Monday, November 23, 2009

See the Flames

Friday night there was a "hot air balloon glow" event on the mall at the University of Arizona to benefit the Tucson Community Food Bank. I brought in my tripod and an extra lens to photograph the event although I ended up not using the tripod and I only used my 50mm lens. The things I found the most interesting at the event were the people I met there and the fire!

I've always enjoyed fire, bonfires, campfires, etc. as long as people and property aren't threatened. When we were young, my brother and I made gunpowder from scratch and used it to make fireworks. They weren't very good but we had great fun making a mess and a lot of smoke.

Fire, because it's in constant motion and is often much brighter than its environment, poses an interesting photographic challenge. Fast shutter speeds allow you to capture details of the fire you wouldn't see with the naked eye. The photograph below, of the flame used to start filling a hot air balloon, was taken at 1/4000th of a second. The speed of the shutter "freezes" the flame, showing all the intricate shapes as well as the blue and orange parts.

Click on the image to see a larger version. In the original, 21 megapixel, version there is an amazing amount of flame detail. I'll post a tightly cropped version of this flame soon on my web site. The image was shot with a Canon 5D mk II and a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens at f/2.8 and ISO 3200.

A slower shutter speed, on the other hand, allows the fire to blur a bit and look more liquid. The next shot was made later in the evening when most of the daylight was gone so my exposure times were longer because I was still depending on my automatic exposure which was set to center-weighted. The darker surroundings meant the exposure control slowed the shutter, thus over-exposing the fire, smearing it out, but giving some detail to the background.

Same camera and lens, still at f/2.8 and ISO 3200 but now the shutter speed was 1/60th of a second.

This fire, of course, was what made the balloons glow. Some of the balloons (there were seven balloons in all) were made of dark fabrics and didn't glow very brightly even when it was dark. But a few were made of lighter, more translucent fabric and glowed like lanterns when the the flame was on. Unfortunately, the best glowing balloon, a yellow one with a saguaro on the side, had to shut down early because the wind was sufficient to make it unstable and they didn't have enough people/weight to control it.  They had to put it away before it was really dark. The second best balloon for glowing and seeing the fire is shown below. This was late enough that the sky was almost black and my center weighted metering on the camera saw the frame filled with bright balloon and gave me a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second, freezing the fire inside the balloon pretty well.

Same camera, lens aperture, ISO, etc. as before.

Thanks to Guy McArthur for alerting me to this photographic opportunity. I'll have to go to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta next year and photograph some more fire!

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