5 Tips for Creating fun Campfire Photos

0Comments

night-campfire-photography-featured

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting the Digital Photography School headmaster, Darren Rowse, in person at a conference we both attended called the World Domination Summit in Portland, OR. The message of the conference (yes, the name invokes much curiosity) is simple: community, adventure, and service. It’s a large group of people that enjoy life, live adventures constantly and give back in service of others. That’s one of the reasons why I love writing on this site so much, I get to share my experience and knowledge and help you!

Me and Darren Rowse

Me and Darren Rowse

Darren was one of the keynote speakers and he most of the attendees (3000+) inspired to move forward and live our dreams. He even fulfilled one of his childhood dreams on stage, but I’ll leave that for Darren to share with you!

One thing I’ve always wanted to do is visit the Sea Lion Caves in Oregon. So after the conference my husband and I headed to the coast for a few days. We camped in one of the state parks, in the middle of the woods and sand dunes, it was awesome being in nature. But, being a photographer I couldn’t just sit around the campfire and do nothing, so out came the camera!

It’s really not that hard to create some really cool images that will impress your friends. I’m going to walk you through my process for creating the image above and how I adjusted as I went to get the desired result. Remember photography is a journey, not a destination, don’t expect to get it perfect on the first shot – I never do!

Here are my 5 tips for you on creating some fun campfire images.

#1 USE A TRIPOD & SELF TIMER OR REMOTE TRIGGER

A tripod is essential for doing this type of photography as you’ll be dealing with some really long exposures, mine ranged from two to ten full seconds. Make sure you have a sturdy tripod and if you want to get in some of the photos you can either use the self timer, as I did and run into the scene, or get yourself a handy wireless remote you can put in your pocket and fire the camera from your spot in the image.

#2 WAIT UNTIL IT’S DARK ENOUGH OUTSIDE

night-campfire-photography-002

ISO 400, f/4, 1/8th of a second

The image above is the first one I made and I wasn’t happy with it. It didn’t have the mood I wanted and the sky was too light. So I had a snack and waited about an hour then made the following image. I’ve given the exposure data for each shot so you can see how I adjusted it as the sun went down and the amount of light diminished.

#3 EXPOSE FOR THE BACKGROUND, KEEP IT DARK

night-campfire-photography-003

ISO 1600, f/4, 2 seconds

Okay, so that’s way better but I felt it was still missing something. I really liked how the light was streaming out of the holes in the rim of the fire pit. The exposure is just right on the background but it seemed a bit boring.

Notice also that I increased the ISO to 1600. If I hadn’t my exposure at ISO 400 would have been 8 seconds. It’s pretty hard to keep perfectly still for 8 seconds so I sacrificed gaining a little bit of noise to get what I felt was a more reasonable 2 second exposure time.

#4 ADD SOME ADDITIONAL LIGHT INTO THE SCENE

Going from the last image, I knew wanted to add a bit of a light to to the tent, to make it look like it was glowing. So I took my headlamp (get one at a camping supply store or use a flashlight) and turned it on inside the tent. I aimed it at the back wall facing away from the camera so I didn’t get a hot spot, and it lit up the whole tent quite evenly. If you have a larger tent you may need more than one light inside.

**NOTE:  do NOT put fire or a gas lantern inside your tent! Please practice good fire safety habits at all times.**

night-campfire-photography-005

ISO 1600, f/4, 2 seconds

Okay almost perfect, except for a couple of little things. As we had just put a log on the fire it was pretty intense and bright. That brings me to the last tip.

#5 SHOOT WHEN THE FIRE BURNS DOWN IF IT’S TOO BRIGHT

There’s no way to control the intensity of the fire except by darkening the whole image, but if I do that then my background will basically disappear into a black abyss. So we waited a while before doing the next image. I also added a second head lamp, this time on the picnic table seat behind us. It is pointed back towards us and I placed it careful so we’d be in front of it and the light itself wasn’t hitting the lens directly.

Here’s a couple of the final shots, with which I was quite pleased. I changed my camera angle a bit and re-cropped but otherwise they are very similar. Notice these last exposures were a bit longer. The light in the sky was almost completely gone so in order to get any detail in the background I had to increase the overall exposure, taking care to not overexpose the fire.

night-campfire-photography-010

ISO 1600, f/4, 5 seconds

night-campfire-photography-009

ISO 1600, f/4, 5 seconds

#6 BONUS TIP – MAKE SURE TO FOCUS THEN TURN IT OFF

Focusing at night is very tricky because your camera can’t see in the dark, neither can you! The best way to focus is to have your friend hold a light where you’re going to sit (or put it on a chair). Aim the light directly at the lens, which will allow the camera to “see” it and lock focus on that spot. Once it’s locked, just switch to manual focus, taking care not to bump the camera or accidentally turn the focusing ring. If you move the camera or recompose the scene, just do the same procedure over again.

ADDITIONAL READING

If you want to read more about other night photography techniques I’ve done a couple of article on Light Painting and some special effects. Links to them below:

ACTION PLAN

Since we still have a little bit of summer left in the Northern Hemisphere, if you plan on doing a little camping take the camera gear along and give this a try! You may find your travel companions get into it and have a little fun with it as well. Also gives you a great way to do some fun group photos. You can also use flash if you’re so inclined and skilled. Please do share your images with us and any other tips you want to add that I may have missed.

Cheers, Darlene

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Darlene Hildebrandt is the Managing Editor of dPS. She is also an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles, online photography classes, and travel tours. Get her free ebook 10 Photography Challenges to help you take better pictures or join a photo tour to some exotic places.

  • Great Article Darlene. Thanks for these useful tips
    I would like to add that a flash can also be used to bring in more light for a more balanced exposure on the subject and the fire. Although this may be tricky and might require a bit of trial and error on the settings to achieve the best results.

  • @Irol – yes of course. I didn’t have one with me, and many people don’t own them, so I showed how to do it with what I had – headlamps! Using flash off camera does require extra skills to know how to get them to fire and at the right amount of power.

  • I especially like your #6 tip — focus when you have light and turn it back to manual focus. How often do you see someone trying to autofocus in the dark? Very frustrating.

    Another trick for focusing would be to shine a flashlight on where you need focused, use your auto-focus – then turn it back to manual focus once you have it.

    More Photography Tips

  • @Irol yes for sure. I didn’t have one with me so I used my headlamps. Flash require other skills; how to fire them off camera, how to adjust the power etc. plus the added complication of not being able to see where it will go until after the exposure. So yes of course it’s possible just a bit more work.

    @Lawson yes I do that do when I have a helper that can go close to the subject with the light. I find that unless you have a really powerful flashlight shiny it while at camera often isn’t bright enough.

  • I go camping all the time, but have never achieved good photos after sunset. Will need to apply some of this to my situations to see what I get.
    Just recently upgraded to a Canon 7D so I’m hoping that will also be a benefit vs. my old Canon XTi 400D.

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • great photography tips for campfires! i’m so going to have to try some of these tips the next time we have a backyard bonfire 🙂

  • @Brian glad to have inspired you, I think campfire photos are a lot of fun. If there are kids involved get them to help they love it. Honestly you can do this with any camera that can take up to a 30 second exposure. The 7D is a nice camera, enjoy!

    @marie – please do and please share!

  • Angie

    I think the only thing I would have done differently would be to move the car out of the shot, to give the photo a more natural feel. But that’s just a personal preference, and I realize that these tips are more about lighting than composition. I love the idea of lighting up the tent in the background!

  • @angie yes I totally agree about the car. However when I shot it, it was more about our trip and I was just playing around cause I was bored so I wasn’t concerned about it. If I were doing a more serious shoot or a portrait for a client like this – yes there would be no car in the shot.

    Thanks for your comment, yes lighting the tent gives it more depth doesn’t it?

  • Linda Bolley

    I loved this article! I appreciate how you laid out your sequence of images for the purpose of teaching others. Sharing this image of your trip and how you were just playing around and enjoying the evening was delightful. You seem very down to earth and not interested in carrying around an ego on your shoulder. Refreshing!

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    A very relevant post for me as a Scout Leader! Thanks. I like to use a long exposure, with a handheld flash gun or torch to paint the faces around the fire. This gives a sharp image of the face. Another trick is to use a graduated ND filter fitted upside down, so the fire is not so dominant.

  • @linda thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Do others have an ego that comes across in their articles? I just write how I am, this is the real me! 🙂

    @bob good trick, thanks for sharing!

  • kylie

    For a more interesting fire, stoke it, or throw on a log just before you take the shot. The sparks create gorgeous patterns, but they don’t last for long!

  • Jon

    I love the one with the first tent lamp on, you can see lines above the fire, looks fantastic. Did you put anything extra in the fire to get that?

  • @kylie – good idea thanks!

    @Jon nope just wood! Any sparks that fly will do that because of the length of the exposure

  • earl jules

    Very good article. . .
    many digital cameras also have the back button focus capability that might ease losing focus anxieties. . . (wink)

  • Jim Meats

    I tried this fun project a couple of times. It can have very unexpected results, but will fuel your creativity.

  • Guest

    Did this earlier this year

  • Des Waterfall

    Like this article very much.Took this at Le Mans France handheld and was surprised it came out. ISO 100, 55mm, f / 4.0, 1/13 sec

  • Des Waterfall

    Took this at Le Mans France handheld and was surprised it came out. ISO 100, 55mm, f / 4.0, 1/13 sec

  • Des Waterfall

    Last Try.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    Focus in the dark when you can’t even see the subject… u need a touchlight or video lighting… assisting beam does not help…

  • Ann

    Did you use a flash while taking these pictures?

  • Yksvoklam Naj

    tip 7: remove vehicle from photo

Some Older Comments

  • Darlene August 9, 2013 03:22 pm

    @kylie - good idea thanks!

    @Jon nope just wood! Any sparks that fly will do that because of the length of the exposure

  • Jon August 8, 2013 11:56 pm

    I love the one with the first tent lamp on, you can see lines above the fire, looks fantastic. Did you put anything extra in the fire to get that?

  • kylie August 5, 2013 12:56 pm

    For a more interesting fire, stoke it, or throw on a log just before you take the shot. The sparks create gorgeous patterns, but they don't last for long!

  • Darlene August 3, 2013 02:02 am

    @linda thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Do others have an ego that comes across in their articles? I just write how I am, this is the real me! :-)

    @bob good trick, thanks for sharing!

  • Bob Bevan Smith August 2, 2013 09:43 am

    A very relevant post for me as a Scout Leader! Thanks. I like to use a long exposure, with a handheld flash gun or torch to paint the faces around the fire. This gives a sharp image of the face. Another trick is to use a graduated ND filter fitted upside down, so the fire is not so dominant.

  • Linda Bolley August 2, 2013 07:33 am

    I loved this article! I appreciate how you laid out your sequence of images for the purpose of teaching others. Sharing this image of your trip and how you were just playing around and enjoying the evening was delightful. You seem very down to earth and not interested in carrying around an ego on your shoulder. Refreshing!

  • Darlene August 2, 2013 03:00 am

    @angie yes I totally agree about the car. However when I shot it, it was more about our trip and I was just playing around cause I was bored so I wasn't concerned about it. If I were doing a more serious shoot or a portrait for a client like this - yes there would be no car in the shot.

    Thanks for your comment, yes lighting the tent gives it more depth doesn't it?

  • Angie August 2, 2013 02:55 am

    I think the only thing I would have done differently would be to move the car out of the shot, to give the photo a more natural feel. But that's just a personal preference, and I realize that these tips are more about lighting than composition. I love the idea of lighting up the tent in the background!

  • Darlene Hildebrandt July 31, 2013 05:11 pm

    @Brian glad to have inspired you, I think campfire photos are a lot of fun. If there are kids involved get them to help they love it. Honestly you can do this with any camera that can take up to a 30 second exposure. The 7D is a nice camera, enjoy!

    @marie - please do and please share!

  • marie July 31, 2013 06:15 am

    great photography tips for campfires! i'm so going to have to try some of these tips the next time we have a backyard bonfire :)

  • Brian Fuller July 30, 2013 02:39 am

    I go camping all the time, but have never achieved good photos after sunset. Will need to apply some of this to my situations to see what I get.
    Just recently upgraded to a Canon 7D so I'm hoping that will also be a benefit vs. my old Canon XTi 400D.

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • Darlene July 29, 2013 03:06 am

    @Irol yes for sure. I didn't have one with me so I used my headlamps. Flash require other skills; how to fire them off camera, how to adjust the power etc. plus the added complication of not being able to see where it will go until after the exposure. So yes of course it's possible just a bit more work.

    @Lawson yes I do that do when I have a helper that can go close to the subject with the light. I find that unless you have a really powerful flashlight shiny it while at camera often isn't bright enough.

  • Lawson July 28, 2013 01:36 pm

    I especially like your #6 tip -- focus when you have light and turn it back to manual focus. How often do you see someone trying to autofocus in the dark? Very frustrating.

    Another trick for focusing would be to shine a flashlight on where you need focused, use your auto-focus - then turn it back to manual focus once you have it.

    More Photography Tips

  • Darle July 28, 2013 10:10 am

    @Irol - yes of course. I didn't have one with me, and many people don't own them, so I showed how to do it with what I had - headlamps! Using flash off camera does require extra skills to know how to get them to fire and at the right amount of power.

  • Irol Trasmonte July 28, 2013 06:14 am

    Great Article Darlene. Thanks for these useful tips
    I would like to add that a flash can also be used to bring in more light for a more balanced exposure on the subject and the fire. Although this may be tricky and might require a bit of trial and error on the settings to achieve the best results.

Join Our Email Newsletter

Thanks for subscribing!


DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Email:
 
 
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed