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KINGS - Firewall photoshoot

Brighton based Metalcore band KINGS contacted me with a specific request for their band portrait... fire! As I'm sure you can imagine it isn't the easiest of lighting sources to work with. Due to it's dangerous nature there is obviously a need to keep the subject (and any photography equipment such as reflectors, etc.) a certain distance from the fire. When working outdoors in a wide space at night the light intensity drops over distance at a great rate (see Inverse Square Law). So although the fire itself is incredibly bright the light from it that falls on the actual subject becomes very dim only a short relative distance away. This creates difficulties achieving a good balanced exposure as it is very easy to have an image with fire that is overexposed and a subject underexposed.

With the camera on a tripod, the area viewable through the lens was marked out on the ground so I knew the extremeties of the shot. My pre-shoot tests told me I would need an exposure time of about 30 seconds to complete the shot - approximately 15 seconds to get the background I wanted and another 15 seconds more out of view adding extra light from the front. Of course, fifteen seconds would normally be a huge amount of time to photograph a fire that size, and it would likely be completely over exposed BUT for safety reasons this fire was not quite what it seems... it is in fact a firewall 'painted' into the scene much like the effect of writing your name with a sparkler on Bonfire Night.

Some people automatically assume the fire was added using Photoshop. Not so. This photo below is an unedited scan from one of the original negatives, absolutely no Photoshop at all. The film used was Superia 200 in a Nikon F801. Incidentally, If you look at the darker areas of this photograph you'll notice there's a slight double exposure showing some of the background behind the firewall (bushes and fencing). It was caused by me forgetting to close the shutter before turning on the floodlights so we weren't in pitch black darkness. Consequently everything of a lower exposure (like the dark clothing) now shows everything lit up by the floodlighting.

KINGS - Firewall photoshoot - unprocessed 35mm film proof.

So how do you create a firewall to make this effect? You will need a long pole that will not catch fire itself. The one I used was 3 metres long and made of metal. I then attached a metal chain a little shorter (about 2.5 metres long). Attached from the pole and along the length of the chain (although not quite all the way to the chain end) was some ripped up cotton sheeting (£5 from a superstore). I then dipped the sheeting into a bottle of white spirit and lit it. To create your firewall you just carefully wave or walk with the sheeting on fire of course holding it by the metal pole. The chain is vitally important as it adds weight to the sheet to hold it down. Without the chain the sheet is likely to flap around and burn everything within distance (I know from experience!).

The shots below show the effect of slightly less intense flames which help show more of the movement and how the pole was waved slightly to make a 'trail' of fire rather than a 'wall' as such.

KINGS - Firewall photoshoot - showing the visual effect from different levels of flame intensity.

The exact sequence for this shoot was...

1: Shutter open. 2: Light sheeting (out of camera view). 3: 7 seconds walk across the background, followed by 7 seconds right side in front of the band (keeping fire out of shot). 4: 7 seconds walk back across the background, followed by another 7 seconds to the left side front (again out of shot). 5: Put the fire out in a firebucket. 6: Close shutter.

Due to the long exposure it was vital the band did not move at all. Alternative shots were taken with the singer John Dudley holding a lit fire-torch, and also empty handed. The band were awesome throughout. The firewall shots include Sam Davies, who features doing the clean vocals on their excellent first release "Thrones". The photo below shows the band without him.

Go find out more about KINGS via their Facebook. And once again, check the video for "Thrones" here. It's a banger!


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