence or flow is not common and really stands out from what you see everyday. It requires safety procedures and practice. As well as a comfortable risk of getting a bit burned.


For the photographer there are different obstacles and options. So here are the primary options.

Fast Shutter


The idea here is to capture the subject as you see them with a fast shutter. Technically the faster the shutter the better. 1/200 or faster is great. Of course the faster shutter darkens your image so you need to compensate with larger aperture and more ISO. The common rules of aperture apply of course so if you want just their eyes in focus get close and try f1.4, or if you want more of them in focus backup and goto f4. Then compensate with ISO.

Slow Shutter


Like many situations when you have a dark environment and a light you can lengthen your shutter speed and start to streak the light. This can crate interesting effects and patterns depending on the prop used. Of course this will quickly blur out the person till they are gone all together, giving a more abstract image.

Slow Shutter With Flash


Here is where some unique shots really start to form. Getting the trail of long shutter but freezing the subject with a flash/strobe creates a “best of both worlds” image. However, the intensity of the flash needs to be massive to overpower the light of the fire. And even still, if the performer doesnt move much the fire with still bounce light off the performer enough for the camera sensor to still pick them up. Also, to create a more natural looking photo i recommend a warm gel on the flash to give the feel the the frozen subject is actually being created by the fire itself even though they are not.

Fire Breathing


This is an even more unique type of fire performance. Its a bit more dangerous so only a few performers can do it. It’s also a very different situation to shoot. Theres really just one way to do this that I like. Super fast shutter in burst mode. The setting for these were around: 1/4000 sec,  f/2.8,  ISO 2000. The trick is to time it right, guess the composition right and keep the fire from blowing out completely. As every mouth full of fuel can very in quantity and spread these tricks can be tricky to make happen.

LED Light Performances

LED Light performances can be especially mesmerizing. The move, they spin and they flow in a way thats oddly soothing to watch. And since these performances don’t rely on fuel they can last awhile. These props are much smaller at the source of the light compared to fire so the Fast Shutter option from before is pretty much out too, even with flash. Almost any LED prop will be much dimmer than the fire performers. There’s practically no chance a person will be recorded on the sensor with LED light alone. This almost eliminates the Slow Shutter option from before. For an abstract image it can be fun but in general to capture the performer in their entirety you need a flash/strobe. Which means typically the best way to capture these performers with with the Slow Shutter With Flash option.

Slow Shutter With Flash


The slow shutter will give you light trails, which with LED props can be amazing. Abstract patterns of color and sometimes even images produced can show up. And a with the right performance even a pattern. The length of you shutter can vary since environmental light wont be involved, it just depends on how much streaking you want. Try more and less. With the flash its important to remember the LED props are much dimmer so only a flash with minimum intensity is usually required. Throwing on a gel can even make it feel like the prop is adding some light to the subject with connects the image pretty well.

Light Painting & Steel Wool

I’ll most likely create separate posts for Light Painting and Steel Wool but these can show up at events with performers so I thought I’d add a little something here too.


Light painting is basically the idea of setting up a long shutter and painting in light purposefully in a way to create a specific type of image. It can be done with flashlights, flashes, laser pointers, even phones. This requires much more forethought and trial and error to get the desired results. But this can also have a great sense of reward. This is typically a dimmer setup so adjust setting to capture more light than less.


Steel Wool is a bit of a spectacle and can give some interesting results. Both short shutter and long have value. The best results have purposeful subject matter, interaction or reflection. Mostly meaning steel wool looks awesome when it bounces off something or is reflected in water. Start around 5sec, f4 and ISO300 and adjust from there.

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