2nd September 2011 Great Fire of London

How to Photograph FireToday is the anniversary of the Great Fire of London in 1666. The fire consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral 70,000 homes of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants The death toll from the fire remains a mystery as only six verified deaths were recorded (6 Rich people of course). But of all the facts about the great fire, the only fact that puzzles me is that no photographs exist of the great fire and I think I know why. It is not as easy as you think to photograph fire.

The usual mistakes made when photographing fire is to overexpose the fire and so making the flame totally white and without colour. The other problem can be with auto focus as the camera hunts to find a dancing flame.

Here are my top tips for photographing fire.

  1. Get a uncluttered dark background or photograph the fire at night time. This will make the fire look more vivid. Make sure background is kept away from the fire. The worst light to photograph a fire is direct sunlight as you may see a cluttered background.
  2. Use a high shutter speed if you want to record the patterns sharply as the fire dances with amazing speed. If possible try for a shutter speed of 1/500sec or above.
  3. The flames will flicker towards and away from the camera so if you want a sharp photo you need to have a reasonably deep depth of field and close the aperture down to say f/5.6 or f/8.
  4. Use manual exposure and set the camera to Spot metering. You can then meter off a flame without the dark background affecting the exposure reading. Take a test shot and check the histogram for any blown out flames, in which case reduce the exposure (make darker) and test again.
  5. Use Manual exposure to lock in the ISO, Aperture and shutter speed so you know every photograph will be exposed the same. If in doubt, use my settings under “Tech Stuff” heading below but mote that hotter fires needs darker exposures.
  6. Use manual focusing. And to lock in the focus use a tripod so that the camera position stay the same. On some cameras such as my Canon G11, you will need to manual focus before setting the shutter speed as this will allow the image to be seen on the LCD screen.
  7. You may find it easier to first practice on a candle in a breeze free position as the flame will be constant.
  8. Take lots of photos and each photo will be very unique and impossible to ever reproduce. Select your favorite one(s) afterwards.
  9. If you are photographing people around a campfire, put the camera on tripod and take 2 photos, one exposing to get the fire correct and one exposing to get the people correct. Merge both photos later using photoshop or similar photo editing software.

Please handle fire with care. Fire can cause injury, death and worse than that, carbon is released into the atmosphere causing harmful green house gasses.

Tech Stuff
Canon G11
Manual Focus and Manual Exposure using the spot meter as a guide
1/500 sec
ISO 200
Manual Focus
Black studio background
How to Photograph Fire

show hide 6 comments

iteddyVes LOL good point Paul, Yes they got away with it in 1666 but it would not be politically correct today to burn down a city and release all that carbon !!!!

Dick Pypepoody Бежать впереди истории гораздо интереснее, чем описывать ее.

Paul Copsey Agreed Dick, I am doing my own thing in this blog and am not replicating/describing what other photographers are doing.

priolomeree Dont you think Paul that maybe no photos exist because film has not been invented till about the 1870’s ??

Paul Copsey Ahh you just making excuses for them now ,,,, :-)

Coulombe Hartness Hello there, You have explained this very welland I am going try it out. Cheers!

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