Exposing Fire Properly
Published : 2nd July 2007
I have this upcoming shoot where I have a huge fire in the background with actors in the foreground. It's on a stage.
Fire : 20 feet long, 9 feet hight. I expect heat !!!
Anyway, this fire is going to be quite big in the frame at time. I'd like the flames to keep their colour and saturation and not blow up. So I want to find the right exposure for the fire and light the foreground action accordingly.
How would you guys go about exposing the flames.
I figured I spot meter them and expose only one stop over the reading, and by the way. I am on Fuji 500 Eterna.
Thanks for opinions.
Jean Marc Selva, DP.
Think I might use Fuji daylight balanced film , so that’s 250 asa , but you will keep the reds and orange of the flames .
Lighting Cameraman ,London.
The 500 asa will hurt you.. go 100asa or 200asa.. Light to a 5.6 and I believe you will like the Flames... be VERY careful with Filters as the flames can wreak havoc with ghosting etc...
By the way... you won't be exposing one stop OVER the Flames you will be exposing UNDER the Flames.. it is a matter of how much and still hold Flame detail.
Obviously shooting a Flame Test.. a simple Fireplace will give you the most accurate idea of where you want to be on your Iris... but a 5.6 at a low asa Stock is a great start.
Hello Jean Marc,
You must have some fire marshals that aren't on stage. ;-) Anyway, with a 500 EI stock, you'll probably need to be around a T/8 to T/11. When I was shooting a lot of food on fire we did tests for the richest looking fire. Another approach is to use Daylight stock and light the people neutral to the film, i.e., at 5600*K and let the fire be really fire coloured. Back Draft was shot in this manner.
Good luck and don't forget the hot dogs and marsh mellows.
Director of Photography
He is France where they eat proper food !
John Holland. London.
class="style2">>>He is France where they eat proper food !
You're confusing it with Italy.
Jean Marc Selva, DP, wrote:
class="style2">>>... I'd like the flames to keep their colour and saturation and not blow >>up. So I want to find the right exposure for the fire and light the >>foreground action accordingly.
Haven't had to do this for a while, but I seem to recall that the best saturation for a large fire while still retaining a reasonably bright look was at about 1 to 2 stops wider than sunlight exposure. Spot reading and opening 1 stop will probably be in the ballpark (do you have ballparks in France? With 500 speed film that's about f/32 - f/22. Use a slower film.
I don't think the suggested fireplace test will provide a hot enough flame to equal what you'll have with the fire you describe, but the spot meter test will probably give you a close enough answer.
Wade K. Ramsey, DP
Dept. of Cinema & Video Production
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC 29614
Mark Woods wrote:
class="style2">>>shooting a lot of food on fire
That must have been an interesting shoot!
Ted Langdell Creative Broadcast Services
Main: (530) 741-1212
class="style2">>>Anyway, this fire is going to be quite big in the frame at time. I'd like >>the lames to keep their colour and saturation and not blow up
My strong suggestion would be to backstop your meter readings with stills from a DSLR on manual, get as close as you can to the same settings as lens/film/camera, and look at the histogram more than the image. That and if you're doing DI or at least telecine, you won't have to worry.
SFD vfx & creative post
Santa Monica, CA
class="style2" >>I seem to recall that the best saturation for a large fire while still >>retaining a reasonably bright look was at about 1 to 2 stops wider >>than sunlight
This is great advice.
Flames and explosions look great at daylight exposure levels.
David Perrault, CSC
Wade K. Ramsey, DP
class="style2">>>I don't think the suggested fireplace test will provide a hot enough >>flame to equal what you'll have with the fire you describe,
Fire not Fiery enough... hmmmmm...blue butane may be a different story but red Flames are red Flames... in 'general'.
Fire is pretty much Fire... Fill the frame with a Fire built in a fireplace and you'll have a great test. I have tested that way... a matter of fact, I tested a Fire built with newspaper at night (filling the Frame and Bracketing) and converted that info to what I was shooting three days later during the day, which, happened to be the LARGEST SINGLE SPECIAL FX GASOLINE EXPLOSION EVER! It was broadcast live via the Internet from our Set in the Philippines... it was HUGE!!!!!!!!!! I am still cooling down.
Like I said.. 100 or 200 asa at a minimum of 5.6.
This topic is getting me 'Fired' up! :
Enjoy your shoot!
The one time I shot fire - it was an element in a multi layer commercial and we shot a fireball shooting canon in front of black and then a 50' runway of milk with substance that was set fire to.
I took my spot meter and took the reading from the darkest and brightest parts of the flames and exposed in the middle - it came out looking great.
LA NY DP
917 399 9565
class="style3">>>I have this upcoming shoot where I have a huge fire in the >>background with actors in the foreground. It's on a stage.
It's so easy to overexpose fire.
I've seen it happen many times. When shooting night scenes with 500asa stock- people carrying torches or sitting around a camp fire you/we/I tend to shoot wide open. When using fire as your main light source it's like you can't have both- the fire and the subject, but since you're not using the fire as the source you have what we all usually want- control control control. A T-stop of 4 would be the widest you'd want to use with the best colour coming from a T stop of 5.6 or even higher. Other folks posting have indicated that even those stops may
not be stopped down enough. Neon is another light source that is so often overexposed when shooting with a 500 stock.
By the way, Rosco has this machine that can project the best fire you've ever seen. Point it at a wall and it looks like the wall is burning. It also does the best moving water pattern you've ever seen. I don't think it could cover the 20 foot spread you mention that you have in your scene.
It's call the X-Effects projector. Go to www.rosco.com and follow the US link to products.
Edwin Myers, Atlanta dp
class="style3">>>shooting a lot of food on fire
>>That must have been an interesting shoot!
Steaks, shrimp on the barbie, burgers on the grill. Yes, interesting.....
Director of Photography
Jean Marc SELVA wrote:
class="style3">>>I have this upcoming shoot where I have a huge fire in the >>background
The following advice was given to me when I first shot an explosion, which can vary in brightness depending on the explosive.
Light a couple of grey card in front of you at different stops but around what you think the fire will be. Have a fire/explosion test and compare it to the grey card.
Also Bill Dill at AFI told us rule of thumb. I don't quite remember how many footcandles was fire always around... may have been 2500.
Jaime Reynoso, AMC
I'm not sure if this has been brought up yet, but colour temp is a big deal with fire.
I recently did a 35mm food shoot where we had a flaming grill with steaks being flipped...and we shot it with tungsten stock  & tungsten lights. After we completed several takes, we had a 'notion' to try something different...
So we blue gelled the lamps to daylight and shot a new chart under this new colour temp.
We then shot the same shot at the same stop [we added a bit more light to compensate for the light-loss of the full blue gels] and when we did the transfer we were blown away at how nice & warm the firelight appeared on the daylight balanced film.
The colour temp of the flames were so complimented with the cooler key that when we added the extra warmth in the telecine to compensate for the blue key, the flames jumped to the intended warn tones.
The earlier tungsten foot age was nice, but the flames were just a white colour.
I believe we were at 40fps at a f5.6 on 5218.
Jeff Barklage, s.o.c.
US based DP
class="style3">>>We then shot the same shot at the same stop [we added a bit more >>light to compensate for the light-loss of the full blue gels] and when >>we did the transfer we were blown away at how nice & warm the >>firelight appeared on the daylight balanced film.
As I said earlier. Daylight balanced stock -- or gelled tungsten or HMI lights for a daylight balance. 500T T/5.6 with an 85 (or other appropriate filter). We thought the flames looked better at T/8 to T/8.5. Not a big deal. The faster stock is not a problem in this environment. I've shot miles of it with flames on food shoots. I did all the Sizzler food shots for 2 years when they were advertising like crazy. The lower film speed may be a choice of those DP’s who like that look. Personally, I couldn't afford the stop that was more open with less depth of focus. That was the reality.
Director of Photography
I worked on a shoot last year, where I had to shoot alot of Fire Plate shots. We did quite extensive testing.
The fire shots were mainly at night (outside).
We found that shooting with 500 ASA Vision, the best stop was between T4.5-T5.6. But if you want to have rich colours, detail and no blown out highlights, then you really need to be looking at exposing at around T16.
Shooting at 50Fps also helped alot. We went with the slightly blown out variation because it had to match the main units shots (obviously)
As already mentioned, exposing with a DSLR really is a valuable help and gives you a good starting reference for what your exposure should be.
Boy, did this one get you going !
What with shrimps, chicken, sausage, and so on...
I may cool down my keys tomorrow as you suggested.
Thanks everyone for all the good advice.
Jean Marc Selva, DoP. Paris.