Trick Photography


Nothing is as much fun for me as trick photography. Working out how to catch the shots most people never think to capture is one of the ways I let my creativity out of its mundane everyday existence.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the challenge of shooting portraits and trying to get a great shot while traveling. But the challenge of capturing something that requires some thought and knowledge of how light and my camera work together never gets old. In fact, it’s just plain fun.

I’ve always been captivated by sitting around a campfire, watching how the flames create all kinds of shapes. How the flames react to the airflow and the different types of fuel is interesting.

Fire Photography

Recently, I needed to get rid of some old limbs that had fallen from the oak tree in my front yard in a storm a while back. I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to set up my camera and shoot some photos that captured the intricate patterns that the flames make.

Here is one of those photos below.

trick photography

The funny thing is that as I was going through over 550 images from that shoot, I saw some amazing patterns emerging from the sparks that were being thrown aloft by the super heated air from the fire.

So it got me to thinking about how I would be able to capture some images of those sparks as they flew through the air and floated in the turbulence of the air around the fire.

It was at that point that my mind began to ponder how to capture those sparks in an image while not blowing out the image with all the illumination from the fire.

It immediately became apparent that I was going to need a much longer exposure time than the 1/800 sec. that I used to capture the fire. For capturing fire, I needed a fast shutter speed to freeze the fire so I didn’t get blurring, as in the photo above.

Setting Up For The Shot

I still had some leftover wood, so all I had to do was start another fire in my fire ring. I also had a bunch of palm leaves from the palms in my flower beds. I had cut them off last spring because a cold snap had killed them. These would be perfect for creating a hot fire and providing the “sparks” for my vision. Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.

I lit the fire and then stacked on some large oak limbs to get them burning. Now I could sit back and watch the fire burn down. Once the fire had burned down and there was a bed of hot coals, all I had to do was be ready when the sparks began to fly. Ok, that one was too easy.

Putting The Trick In Trick Photography

Trick photography 1
Settings: 5 sec, F8, ISO 1600

While I was waiting for the fire to burn down, I put the settings into my camera. I used an external intervalometer set to give me a 5-second exposure. Since the sparks coming off a fire are fairly dim in comparison to the fire itself, there had to be a balance between capturing the sparks and having everything blown out in the highlights from the firelight.

I chose to use an aperture of f8 and an ISO of 1600. This allowed me to control the light from the fire, while the high ISO setting made the sensor sensitive enough to capture the sparks thrown off by the fire.

The result was the image above. All I had to do was wait for the fire to burn down. Then I needed to be ready in case a puff of wind came along and liberated some sparks. I didn’t have to wait long.

sparks 2
Settings: 5 sec, F8, ISO 1600

Now that there were occasional gusts of wind, the images were getting interesting. The next image was taken after I placed more wood on the fire. I wasn’t concerned with the fire blowing out in the highlights, as I wanted to be able to capture the rising sparks.

sparks 3
Settings: 5 sec, F8, ISO 1600

If you want to try your hand at trick photography and capture some jaw-dropping spark images, you will want to purchase an intervalometer for your camera if it can accept a bulb shutter trigger. You’ll know if you have a DSLR with a bulb setting. This is the one I use. Just make sure you purchase the one with the correct connector for your camera.

If you want to learn more and take your photography journey to the next level, you might like the Photography Master Class. This video course will definitely help you on your journey to be a better photographer.

Check out more great photography tips on our Photography Tips & Tricks page.