How a photographer creates fire-winged portraits

Derek VanAlthuis rigged up a couple of high-power flashlights in a PVC casing, then ran them through an amber gel onto a piece of edge-lit plexiglass to create this winged portrait. Here's the setup:

He also did the same thing with real fire:

The tool used was based on Zach’s fire technique, which involves wrapping and stapling a 100% cotton t-shirt around a wooden dowel. The shirt is then soaked in BBQ fluid and then lit. I used this technique on my own wing-shaped tool to get the effect and look that I wanted. It is important that your shirt is 100% cotton, any kind of blended fabrics can melt and cause burns. If you attempt this, PLEASE take all the proper precautions and be safe. I recommend wearing flame resistant gloves and shooting at a place with plenty of water nearby.

Learn more below, or simply enjoy his Instagram account.

This photographer created phoenix wings by light painting with real fire (DIY Photography via PetaPixel)

Notable Replies

  1. I recommend just using a Pixelstick instead of catching your model on fire.

  2. brzap says:

    The models knew the risks when they chose this life.

    As they say, "There are old models, and fire-winged models, but no old, fire-winged models."

  3. "Karen, I know you're no longer with us, but the images of you writhing in pain, well, that anguish really came across in the images. Gagosian bought them all and your fame has inspired so many other models to be immolated in the name of art! Also, I bought you this really nice headstone by not getting the turn signal fluid for my new Porsche, I think you would have appreciated it."

  4. There's a reason the english idiom for negligently doing dangerous things is "playing with fire." The people who are highly trained still sometimes get burnt in relatively safe, planned, and controlled sets with all the safety measures in place. Please don't do this.

  5. Xuth says:

    It floors me that the artist didn't avail themselves of the countless hours of research and materials available from the fire performance community to create these things. Kevlar/aramid wicking material and thread is available for cheap and works much better than cotton. White gas, while similar is better than lighter fluid in lots of ways. Also available in the community are techniques for photographing fire play, and procedures and tools safely handling fire.

Continue the discussion

1 more reply