Monday, 25 February 2013

Fire Painting: Firewall Holding Device

Before you continue please ensure you have read the two previous blogs relating to fire painting a firewall.


After  making the first firewall blog and video I  was looking for a new way to hold the burning rope, something that would allow more control over the rope and even allow for dynamic movement and provide a means to throw some shapes.

The original concept was a metal pole, with a metal O Ring attached to the end, to which the rope was attached with a carabiner.  With this method I had no control over where the bottom of the rope went.  Sometimes it would hit the ground then bounce around, other times it would just float around leaving a zig zag pattern in the wall - something had to change!

Shopping List
After a visit to the local Hardware store I came home with the following items.

  • 2 x Roller poles
  • 2 x Roller Frame
  • 1 x Round Steel Tube
  • 1 x 6 Pack Metal Curtain Rings
  • Various sized  Jubilee Clips
  • 10 x carabiner
  • Metal repair tape 
  • 1 x Shelf Bracket
  • Leather gardening gloves

Note: This tool for me has been superseded by a full custom made metal frame, it’s similar in design but stronger  to ensure the 19mm Kevlar rope is held securely – The roller pole device started flexing under the weight of the 19mm rope -  However, the 8m and 25mm straps were just fine, so please bear this in mind.

Tip: The rope seems to shrink after a few burns so make sure the device you make caters for this!

Cutting the Rope
First things first, we need to decide on how long the rope needs to be, then we need to modify the ends  so that it can be fixed into the device.

I’ve used 3 methods up to now for attaching the rope to the device.

  1. 4mm – 10mm rope, I simply tied a knot around the metal ring either end of the rope and attached a carabiner
  2. 19mm Rope, I wedged an eye bolt into the end and secured with a couple jubilee Clips, I also wrapped Metal Repair tape around the ends to prevent damage from burning.
  3. For Straps I used rivets to secure the strap to the hook/eyes and then attached a carabiner.

Creating the FHD
Once you have decided on the length for your rope/strap and modified the ends it time to start putting the FHD together.

  1. Take the rollers and break of the plastic rollers, leaving only the handle and metal frame.
  2. Cut the metal tube in half and place this over the metal frame of the roller, this extends them and moves the rope further way from the poles and yourself, safety first!
  3. Using jubilee clips attach the metal curtain rings to the end of the small metal tube.
  4. Take the metal repair tape and wrap it around the roller handle, this helps protect the plastic.
  5. Repeat this process for both rollers.
  6. On one of the rollers attach the shelf bracket, this will strengthen the roller and should be used as the top of your FHD.
  7. Next we take the two roller poles, turn them so that the screw ends are pointing outwards and using the jubilee clips join them together – not to tight yet, we come to that in a minute.
  8. Attach the Rollers to either end and make sure they are tightly fastened.
  9. Turn the rollers and poles so that both are facing the same way and the modified rollers are flush on the ground (as per picture).
  10. Grab your rope and attach it to both ends using the carabiners.
  11. Move the poles so that the rope becomes tight, allow for a little flex in the rollers but not too much!
  12. Now tighten the jubilee clips, this secures the device and ensures the rope is taut. 
  13. That’s it, you’ve created your first Firewall Hold Device.

Tip: Use the Leather gardening gloves to undo the carabiner from the device and place the rope into your towel to extinguish the flame!

Picture examples

Video Example

Here’s a video of it in action.

I hope this guide has helped you understand a little more about how to work with the firewall and come up with some creative ideas, if not please don't hesitate to comment below or on my facebook page - any relevant questions will be added to a FaQ on this blog.

Before you go don't forget to head over to my Facebook Page and give it a like!

I now hand over to you, try to be creative and show us what you can do with your Firewall Holding Device! - Please post your results on my facebook page!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Fire Painting: Capturing the Firewall

Before you read this blog please ensure you have read the previous blog relating to fire painting a firewall, "Light Painting with fire, a fire wall" this blog covers very important safety advise which must not be overlooked!

Disclaimer:  I provide this guide for reference only,  before you come to any conclusions I strongly advise you read other sources of information regarding fire and fuels, this will ensure you have a good grasp on the larger picture.   As with all information on the Internet you should never rely on just one source, use multiple and fully understand every aspect before you commit.

I have received a lot of questions on how best to shoot a firewall, a lot of people have been suffering from over exposure.  So I've decided to write a blog to try and help answer some of those questions, if you have any further questions please comment on this blog or head over to my facebook page.

When fire painting a firewall or firewave the main issue you will encounter is over exposure, this can be affected by several factors, which will be covered in this blog, they include.

  • Wind
  • Ambient temperatures
  • Speed at which you walk
  • Rope or strap thickness
  • Distance from camera
  • Camera settings.

To better understand each element let's break them down into bite sized portions.


Wind doesn't help when fire painting,  if there is wind it will cause the flames to flicker, it will reduce the flames, or even blow them out!

If there is any wind at your primary location don't even consider fire painting, it's a waste of time, energy and of course fuel - either find a location free from wind or regroup to another night when there is no wind.

In this example the wind picked up half way round the car and ruined the effect.

Ambient temperature and humidity.

If the ambient temperature is high it affects the temperature of the fuel, increasing ignition and also aids in the continuation of the combustion process, end result with high temperatures is a more intense flame.  The opposite can be said for cold ambient temperatures.

Also, If humidity is high it's harder for the moisture in the fuel to evaporate, reducing the flames intensity - the lower the humidity the easier it is to evaporate and thus you get a more intense flame.

The temperature of the fuel will also affect how it ignites, the colder it is the longer it will take to raise to the fuels ignition temperature, so on cold nights try and keep your fuel warmish before you soak the rope.

Tip: The flash point (when it ignites, aka ignition temperature) of paraffin is between 37 and 65 °C (100 and 150 °F)

Walking speed

The speed at which you walk, just like the wind affects how the rope or strap burns, too fast and it will nearly go out, too slow and the image will overexpose, unless of course you cater for this with your camera settings - we will come to this shortly.

Before going out on location, practise your walking speed, try to understand at what speed you can walk before the flames start to reduce, you ideally want maximum flame to achieve a "realistic" flame effect.

I have on a number of occasions had to slow down and speed up mid exposure, so keep an eye on the flames and adjust your walking speed accordingly.

Tip: When moving your wall or wave, try giving it a little wobble as you go, this will help the flame get more oxygen and break up the patterns, adding a more "realistic" flame effect.



The thickness of the rope/strap is another factor to consider, if its thick it will hold more fuel and burn brighter for longer.  If you are using a thin rope/strap then the opposite will occur.  In both scenarios you will have to adjust your camera settings accordingly.

I use a combination of Kevlar Ropes and Straps, I would advise you go down this route.  As a temporary solution you could use a cotton based rope however, stay away from man made fibers, they will melt very quickly.

Tip: Always remember, do not to let your rope burn out! it damages the kevlar and reduces it's life - extinguish early and save your rope/strap.

As you can imagine the further away from the camera you are the less light will be picked up compared to when you are close.  You will find that settings (or the use of ND filters) that work at 5m will not give the same effect at 10m.  If you are doing a shot like the image below you will need to consider your walking speed, slowing down the further you get from the camera. 

Tip: When covering large areas the person holding the FHD will need to keep and eye on where they are walking, it's a good idea to have your assistant follow you and advise on how the flame is burning and shouting commands to slow down or speed up.

Camera settings

This is such a hard question to answer, generally there is no one fits all configuration, you have to be on top of your game, adjust settings quickly and adapt to the situation.

Firstly you should manually set the ISO to 100 and white balance to something static, leaving only aperture to experiment with.

Then close your aperture to something like F10, do a pass and check results if its over exposed close the aperture further and try again.  If your aperture is as small (f22) as it goes and you are still over exposing then its time for Neutral Density filters.  I've been know to use the 2, 4 or 8 - it all really depends on the current situation!

It would be best to ask your assistance to perform a few passes with the firewall, allowing you time to quickly adjust settings and find what works for your current situation.

Bear in mind, what worked in one situation may not work in another, always do a couple test passes to ensure you have the exposure just right or it's exposed enough so you can work with it in PP.

Below are some very basic examples of how settings affect the flames, these are all SOOC, no PP applied.  They were all shot at 24mm and about 3.5 meters from the firewall, the 3rd group of images sees the use of 3 different ND Filters.

f5,f16 and f22

f22/ND2, f22/ND4 and f22/ND8

Tip: One major point to bear in mind is the fact that you can never recover  from over exposure, you have much better chance to recover light from underexposed images, so don't forget to shoot in RAW!

Tip: During post processing you can try layering the exposure using screen, followed by some tweaking with new adjustment layers to maximise the effect and bring out some light.

Post Production
As we know, it is impossible to recover anything from over exposure, so make sure you under expose and recover the light in Post Production.  Here are a very quick and simple method to return some colour from an under exposed image.

Click images for a larger view.


1. Let's use the wobble image from above, this is how it looks straight out of the camera
(settings WB:Flourescent, ISO:100, f/20 and used a ND8 Filter - Camera 3.5m from Firewall)

2. A few tweaks on import.

3. Now we duplicate the layer and set it to Screen, then we add the following New Adjustment Layers.
  • Brightness (-2) Contrast (16)
  • Vibrance (+1) Saturation (-3)
  • Hue and Saturation ((reds) Hue 0 Sat +41 Light -33)

4. Import into Lightroom, add some noise reduction and +70 on clarity and this is the final result.

Firewall Holding Device

The above images were captured using a
Firewall Holding Device, learn how to create one in aptly named blog "Firewall Holding Device"


Final thoughts.

As fire is such a volatile substance it can drastically be affected by the factors listed above there is however another consideration, you have bear in mind that the goal posts are constantly moving as the fuel burns off, learnt to adapt quickly to maximise each burn.

I think fire painting is akin to light painting with a torch that has a dodgy connection, causing the light to continuously flicker and change brightness  - this, in my eyes  is what makes fire painting such a unique challenge!

Fire painting comes down to trial and error, a little luck and finding what works for your specific requirements and situation, don't forget to have fun! - I hope this guide has helped you understand a little more about shooting a firewall, if not please don't hesitate to comment below or on my facebook page - any relevant questions will be added to a FaQ on this blog.

Before you go don't forget to head over to my Facebook Page and give it a like!

I now hand over to you, try to be creative and show us what you can do with your firewall! - Please post your results on my facebook page!

Q: Which fuel do you use?
A: I only use paraffin.
Stay safe!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Jay the Master Fire-Breather & Pyrotechnician

Whilst on location creating the firewall for the Ultima GTR shoot I randomly suggested to Ric that we should find a fire breather, someone who could add that little extra to the pictures.  Casually, Ric turns to me and announces that his best mate can do just that, I nearly fell over, “really?” I asked – "Infact Barry, he can do far more than just fire breathe, he’s been doing this for nearly 2 decades".  Unable to contain myself I suggested we set up a meeting, share ideas and get the ball rolling.

Last night (31/01/2013), Ric, myself and the Master Fire-Breather & Pyrotechnician had our first meeting – Armed with pen, paper and a good old British cup of tea we furiously started drawing up storyboards, discussed concepts, rattled ideas between us and recreated potential shots using a light painters trusty companion, EL Wire!

Not to end the night on paper we decided to head out to play with fire, not only would give us the opportunity to work together and understand how each other works on location, but also allow me the time to become accustomed to shooting fire.  As you can imagine fire is a volatile substance, as the fuel burns away you need quick reactions to re-calibrate the camera ensures you stay in control and you get the maximum out of each session.

Nearing midnight, with freezing toes we decided to call it a night – throughout our meeting ideas kept flowing, concepts were born and some interesting challenges set.

I would like to officially welcome Jay Master Fire-Breather & Pyrotechnician to the team - this is only the beginning of what will be a very exciting future.

Stay tuned and keep an eye out on Facebook – don’t forget to like, comment and share!


Friday, 11 January 2013

Van Elder Photography - Light Painting with fire, a fire wall.

A guide on creating a fire wall aka fire painting

by Van Elder Photography
Credit: Von Wong & DAS - Cracheur de feu
for the original Idea

Credit: Ric Harris for input and assistance

Before you continue please ensure you have read the two previous blogs relating to fire painting a firewall.

I have been asked on a number of occasions how I created the firewall shown in the above image, in this guide I will show you the basic concept from which you can let your imagination go wild! - fire painting will be one amazing adventure.

What you will need as a basis are the following item

  • Camera with 30" (or bulb) Exposure.
  • Tri-pod.
  • Colemans Fuel or other flammable fluid, this must however be contained within an approved container.
  • Old Jug (or something similar).
  • Strap/Rope.
  • Firewall Holding Device
  • Lighter
  • CO2 extinguisher.
  • Damp/wet Towel.
  • Appropriate Clothing, don't wear something than can catch fire easy! 
  • Assistant.

Before I continue, please let me remind you that playing with fire and flammable fluid is very dangerous, add to that an open container of flammable fluid and things could get very nasty, very quickly! - Please make sure you follow some basic safety advise before you continue.

  • Never light the strap close to the open container of flammable fluid - flammable fluid will be dripping off the strap when you remove it from the jug which will leave a trail of flammable fluid on the ground - this WILL catch fire!
  • Always ALWAYS close your flammable fluid bottle and move it far away from where your jug/starting point will be.
  • Stay clear of ANYTHING that can catch fire, bushes, trees, grass and cars!
  • Keep a wet towel close by, wrap this around the strap to kill the flames
  • Keep a CO2 extinguisher close by, just incase!
  • Once you have completed the pass you will extinguish the flame by wrapping the strap/rope in a wet towel, ensure this is prepared and ready! - Please see the video for an example of how to do this.
  • Use your common sense, I have warned you!  You do this at your own risk and that of others around you.

Now that we are safety first minded, let's continue!

  1. Set up your camera, pointing to whatever your subject is.
  2. For the composition determine where the start and end points should be for your firewall, then mark them on the road with stones so you can remember where you have to walk between.
  3. Camera settings vary really, but a good starting point is 100ISO, F14, Shutter as long as you need.
  4. Place your strap into the jug, bearing in mind that it needs to come out untangled.
  5. Pour the flammable fluid into the jug, ensuring all of the strap has been doused in the flammable fluid - Try not to spill any, If you do move from that area.
  6. Close your flammable fluid bottle and move it far away from where your jug/starting point will be.
  7. Leave the strap to soak for about 2-3 minutes.
  8. Attach it to the Firewall Holding Device and prepare everyone and do some final safety checks before you continue.
  9. Remove the strap from the Jug and walk at least 3 meters away from the jug, fire will drip off the strap and may cause the jug to catch fire if you are too close!
  10. Ask your Assistant to light the strap, it is important to light it from the middle to ensure even burn.
  11. Open your shutter using a remote release or ask your assistance to open shutter once the strap has been lit - If you don't have a remote trigger you may require a 3rd Assistant - One to light and one to manage shutter - I use a wireless remote and control the open and closing whilst walking.
  12. Now walk quickly from the starting point to your end point.
  13. Close your shutter.
  14. IMPORTANT: Your strap may still be alight at this point, ensure you extinguish it correctly, place the strap on one half of the damp towel and cover up with the other side, removing all oxygen and killing the flame - failing that stamping on the towel should kill them - now leave it to cool, it will be very hot. 
Review your image, re-adjust settings if required - You may have to close the aperture or drop exposure a bit more if parts are over exposed.

Now rinse and repeat until you have achieved your desired image.

As a little extra I've put together a video to show you the tools required, how to extinguish the rope and some BTS Footage from the Ultima GTR shoot, I hope this helps!

  1. Van Elder Photography Facebook Page.
  2. Colemans Fuel
  3. Kevlar Rope
I hope this guide has helped you understand the basic concept of the firewall, why not try different types of rope or straps, try different liquids, or maybe soak parts of the strap in fuel so only certain areas burn? - try smaller ropes, angle the fire, there are literally limitless possibilities!

Don't forget to head over to my Facebook Page and give it a like!

I now hand over to you, try to be creative and show us what you can do with your firewall! - Please post your results on my facebook page!

Stay safe and FLAME ON!