To capture these images, we had firebreathers and pyrotechnicians breathe fire on and around the Perpetual Plastic Machine. But first, some background.
I started this project to raise awareness for the simple fact that Because plastic waste in the ocean is universally condemned, the plastic industry tries to redirect everyone’s energy toward waste management. But plastic production leaves a trail of pollutants in its wake, similar to the light trails left behind by our curtain of fire. If you want to learn more, click here.
Photographing fire is not a trivial task. On top of challenging exposure considerations, you also have to take safety into account. So here are my tips on dealing with this absurd mess that is multi-fire-breathers-on-a-plastic-machine at a large scale.
When working with fire, there are two completely different approaches: Ultra-fast shutter speeds or long shutter drags.
When photographing firebreathers, you’re basically trying to capture an explosion. Having a shutter speed above 1/2000th of a second and metering for the brightest part of the flame is recommended in order to preserve both the movement and the texture within the explosion.
Fire on short exposure
For this first image, we had three firebreathers on hand, breathing in a variety of different patterns. Since the day was fairly windy, it took a little bit of trial and error to ensure that the flames wrapped beautifully around the art installation.
Because we only had three firebreathers and the installation was so large, we simply had the three firebreathers breathe fire on different parts of the installation while my camera was locked down on a tripod to combine them together for one huge explosion.
Fire and long exposures
For the longer exposures, what matters beyond the length of the kevlar rope of fire, and the fuel used… is the speed at which you move. The speed at which you move to “paint flames” dictates the kind of flame pattern you get. If you want things to be more fuzzy and soft, move slower. If you want them to be a little more sparse and textured, move quickly.
Generally speaking, you need to move quicker when the flame is brightest and slow down as the flames temper down.
Use a backplate
For all shots, I had to combine fire shots with a static plate shot to make sure that we could make sure the environment was properly captured. Since the camera was locked down, layering the shots together only took a matter of minutes!
About the Author
Benjamin Von Wong’s work lies at the intersection of fantasy and photography and combines everyday objects with shocking statistics. It has attracted the attention of corporations like Starbucks, Dell, and Nike and has generated over 100 million views for causes like ocean plastics, electronic waste, and fashion pollution. Most recently, he was named one of Adweek’s 11 content-branded masterminds. You can see more of Ben’s work here.