How I Got the Shot: Markus Hofstaetter

Posted by: on Jun 23, 2020

How I Got the Shot: Markus Hofstaetter
Photo Credit: Markus Hofstaetter


The fire reminds me of passion and love – burning passion. Veronika and Andreas booked me for their wedding and that’s how very everything begun. I asked them if they wanted to do a crazy unique wedding portrait and they immediately agreed.


I pictured the final image already in my mind, now I just had to ask the couple if they are into it. The answer was yes. So, they practiced the pose and I had to do my homework during the planning phase. Now I must mention, that I’m also a wet plate collodion photographer and doing a lot of preparation for one shot is daily business.

First, I had to take care of the safety aspect – this was the most important thing to me. I tried to think of every little thing that could go wrong. I’m used from my wet plate collodion process to take safety serious, because of the dangerous chemicals there. So, we had lots of safety material on the set and even a dress code, that prohibits synthetic materials.

Photo Credit: Markus Hofstaetter

Setup and Lighting

For the reflection, I build a little pond with pond liner, wooden boards and some bricks. Just to get a water depth of about 5 to 10cm. There was also a pedestal in the middle of the pond for the couple.

The giant torch was made of a 3-Meter-long 120mm Kevlar wick that was mounted on an about 2,5-Meter-long aluminum stick. The wick was mounted with carabiners to the stick and another carabiner was used as a contra weight at the other end. We had to do some dry runs to get the right movement and to see how close we are to the couple. If it would have been a windy day, we had to cancel the shoot, because it would have been too risky. To get the odor-free lamp oil on the wick, I used a metal pot with a lid, so I can seal the pod in the case of fire. The pot had to be far away from the place where we lightened the fire. It was important to have two assistants for the fire paining. One who moves the torch and one who helps killing the flames with wet sheets. We had also a fire extinguisher and a fire blanked on the set. The assistant who was holding the torch was wearing a special fire-resistant suit from the fire department. The whole place was wet before the shoot too. I had to cut down some branches from a tree, to avoid contact with the fire.

It’s also important to have a business liability insurance for the shooting and a permission if it’s not your own place.

For the setup, I used a beauty dish with a grid on a Hensel Tria 6000 Generator with a Hensel EH 6000 flash head at about half power. The second strobe was a Hensel INTEGRA 500 PLUS with a 12″ Reflector and grid.

With the grids on the strobes I could direct the light to the subject without hitting the water. This was important for the reflection and to not illuminate the water itself. As you can see I had to shoot from the side, so I don’t get a bright background, that would have been seen behind the fire. My Canon 5D MKIII including the Canon 35mm 1.4L lens was mounted on a big Linhof ball head which was mounted on a Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod. I used the Canon TC-80N3 remote trigger cable to avoid any shake on the camera.

The Team Gets the Shot

We put the Kevlar wick in the pot, I drained it with the oil. Then we walked away from the pod and I fired it up. I went back to the camera, the couple did their pose and I pressed the shutter button (Camera was on ISO 100, F22 in bulb mode). In this moment, the strobes were triggered wirelessly and I shouted “go” to the Assistant who carried the torch. He started going with the giant fire torch from right to the left. As soon as he left the frame, I released the shutter and the second assistant put the wet blanket over the burning wick to kill the fire. I shot the whole thing tethered to my laptop, so I can control immediately the picture in Lightroom. This was important to me – because I wanted to have the right exposure on the couple and I also wanted to be sure to have enough red color in the flames. So, I could also see if the strobes would freeze the posing action in the long exposure. We needed 5 tries to get the final image. I did some standard Lightroom adjustments and only minor post-processing in Affinity Photo.

About Markus Hofstaetter

Markus Hofstaetter is an Austria-based photographer whose primary focus is awe-inspiring portrait photography.