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Fight Fire With Fire

Light ‘Em Up!

One of my more popular portrait photos I have done also happened to be the very first time I had ever even attempted to photograph portraits. To say I was nervous is an understatement, but when we decided that fire was to be involved as well… things got just a little bit hotter in the kitchen let’s say!

Danger aside, everybody involved was keen to do this and having said that, the resultant photograph seems to be one that gets the most attention in my Portrait Portfolio.

So how did we do it? Let’s trek back to early 2011 when the story of this photo begins.

The first thing we needed was a location. We had planned on using two. Our first choice was to get inside the abandoned and disused Larundel Asylum. I had shown the boys some shots I had taken in there and they were super keen to utilise the location for our shoot. You can view those photos here.

Unfortunately, Larundel was heavily patrolled on this particular day and we were unable to even attempt at going in. Besides, I felt this location would be far too dangerous to experiment with fire so in a way which I kept to myself, I was glad. The absolute last thing I wanted to be responsible for was anyone getting hurt or any property damage.

With Larundel out of bounds, we headed over to location two… the old abandoned Brunswick Brickworks. We spent most of our day here doing various work throughout this location utilising as much of the space as we could. You can view a sample here.

And then we were ready. Time to cue the fire. When I watched the band’s manager walking towards me with a large red fuel can, I got nervous. Actually, I got scared. This had disaster written all over it and I was just so concerned that this could end up out of control.

Shots Fired
Band manager brings forth the fuel!

So at this point I reiterated some ground rules for everyone. First, we would test this with no humans involved.

The concept we had in mind was to draw a complete circle of fire around the band. Pour the fuel in a circular shape and the guys would stand inside it. Ouch!

To test it all first, we just drew a straight line behind the guys and lit her up. This would allow us to see how the fire behaved. After all, we were inside an abandoned brickworks factory which had a circular roof made completely of brick and dirt beneath our feet. There wasn’t anything flammable in the structure but there was also not many areas where the smoke (the Goddamn smoke!) could disappear from.


No flash! No photo!

In the test shot above we noticed a couple of things. The flame would behave and light up nicely and even photography nicely too, but with no lighting in these tunnels, I was going to have to find someway to light the band. I didn’t want the flash to hit them directly as that would just light them up far too much and we’d lose a ton of dramatic effect.


Too much flash!

Looking at the photo above doesn’t really reveal what was going on. For one, we could not see more than a foot in front of us. The smoke was putrid and so thick. It hit the roof above us then came straight back down enveloping us completely. Also, using the flash directly front on, as suspected, would not be the way to light this proper. So I decided at out next attempt when we would light the circle of fire completely around the boys, to direct the flash above the band so it could bounce off the roof above.

Band manager begins to light the fuel on the ground. Lots of pensive boys!

For safety reasons, we did the shoot next to an open doorway so that if anything was to go wrong, we could get out of there fast.

Notice drummer Steve Bullock on the right side looking over the circling flame that was soon to surround the band.

Fuel burns so fast and generates so much black smoke. As stated, we couldn’t see a thing so I told the boys once the flame was around them to keep on changing poses. I would bark out instructions after taking each shot. Quickly chimping into the camera’s viewfinder to see what we had captured after each shot.

The entire tunnel filled with smoke so fast and you literally could not see a thing apart from the flames. As the flash was pointing upwards to the ceiling where the majority of the smoke had gathered, every time the flash would fire off, you could hear a sickly ‘phwommmmmmph’ sound as the flash and camera were battling the elements. I’ll never forget that sound!

At the end of our day, we got our shot. My first promo/portrait shoot was done!

It has proved to be a very popular photo. I have actually seen it copied several years later for a local music press publication cover.

The adrenaline levels after we had completed the shoot were on a high! We got our shot. No one was hurt. None of the locals reported us even tho the amount of black smoke billowing out of the tunnel must have caused quite a scene!

I am proud of the shot. I have a poster sized print of it hanging in my study and it looks magnificent.

We rolled the dice, played it a little dangerous but we created something special!

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2 thoughts on “Fight Fire With Fire”

    • Thanks for the kind words Kel. We had a pretty amazing day that day. Can’t believe it is over 5 years ago now.

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