Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Somebody, light a match!

Since Christmas is just around the corner, I thought I'd do something a little bit different. I wanted to shoot a lighting match in its most dramatic stage. I thought I had to use at least one strobe initally since I was uncertain how bright the flame would be. But no.

The setup
I understood that in order to focus properly on the match, I had to attach it to something. I found a small clamp and fastened it to a heavy object that would withstand the pressure while the match was lit. It actually took some time before I realized the logic behind this "heavy object":

Yes, it was a fire extinguisher! That made this whole situation much more comforting. Only problem would be that the extinguisher caught fire first, making it unusable, but I didn't have time to worry about that. I was here to shoot pictures.

I sat the camera on a tripod and attached my new remote control. This was pretty much it.

I often get tunnel vision when I find something interesting. That happened during this shooting. During the shooting of the first match, I was so caught up in looking at the result on the LCD-screen that I completely forgot that the match was still on fire! By the time I found that out, the match had melted the plastic coating on the clamp... Luckily, I had several of those:)

Until now I haven't put the D300 to the extremes. This time I finally did. By trial and error I found that I could go as far as the fastest shutter speed possible! That also meant increasing the ISO to the max and using a pretty wide aperture. Still most of the sparks would be appear with motion blur. During the test shooting I had to narrow the aperture a little because of the extremely shallow DOF, but the exposure seemed fine.

Final settings:
Strobe: A 1 inch match firing at full power
Camera: 1/8000 sec @ f/6.3, ISO 3200
Lens: Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro
Camera: Nikon D300

Shooting and post-processing
I focused on the match manually, swiped the match with the matchbox and pressed the remote shutter in burst mode (about 6 fps on the D300). Changing the match everytime was a bit tedious because the handle on the fire extinguisher was curved, making it difficult to fasten the clamp.

After 112 shots and seven matches I found a kind of interesting shot. This is the untouched RAW file:

In Adobe Camera Raw I only reduced the noise, which was definitely needed at ISO 3200, even on a D300. In Photoshop I cloned out the flares on the right side of the flame. I also adjusted the levels just a little bit and burned the head of the match (as if it wasn't burned enought in the first place...). I ended the post-processing with a square crop and rotation.

The result:

Somebody, light a match!


Lori Putman said...

Pure ingenious! Glad to see you shooting!

Wendy said...

Saw this photo over on Digital photography school and wanted to see how you did it! Sweet! Thank you for all the info! Glad nothing burned down except for the matches and you had fun!

zetson said...


Thank you!! Nice to see you're one of my followers:D


Thank you for your comment. Having fun is so important. I'm glad you found it useful:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the idea!