Off-camera flash-a 1st attempt part 2

Since posting part 1, I got some more background from Mike Hayes about his attempt to photograph the fire dancer.

It was a live performance so the location, a tennis court, was nothing Mike had any say in. I’m guessing it was chosen for  safety and easier crowd control.

Mike and his assistant were the only ones allowed inside the tennis court, so he didn’t have carte blanche to do anything he wanted.

Mike tells me he is trying to get another crack  at  photographing the fire dancer.

Let’s assume Mike has charmed the fire dancer into agreeing to do a  little one-on-one show just for him.

Apologies Mike, if my phrasing there gets you into trouble with your wife. 😉

My suggestions are:



For this group picture of professional bellydancer Hadia Habibi and her ensemble, I picked out a location where there were no power lines and we had a clear view of the western sky. The difficulty here is that once the sun sets, you have to work quickly.

A good backdrop or spot where there are no power lines or street lamps would be my 1st choice. Uncluttered horizons  exist. In a city, your best bet is some rooftop that has a clear view of the west.


Arrive before sunset to set up. Remember, if there is not enough ambient light, even if you can see, your camera’s autofocus mechanism might not have enough to function.


Lighting for photography is one thing,  but you also need lighting to be able to see your gear and work.   If it’s not windy at your location, you might consider using an umbrella or a softbox for your main light.

For your backlight, see if you can focus the beam of light so that it doesn’t spill all over.

Make a snoot if you need to, and also try to use some sort of gobo between you and the backlight to prevent flare.

Dry run without the flames

Since you’re going to stage this, ask the dancer to rehearse a routine without the flames. This should give you an idea of how far you need to stand without being bonked on the head.

Watch for interesting S-curves body positions and diagonals or anything that breaks up the straight up and down imaginary grid in your viewfinder.

Lighting setup

Establish your flash-to-subject distance then figure out your aperture setting based on formula Guide number divided by that distance.

Get the flash on a light stand close to your subject but not so close that she’ll whack it with her “swinging balls of fire.”

Watch her routine. Does she spin around a lot  in one spot or does she face a certain direction mostly? That will help you decide where to place your main light (strobe  bounced into umbrella or shoot through)

Don’t just shoot with a long lens. If you use a wide angle, I don’t need to tell you to stay out of the range of her swinging…

If you opt for E-TTL or iTTL (Nikon speak) be mindful that the dancer is clad in a black outfit and she’s going to be against a black background. You might have to over-ride the meter’s tendency to over-expose in this case.

Figuring Exposure

Backlights are usually 1 stop to 1 ½ stops brighter, so you’re still going to count off 3 paces behind the dancer but this time instead of setting 1/16 power, you’re going to set the backlight flash at 1/8 power.

Bracket your exposures



High shutter speed sync with my late Powershot G3. I


While the sun is still up, let your flash dominate and shoot with high shutter speed sync.

It will dramatically darken the sky. But use this high synch mode only if the flames are raging. I mean raging as in eyebrow-searing-makeup-melting intensity.

As the sun disappears below the horizon, slowly drop your shutter speeds leaving your flash and aperture fixed, also known as dragging your shutter.

You might also consider putting your camera on a tripod for a long exposure of 8 seconds or even more, stopping down the aperture and firing the flash manually on open flash to paint her as she moves to a different spot within your viewfinder each time.

If her act is stationary and all she does is spin around the same spot, this won’t work.

Painting her with repeated flashes will cumulatively cause her to be over-exposed since she is occupying more or less the same spot.

Good shooting Mike. Please share with us your results if you get another crack at this.

2 thoughts on “Off-camera flash-a 1st attempt part 2”

  1. Paul,
    You always bring with you some great tips yourself. Thanks. The headlamp is a great idea especially one that doesn’t ruin your night vision. The idea behind this is that once your iris is wide open to allow to work in dim conditions, you don’t want to have to re-adjust your eyes by turning on and off bright lights.

    The headlamp will allow you to work hands-free as well. Great tip as usual Paul. I searched on Amazon but didn’t find a Petzi but here’s a bundle of 2

  2. Great advice Peter.

    Good, strong and solid.

    You mentioned a light for you to use while setting up. I have a Petzl headlamp with a red filter. It keeps your night vision yet allows you to see. So when you begin a session, you can shut it off and your night vision remains.

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