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How You Shot It: ‘American Flame’ – Corvette and Fire Photo Shoot

By Guest Contributor on May 29th 2014

How You Shot It is a series where you show us how you shot an image. Many who use our presets love to share their special processing recipes. You can join the SLR Lounge Textures and Presets group on Facebook and share your favorite images and recipes as well! For our wedding and portrait photographers, please join the SLR Lounge Wedding and Portrait Photographers group.

Today’s post comes from Spencer Bunting of Empty Frames Photography, a photographer from North Carolina. See more of his work on his website and Facebook.


I first shot with fire about a year ago, after seeing a series of photos taken by Benjamin Von Wong and Van Edler Photography.  My first photo was of a Shelby Cobra and it went really well; however, I knew I could do better.  Along with being busy with other projects, I lacked opportunities to photograph other cars, so I was unable to experiment with fire again until recently.

I was lucky to meet a local businessman here in town at a bar, and during our conversation, I learned that he was a fellow car enthusiast.  I showed him some of my car photos, and, it wasn’t long before he asked me to photograph his Chevy Corvette.  He said his son also had a Chevy Corvette, and that he wanted to get pictures of both cars.   

It took about a week or so for all of the supplies to arrive, and I also had to coordinate the schedules of various people helping out with the shoot.  Nothing could have prepared us for the final result, and the amazing time we had creating the images. 

This image is of the 2008 Corvette. I had a hunch that the black would look great against the wall of flames as opposed to the canary yellow of the 1965 Corvette.  Boy, was I right!!  The following settings used for the final image.


ISO: 100
Focal length: 18mm
Fstop: f/20
Shutter Speed: 25 Secs

Gear Used

Nikon D7100
Nikkor 18 – 105mm
mefoto Tripod
Kevlar Rope
Colemans camping fuel
Alien Bee B800
Westcott Apollo Orb
Yongnuo Wireless Triggers

My original plan was to shoot the car, then the fire, and combine the two of them in photoshop later; however, I really am a sucker for straight out of camera images.  I prefer getting everything that I possibly can in the initial shot.  So after experimenting with the fire, and learning the settings that make it appear as true flame without blowing out the highlights, I turned to my assistant for lighting the car. 

The Shot Breakdown

The first 10 seconds of the exposure consisted of me starting from camera right outside of frame with the kevlar rope being lit by another assistant, and then walking behind the car towards camera left until out of frame. 

For the next 10 seconds, my assistant walked from the rear bumper to the front bumper of the car, painting light onto the cab and ridge line an Alien Bee B800 inside of  a  Westcott Apollo Orb.

The remaining 5 seconds of the frame, she traced her steps backward lighting the 2 rims quickly to bring in just a bit more of the details before the shutter closed.  

We tried this seven times before getting the shot you see in this article. 


Post Processing

Lightroom Recipe:
Highlights: -45
Shadows: +100
Blacks: -50
Clarity: +50


I then added an adjustment brush with a 1/2 stop down exposure to the roof area, to bring more attention to the flame and the car.


Then, I applied a crop to the image, a slight sharpening, and an even smaller amount of noise reduction before exporting. 


In Photoshop, I applied a bit of clone stamping and finally my logo. 


Overall, I did spend a little bit more time in post on the Lightroom side than I had anticipated.  However, I am extremely happy with the end result and so is the client. 

Please keep in mind that fire is a very dangerous thing.  We had fire extuingisuers, and flame retardent clothing throughout the entire shoot. If you attempt this type of photo in your own time, please take extreme caution in choosing a location, and make sure you have the proper gear used to stay safe. 

I was extremely lucky to have been allowed to use a warehouse owned by Triton International Woods.  Not everyone will have access to such a specially prepared warehouse, so please choose your location wisely, take your time, be safe, and remember that fire is one of the most dangerous things you can incorporate into your shoots. 

Thank you for your interest in this shot, and also, thank you to SLR Lounge for allowing me to share it with you all. 

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Nathan Leduc

    Thanks for sharing this shoot with us! Great end result. I was wonder when your assistant was painting the light with your alien bee. Were they using the modeling light or were they manually popping the strobe over the length of the car? Thanks!

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  2. BazPix

    Thanks, but do you have some info and maybe pre ignition photos of how you set up and controlled the fire? Don’t worry, I won’t try it at home (or anywhere else most likely), but it’s the most intriguing part of how you achieved the image.

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    • Spencer Bunting

      I have a jig made where the kevlar rope is attached at the top and bottom by C clips.
      This allows me to hold the rope 2 feet away from my person. To ensure the fire doesn’t touch my clothes.

      I soak the kevlar roap(s) in coleman’s camping fuel for about 10 minutes. I have 3 so I can keep rotating instead of waiting between each shot.

      After I am out of the frame I have damp towels laid out that I lay the entire assembly down and fold over to suffocate the flame. That is really the only effective way of extinguishing it.

      I do not have any photos, I plan do more soon I will take some then. If you’d like, email me via the contact info on my site or connect with me on Facebook and I can share them with you as well as answer any other questions you may have.


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  3. D-Wizzy

    Empty frames photography has continued to progressively wow local crowds and other aspiring photographers. Great work, guys!

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