Light Painting with Fire - Items Needed and Preparation

Fire long exposure light painting photography equipment

You need a lot of supplies for this photoshoot.  Some items you even have to make yourself.  Here is a basic text list of the things you need, I'll go into detail further down the page.  Photography equipment/steps will be explained on Step 3 - Taking the pictures. 

Equipment
  • Fire Wick (6')

  • Pole/rod

  • Eyelet kit

  • Carabiner

  • Aluminum tape or metal fasteners

Burning and extinguishing
  • Bucket

  • Lighter

  • Coleman's camp fuel 

  • Large towel soaked with water

  • Fire extinguisher or hose nearby

Safety gear/clothing
  • Closed-toed shoes

  • Dark pants and shirt or jacket

  • Leather or work gloves

  • Clear safety glasses

  • Head lamp (optional)

Photography
  • Camera (or 2)

  • Tripod

  • Wireless remote trigger

    • Or a friend and a shutter release cable

  • ND filters (optional)​

Fire long exposure light painting photography equipment

Equipment

Kevlar Fire Wick

The "fire wick" is the hardest part of this to acquire.  You might also read about it as a Kevlar strap  or Kevlar wick.  Any size will probably work for this photography, the thickness/width will affect how much fuel it uses and how much fire it makes.  I ordered 1 inch wide strap, 1/8 inch thick.  I ordered 14 feet of it so that if I managed to use up one wick I could make another, and so that I could have some extra for testing and playing around with.  

You can find lots of places online to buy them if you Google it.  I ordered mine from Renegade Juggling, I think it was the cheapest place I could find.  Mine was $1/foot, with $6 for shipping.  

Making the holding rod stick thing

Obviously we can't just hold this burning strap with our hand.  You're going to have to make something that can hold it up.  You want something that isn't going to burn or melt when it's directly in fire for minutes at a time, lightweight enough to easily carry and move around, and long enough to keep this fire a few feet from your face.

1. Get a large eyelet kit (Walmart, $9),  You only need 2 eyelets, but they need to be big enough to put a cheap carabiner through.  

2. Put one eyelet on each end of the Kevlar strap.  I put them in 1/2"-1" from the end so there is some room in case the strap unravels.

3. Get some kind of 4 foot long rod.  I've heard of people using shower curtain rods.  We had a 1/2" thick square wooden rod in my basement, so that's what I used.  If you use something made of wood I recommend wrapping the end with aluminum tape so the pole won't burn.  

4. Use aluminum tape or metal fasteners to attach the carabiner to the rod.  Now you can put the fire wick through it.   I use a carabiner so that I can take off the Kevlar wick once I'm done using it, and by attaching grommets to both ends of the strap and using two sticks you can hold the strap horizontal in the air.  

In the end you should have something like what you see in the pictures here.  I'll update this post with pictures of mine once I visit home and remember to take pictures of them.  

Explanation of other items

Bucket - You'll pour the Coleman's fuel in here, and then put the fire wick in it to soak for a few seconds/minutes.  I've used a salad container we were going to recycle because that's all that I could find, but an actual bucket would be better.  

Soaked towel - get a towel, put it flat on the ground, and pour a gallon or two of water directly on it.  Once you want to put out the flames you'll go over to the towel, get the flaming strap entirely on half of the towel, then fold the towel over it to smother the flames.  You want it soaked so that you don't burn your towel.  

Dark clothing - Wear dark clothes so that your "ghost" doesn't show up in pictures.  Your face might still be visible if you don't cover it, but that's alright.  I wear long sleeves/pants and gloves because I don't want a drop of burning fuel to land on me and burn a hole in me. 

Head lamp - Since these pictures have to be taken when it's dark outside, I've found a head lamp is a great way to be able to see when there isn't fire burning.  It helps you find your lighter and camera and everything.  Turn it off before you take the actual pictures.

Wireless trigger or shutter release - You'll want it taking pictures the entire time you're moving across the frame, and then you want it to stop when you're done.  Usually you can get 2-3 good exposures out of one soaking/lighting of the wick.  I've used a remote trigger and just held the button down myself the entire time.  I've also had friends help me, I say "start" and "stop... start" and have them press/hold the cable release for me.  Either way works.  

ND filters - Fire is freaking bright.  Even at ISO 100 and f/22, the highlights will still probably be blown out.  Put some kind of a ND (Neutral Density) filter on it if you don't want to blow out highlights.  I found I actually like it better when they are a little blown out, because then the car is better illuminated.  Try it with and without, see what you like best. 

Two cameras - I recommend using two cameras at once, at two different angles.  I usually set up one directly in front of the car, and one at an angle.  Don't move the cameras once you set them up, so that it's easier to layer and combine pictures in post-processing. 

Jacob Thompson

jat5@clemson.edu

Clemson, SC

© 2020 By Jacob Thompson

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