The vastly different elements and conditions on show around the world are one of the main reasons why I love photography. Fire, Water, Earth, Storms, Waves, Snowfall, and so much more. There’s just so much variety out there, and it’s all beautiful in it’s own right. That said, capturing the elements is not always easy, and the photography approach required will vary greatly depending on each situation. In this elements photography tutorial, we’re focusing on fire.

Fire is perhaps the most mesmerising element of the bunch. There’s something I find really fascinating about fire and the way it moves. 

Group sat on beach around a campfire and girl drawing a heart in the air with a fire stick.
Who doesn’t love a campfire?

It’s therefore not surprising that I love fire photography.

Elements Photography Takes Practice

If you know what you’re doing you can get some insane shots. If you really want to take a photo that’ll spark conversation or light up your Instagram feed (pardon the puns, I couldn’t resist), read on!

Find or Safely Make the Fire

Ok, this is not exactly a photography tip, but even the best fire photographer is useless without a fire! 

Small campfire captured in the woods made from bits of tree branch with an axe lay down next to it.
Building a fire takes some planning.

Unless it’s bonfire night or you’re travelling somewhere you know has fire (maybe a volcano?), chances are you’re going to have to make the fire yourself.

Unless your name is Bear Grylls, chances are you won’t be able to just pick up some sticks and create fire, so come prepared:

  • Bring the right equipment
  • Research where you can legally build a fire
  • Make sure you take appropriate safety measures… Fire can be extremely dangerous and shouldn’t be underestimated
  • Put it out after, and clear up after yourself

Check out this article for more fire safety tips.

Where to Build a Fire for Photography?

Building a fire for elements photography is not the same as building it for warmth or cooking. You need to think about your surroundings, and plan your shot out. What do you want to pick up in your shot? Is it going to be portrait or landscape? Figure all of this out before you build your fire.

Now onto the actual elements photography tutorial:

Detail or Blur?

There’s 2 ways you can capture the fire in your image. You can really show off the flames and sparks in detail, almost like a freeze of time. Or, you can capture the flame as more of a glowing light source, with the flames more blurred out. 

Both can look fantastic if done properly, you’ve just got to decide which is for you:

1. Sharp, Detailed Fire

As I mentioned, this is where you’re going to capture the fire in almost a freeze motion. Do it properly and you’ll get a result like this:

Campfire on the beach captured for elements photography with sparks flying off.
Image by Guthrie Collins, check out his Instagram.

This incredible image is by American Photographer Guthrie Collins, who kindly allowed us to feature his image in our article. 

Notice how the flames are captured in incredible detail, you can even see the sparks flying off the wood. 

Get Close up for Sharp Fire

As with Guthrie’s picture, you want to get close to the fire (not too close though!). Fill your image with the flames so you can really see the detail nicely. If you take the photo too far away, you’ll struggle to show off the flames, which is the whole point of going for a sharp fire image.

Camera Set Up:

As always with camera settings, you need to be focusing on your Shutter speed, Aperture and ISO. If you don’t know the steps required to sharpen, darken, lighten etc. a photo using those tools, then I’d recommend learning. You can start by getting to grips with the basics & learning what not to do!

While you’re mastering those photography settings, you can still play around in ‘auto’ on your camera. You’ll likely still be able to get some nice fire images if you follow the rest of our tips!

For your Detailed Fire Photo You’re Going to Want:

Shutter speed – Fast shutter speed. Flames move really fast, so you want to really reduce the amount of time your camera is taking the photo for to really pick up the details in the flames.

Aperture (F) – You want a narrow Aperture (large F-number), around f/8. Now, when you increase your F number, it does darken the image. However, this isn’t a problem for a close up fire image because fire is so full of light.

ISO – General rule with ISO is use the lowest ISO you can. Increasing ISO increases the exposure in the image, but it does also reduce the quality/crispness of the photo. Keep it low for a close-up fire shot, but increase it slightly if you want to be able to pick up other objects or people in the image as well.

TIP – You need to keep your camera as still as possible to reduce any motion blur. Make sure you use a tripod, or check out this article for how to keep your arms steady for photography.

2. Blurred Fire

When capturing a blurry fire, you’re going to hopefully achieve something like the image below.

Two men sat around a blurred out campfire fire on the beach at night, with palm trees in the background and stars in the sky.

As you can tell from the photo, blurry fire images are often best when the fire is the main light source in the photo, and also when the camera is not too close to the fire.

When done right, you get this glow effect from the fire, which can produce some really nice results.

Camera Set Up:

The main difference between sharp and blurred fire settings is the shutter speed.

Shutter Speed: You are going to want to increase your shutter speed (slow it down) for a blurred fire. This is because a longer shutter speed means the camera is taking the photo for longer. As the flames move while the camera is taking the photo, they blend into a blur. When you lengthen your shutter speed, this will increase the amount of light taken into the camera.

ISO/Aperture: If you’ve got your camera on auto and you choose a slow shutter speed, the camera should automatically choose the ISO for you. As I mentioned before, we have a free resource available for you on our resources page to help exposure.

TIP – With a longer shutter speed, it’s even more important that you keep your camera still. It’s unlikely that even the steadiest hands will cut it now. You’re going to need a tripod.

Tips to improve your fire image

Use Props or Photography Tools

As fantastic as a campfire on the beach is, it has been done before. To really stand out, you need to make your photo unique in some way. This is in fact true for all photography, not just fire shots.

What could that entail? Perhaps you could do something yourself in front of the fire, maybe a hand stand or something? You could try shooting through some trees, you could throw sand in the air, there’s a lot of options. The key is just to get creative.

EXAMPLE – I made a fire on the beach a couple of months ago, and while it was no doubt a lovely fire, I wanted to get a really unique shot. I tried a few things, but the one that ended up getting the best result was by using my lens ball (see below).

I took the image through the lens ball, after propping it on the edge of the fire (very carefully)! Because I shot through the lens ball, it made the photo that much better (in my opinion).

Lens ball next to campfire on beach
I took this a couple of months ago in Wales, UK.

Light it up

If you’re going to spend all that time building a fire to photograph, surely you want it roaring for the photo? Fires can burn for a long time, but the really bright, orange flames don’t always last too long.

A quick trick you can do is, just before you’re about to take the shot, throw some dry grass or paper on the fire. Anything that burns really fast will do the job. Basically this will give the fire a temporary boost of light and get it really burning, just in time for you to take the photo.

Enhance the Fire Further in Post Production

If you use an editing software such as Lightroom, you can enhance your fire even more in post production.

Obviously what needs to be done will be different from photo to photo. That said, a popular option would be to maybe enhance or alter the colour in the flames.

If you want to learn more on this, check out this article to learn how to properly colour grade your photos in Lightroom.

Test some presets for your fire images in Lightroom (or equivalent)

If you aren’t familiar with presets, they’re essentially ‘fancy filters’ that you can put over your photos. This can be really useful if you’re fairly new to photo editing or if you don’t have access to premium editing tools.

They’re also just a great time saver and allow you to keep a consistent style across all of your photos (if that’s something important to you).

If you aren’t sure where to get your hands on presets, we’ve compiled a list of the best free presets for Lightroom mobile that is a good place to start.

Remember that with fire photography, you’re talking about quite unusual photos, and so there will be a lot of presets that won’t really be suitable. That said, if you find a preset that makes your fire images pop, then of course, use it!

One half of People of the Planet. Sharing our adventures, best travel tips and travel photography! We created People of the Planet to provide a place for all travellers to learn, explore and find travel inspiration.

Author Christian Larby

One half of People of the Planet. Sharing our adventures, best travel tips and travel photography! We created People of the Planet to provide a place for all travellers to learn, explore and find travel inspiration.

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