ConceptThe concept was to capture fire and movement in a dramatic portrait. I’ve always been fascinated by circus performers and see them as superheroes of public entertainment. The idea of a “femme fatale” ringmaster with a flaming whip wasn’t that far from my previous shoots with the “Wall of Fire”.
ChallengesThis was the very first time I’ve tried using a 6’ bullwhip – on fire – in a shoot. Besides the unknown of how the leather would absorb and burn, I was concerned the speed of the whip would blow out the flame. Another technical challenge would be finding a balance between ambient exposure for the background with burning whip and a single flash pop to freeze the model. Amazingly enough, after practicing our timing, the first shot was one of the best images of the 30 odd frames exposed. We could have shot longer but the fire burned thru the inner cord of the whip. We only purchased two props for the shoot.
Lighting & SetupThe setup was a simple cross light pattern to deliver enough power to light the model, freeze the moment but not overpower the dark alley. The Interfit Photographic S1 with XP PhotoGear A100 Speedbox was placed on camera left aiming slightly in front of the model. The front diffusion panel was removed to use the more spectacular silver finish – inside the modifier – to bring out the velvet texture of the ringmaster coat. A small flash, Interfit TLi-N was mounted on flat metal downspout diagonal from the main light. Using the RapidMount SLX for the flash was crucial to proper placement without using an extra light stand and removing it in post-processing. This cross backlight helped add separation of the model and her outfit from the much darker background. After the light was set, we practiced the timing of the whip movement and settled with a shutter speed of one second. The aperture of f8 cut the available light down enough to keep bleeding to a minimum during the movement of the model. The flash was set to rear curtain sync and would flash to freeze the model at the end of the exposure. We gave a countdown and on 3, the model began the whip swing as I clicked the shutter to start the process. The slow shutter speed exposed the flaming whip, distant background lights and some movement of the model with the final flash freezing her in a forward aggressive pose at the end of the swing.
Shooting TetheredShooting with the Case Air Wireless Tethering System was key to having a larger monitor, in this case, the Apple iPad, to review the shots to make small tweaks and zoom in easily to judge the balance between the ambient and flash exposures. Using a tethered system helps the photographer, talent, and crew stay on the same page of the concept. When shooting with a commercial client, I find that the sessions are more productive and shoot less since content, focus and exposure are more accurately visible with a larger screen. One note on using the iPad with tethering on site. I’ve used just about every online iPad holder and nothing is as sturdy, reliable and safe as the AeroTab. Don’t get suckered into inferior products that will jeopardize your $800 iPad. You will save so much more than money when you invest in the best solution for your gear.
- Nikon D800E with Nikkor 85mm f.18
- Vanguard Auctus Plus 323CT with BBH-300
- Interfit Photographic S1, 500w Battery Powered Strobe
- XP PhotoGear A100 Speedbox with outer diffuser panel removed
- Interfit Photographic TLi-N Flash
- Tether Tools Case Air Wireless Tethering System with camera connected to Apple iPad Air 2
- Tether Tools AeroTab Universal Tablet System – Large
- Tether Tools RapidMount SLX with Rapid Strips
Post-ProcessingThe images were imported into Lightroom, culled and edited using DVLOP tone curves. I used a curve and preset with low contrast blacks for a nice film-like look but still kept the vibrant warm tones. Using Photoshop, I layered two of the best images and blended the flames on the whip to increase the fire and visible travel trail. I also used the dodge tool for brightening the fire.
- Robert Trawick – photographer & coffee drinker
- Terri Trawick – fire master & grip & video
- Shannon Bailey – makeup and wardrobe
- Macy Statton – talent with Vail Model Management
- Christian Bruggeman – fire watcher & video
- John Doe – bicyclist removed in post-processing