Do you want to capture stunning long exposure fire photography?
A long exposure photo can make flames look soft and feathery, capture spark trails, and create a romantic or cozy mood.
The tips in this article will help you get started taking gorgeous long exposure fire photos, today!
Long exposure fire photography: 5 tips for beginners
A word of caution:
Be careful as you practice your fire photography. Fire can be dangerous, and it’s easy to be careless when thinking more about your photography than the fire. Maintaining a safe distance is important for you and your gear.
1. Use a slow shutter speed
To take a long exposure photo, the camera shutter needs to be open long enough to blur motion and light. Here are a couple of ways to ensure that the shutter stays open:
- Shutter Priority mode: Here, you choose the shutter speed and your camera selects the aperture
- Aperture Priority mode: Here, the camera chooses the shutter speed, but you can control its choice based on the aperture you select
Fire photography with Shutter Priority
Put your camera in Shutter Priority mode, choose your desired shutter speed, and let the camera do the rest.
This will force your camera to let in light for the amount of time you’ve chosen. Your camera will choose your ISO (if it’s set to Auto) and your aperture.
Shutter Priority will give you different results depending on how much light is available – and shooting this way can be a lot of fun.
When you choose a shutter speed of five or six seconds, you can capture interesting flame shapes and lots of spark trails. In fact, the bonfire and torch photos in this article were captured in Shutter Priority mode.
Fire photography with Aperture Priority
You could also set your camera to Aperture Priority, choose a mid-range aperture (f/8-f/11), set a low ISO (100-200), and let your camera choose the shutter speed. If you’re shooting at night (when it’s really dark) and the fire is your main light source, your camera will choose a slow shutter speed. This should give you a photo with a large depth of field, and one that’s relatively free of grain (i.e., noise).
If Aperture Priority causes your shutter to be open for longer than you want, increase the ISO. This will decrease the shutter speed, though it will also start adding noise (fortunately, this can be reduced during editing).
The card game and match photos in this article were shot using Aperture Priority mode.
Anyway, those are just a couple of suggestions to get you started. Long exposure fire photography is all about playing around and having fun! Make sure to try lots of different apertures and shutter speeds.
If you’re like me, you’ll get excited as you review each shot and see the interesting shapes you’ve captured.
2. Set your camera on a tripod
When capturing a long exposure fire photo, you’ll want to reduce camera shake, which results in blurry photos.
Camera shake occurs when the camera moves while the shutter is open. Slow shutter speeds (of more than one second) make it impossible to handhold your camera and still get sharp images.
But using a tripod will keep your camera steady – and therefore prevent camera shake plus the resulting blur.
3. Use a remote shutter release or set the self-timer
A remote shutter release (or the camera’s self-timer) can also help you cut down on camera shake.
You see, when you press the shutter release, the camera moves slightly – and this can cause blur in your photos.
But when you use a remote shutter release (or you set your camera’s self-timer), you don’t have to worry about this movement.
Using a remote shutter release may seem like a small thing, but it can significantly affect your image sharpness.
Note that, when capturing match flames, a remote works best. While a self-timer will prevent camera shake, the delay makes it tough to capture that initial burst of flame with any real precision.
4. Choose your subject
Do you want your main focus to be the fire itself? Or are you trying to capture the mood created by the fire?
When capturing the mood, it can be tricky to get sharp shots of people. It’s not easy for anyone to sit still during a long exposure, and movement will create blur in your photos.
So first identify your subject, and then adjust your camera settings to keep the subject sharp.
The following photos were shot in Aperture Priority mode with an aperture of f/8. For the first photo, I set the ISO to 100, and my camera chose a shutter speed of 5 seconds. That was too long for my daughter to stay still, so the photo turned out blurry.
For the second photo, I set the ISO to 400, which cut the shutter speed in half (to 2.5 seconds). That made it easier for my subject to stay still, and the photo is sharper.
5. Switch to manual focus
Autofocus doesn’t always work well in the dark. And autofocusing on a moving fire can be tough.
That’s where manual focus comes in.
Now, you don’t need to turn off your autofocus immediately. Instead, try autofocusing on something near the fire, then switch to manual focus to capture the shot you’re after.
How do you do this?
First, shine your flashlight on an object near the fire. Train your camera on the object, and press the shutter button halfway. When the autofocus locks on, turn off the flashlight and switch to manual focus.
Finally, without adjusting anything on the camera, take your shot. Your camera will maintain the same focus point – and you’ll end up with a sharp photo.
Note: You could also try back button focus!
Where will you practice?
Do you enjoy a cozy fire at your campsite or bonfires on the beach? Do you like candle-lit dinners? What about backyard marshmallow roasts? All of these would be great places to practice long exposure fire photography.
Experimenting with long exposures around a campfire can be a little addictive. The more you practice, the more fun you’ll have.
And don’t forget your flashlight! You’ll need it to see your camera controls, to help with focusing, and to get you safely back to your car.
Now over to you:
Do you enjoy creating long exposures of fire? Share your tips and photos by commenting down below!