As a pyro, a creative, and an automotive photographer I consistently have the urge to combine the 3 qualities into a single photo. As I've always believed, the more fire, the rarer the car, the crazier the location; the better the result. This purely passion project was the true test of this theory.
Whether I'm traveling the world and discovering beautiful architecture, watching the newest Netflix series, or just browsing the internet; there's always a part of my brain dedicated to working out how I can implement inspiration gifted from any of the above to a car shoot. From a recent post on the LiveClass Commune Facebook group an old (2008) BMW commercial was shared by Tony Harmer where a very brief 2 second scene aggressively activated that inspiration for a car shoot.
See the video below, where the director shot fire down a large tube to imitate combustion within the engine.
Instantly I knew what had to be done. Why not add a flat surface within a large tube, recreating the shape of a life-size road tunnel and then proceed to shoot fire down that? Using a dark colored tube and a black "road surface" in the tube, I could simply pull the very real fire from that image, and insert it into an actual photo I took of a real road tunnel. Boom, massive fire running through a tunnel without breaking international law!
Step 1: The first step was to find the right car to use for this newfound concept. In a moment of serendipity the very next day my friend Supercar Blondie asked me to join her on a shoot with a very special car. An all carbon Lamborghini Veneno Roadster with a $12,000,000 price tag and extremely limited access. Once I saw the car, I found the best angle for this concept; keeping in mind I needed the car driving towards camera, away from the tunnel fire. I also kept in mind the positioning of the car in the frame, allowing proper space for all the action going on in the tunnel to have importance within the final frame.
Step 2: Finding a large enough tube to insert a flat surface and still have room to stick in my Sony A7R3 and 24-105 F/4L lens. A quick trip to the Al Quoz district in Dubai I found an aptly named "Pipe Store" where I bought and had modified a 10" PVC pipe in a dark gray color (to resemble the concrete color of the tunnel walls).
Step 3: I needed the flat surface to insert into the PVC pipe that would replicate the "road" of the tunnel. I went down the street to a lumber supply store to get an 1/2" thick board measured and cut to fit within the center of my new 10" PVC pipe. I also bought a can of matte black paint to paint this board.
Step 4: I needed to paint this board black so that when the fire was shot coming through the pipe, the real reflection of the fire would be the only thing that shows up in the photo. This allows me to pull the fire reflection and insert it on top of the REAL road of the road tunnel I would plan to shoot later.
Step 5: Once my mini tunnel was constructed and completed, I needed my fire source. I used a can of brake parts cleaner and a grill lighter. I first tested it in open air, to see what the ideal lighter/spray distance was so I wouldn't turn my Sony into a Toasty.
Step 6: All the parts were in play and motion, I setup my mini tunnel on a mega tire and positioned my Sony A7R3 with 24-105 F/4L lens. I made sure my camera framing matched the angle I shot the Lamborghini Veneno, which is very important, as I would then need to use the exact same angle when I go to shoot the real road tunnel.
Step 7: I had a friend assist in triggering the camera during a dozen or so flame blasts through the pipe towards my camera. With a shutter speed of 1/500 it really took several attempts to get the right frames that I felt happy with.
Step 8: Tunnel time. I had to find a tunnel with the same half circle shape here in the United Arab Emirates. Unfortunately not as convenient as I hoped, many of the tunnels here are the shape of a rectangle, and are extremely busy all times of the day and night. My friend Lamar Ellison shared with me the location of a tunnel between Sharjah and Khor Fakkan. It was a 3 hour drive, and at midnight, but it proved to be the PERFECT fit.
This was by far one of the most work intensive personal projects I've ever done, but it thoroughly satisfied my pyro and creative needs! I took all of the above elements, and after around 4 hours in Photoshop arrived to the final result below. Be sure to check out LiveClass 06 // The Secret Sauce, where I will go through this Photoshop file and several others to reveal many of the specific tricks and techniques I use to get that extra eye-catching pop.