Using Fire in Creative Product Photography

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published November 11, 2014

Using Fire in Creative Product Photography

There is something about creative product photography, I just love it. Shooting products is so technical to start with, movements in the millimeters can completely change the resulting image. When you mix in your full creative muscle the resulting photographs can be astounding. Here is one of my current favorites, complete with how I did it.

First off this image was extremely difficult to pull off. This is taken in one shot, no compositing here. To create the fire effect, I used real fire, a sparkler actually.


Now to the Fire Part


I started by placing the sparkler behind the product. Then I needed complete darkness. Camera mounted on a tripod, and two studio strobes placed at 45-degree angle facing the product. White seamless paper background (caution this could be flammable).


The camera needs to be set to a longer exposure time to let the fire do its work. I should mention that because I did this on white, I had to nail the exposure to get this to work. Both the aperture, shutter times, and intensity of my strobes had to be perfect to create this effect. I would recommend trying this out on grey if you’re less experienced. Grey will transmit color a lot better and is way more forgiving.


I went with 2.5 seconds at f5.6. The smaller the aperture the thinner the streaks of light will be. Too large and the fire becomes a blob and we also get into focus problems. f5.6 gave me the exact result I was looking for.


I’m using pocket wizards to trigger my lights to trigger them remotely. Now here is the most important part. Your camera needs to be set to rear curtain flash sync. What happens is this: the camera will release the shutter to take the exposure and at a fraction of a second before it closes the strobes will fire.


Quick Steps:


Place sparkler product etc. The camera is on tripod.

Set up your tripod and camera. Position the camera so that the product is in the frame. If possible, use a remote shutter release or timer to avoid shaking the camera when you press the shutter button.

In complete darkness, light sparkler. 

Use long exposures to capture the effect of the sparkler. Start with a few seconds and experiment with longer shutter speeds.

Fire camera when the flame is in the desired position in the frame.

Trial and error will be your friend here. It may take a few attempts to get the shot you want, but don’t give up!

Strobes will fire when the shutter closes.

The light from the sparkler will illuminate the product and create a distorted trail of light.

Put out any fires you have started.

This is important for two reasons. First, you don’t want to leave a fire burning unattended. Second, if you have started a fire, it means there is already smoke and heat present, which can be dangerous. If you see smoke or feel heat, immediately start looking for a fire extinguisher.

If you can’t find a fire extinguisher, or if the fire is too big to be extinguished with one, evacuate the area and call 911. Do not try to fight the fire yourself.

The Process

I started by placing the sparkler behind the product. Then I needed complete darkness. Camera mounted on a tripod, and two studio strobes placed at 45-degree angle facing the product.



You can further enhance your image in post-processing by playing with the levels and curves. 

When I post these instructions I ask that all readers don’t directly copy the image. By all means, incorporate these steps to create something new and original that is your own.



There you have it! A simple way to create an interesting and unique image using a sparkler. Just remember to be safe, have fun, and experiment.

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