The Fire-Knife Dancer

September 10, 2010

Photo Tips

During the Maui Photo Festival in August, most of the photographers were caught completely off-guard when our fire-knife dancer appeared almost unexpectedly out of the darkness — well after the sun disappeared. There were perhaps 50 photographers in a semi-circle, including several pros. Each of us had to act quickly on the situation.

My first thought was to grab my strobe, and drag the flash after a longer shutter speed, in hopes of catching some blur in the fire. The problem was, I was also getting blur in his face. I knew the dancer would only perform for less then 5 minutes, and I started fumbling my camera dials in the darkness, without my glasses. Ugh! The photographers kneeling on either side of me were fumbling too, and we started to think out loud to each other.

Okay, my last ditch effort was to bump up my ISO to the max 6400 (I am no longer bothered to bump up to 6400 with newly-released noise-reduction software). I set the exposure to read the background light, and I hoped that the dancer would be lit up naturally by the torches. I could see, from experience, that the foreground light was fairly balanced with the background. It worked! I caught him in a quick pose; and with manual focus I nailed a couple of nice images out of about fifty. Whew!

Using Adobe Lightroom, I whitened his eyes and reduced digital noise. In Adobe Photoshop, I added a touch of motion blur to the flames. Some sharpening on his hair with the sharpen tool really helped to set the dancer apart from the soft background. Finally I used a natural bristle brush paint tool to paint some rough texture around the borders. I really love this new image; and I think that the whites of the eyes were the key factor. I was fairly lucky to capture a good basic exposure. People always say, “The more you work at something, the luckier you become”. This event was a great “pressure test”.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 13 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Randy is owner of Hawaii’s oldest fine-art photography gallery. He left the world of corporate & medical photography behind 20 years ago to realize his dream of becoming a professional camera artist. He is an avid outdoorsman who proclaims, “My tent is my castle, and my kayak is my limousine.” You can visit Randy’s website at

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6 Responses to “The Fire-Knife Dancer”

  1. Tom Reiman Says:


    Nice capture. I didn’t end up with anything that I feel is worthy of sharing. I too was caught completely off guard. But,…

    I got some VERY nice images of the Hula Dancers and wanted to thank you (and all the others) for all the energy that you put into the 2nd Annual Maui Photo Festival. It was exceptional fun, and I can’t wait until next year.


    Tom Reiman


  2. Derek Says:

    You are right the white eyes really make it pop! the scorched tongue was a nice snag as well…


  3. Mike Neal Says:

    Nice take :) I was still down the beach shooting Ashley when he showed up. Yeah, it was a dash… Got a few I liked :) Really enjoyed the shoot, the dancers were amazing. Thanks for sharing your “quintessential” shoot with us. Aloha,


  4. Randy Says:

    My pleasure, Mike!
    See you next year?


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