Catching Fire while Playing with Matches

In this photography tutorial it’s all about playing with matches and capturing fire, on a small scale. The photography techniques used and process is pretty simple and uses common household items.

Playing with Matches Photography Tutorial - Main Image

Photography Equipment


  1. DSLR – This gives you maximum control over settings, you’ll be adjusting aperture and shutter speed. I used my trusty Canon 5D MKII
  2. Macro lens – A  true 1:1 macro lens is ideal. The Canon 100mm f2.8 Macro is perfect for this type of work.
  3. Box of Matches – Anything else you can burn in a confined space will do.
  4. Clamp – Or some other means of holding the matches in place like a simple clothes peg.
  5. Candle – This makes remotely igniting the matches easy.


  1. Tripod – A steady platform for easy adjustments of elements. I found the Manfrotto 055XPROBtripod legs with Manfrotto 804RC2 head to be easy to use.
  2. Remote Trigger – This prevents disturbing the camera’s focus when shooting consecutive shots. I used the Canon RS-80N3 for my camera.
  3. 5 in 1 Reflector – A simple black background focus’ attention on the subject.
  4. Fire Extinguisher – Just in case.

Process & Techniques

Since we’ll be working with fire and we want to get as much details as possible I recommend a darkened room, just leave the windows open due to the build up of smoke. A simple uncluttered black background works best, I used a 5-in-1 reflector which has a black side set in the background.

You’ll need a means of holding the matches in place that also allows you to easily change them when setting up for the next shot. You also want the match elevated from the table surface so you can fit the ignition source (like a candle) beneath it.

To light the matches I recommend using a lit candle that can be placed just below the match out of view of the camera. You’ll probably want to aim for about 1 – 2 inches / 2 – 5 cm below.

The process is a bit hit and miss with the matches igniting of their own accord as the candle is drawn closer. I recommend using a remote shutter that will allow you to hold the button down for a few seconds before the match ignites. If you wait for the match to ignite before pressing the shutter button you will miss the shot.

Tip As the match head is about to ignite the material will begin to transform and becoming slightly shinny. As soon as you see this hold down the shutter button to begin capturing.

The settings may vary from one match to the next but as a general rule I found f4.0 on a Canon 100mm with ISO 100 on a Canon 5DMKII and a shutter speed of 400th/sec gave a decent result. The sudden combustion doesn’t produce enough to light to be captured at higher speeds.

Trying to bring more of the flame into focus using f8 and keeping a shutter speed of 250th/sec did give some decent results but it seems the sweet spot is in the wider open apertures of f2.8 to f4 and 200th/sec – 400th/sec.

Post Processing Techniques

All post processing is handled in Photoshop Lightroom. Simple cropping of the image to accommodate the direction of the flame. Minimal adjustments were made to the exposure adjusting shadows, highlights etc..

Photography Results

The below images give an idea of what to expect, the main focus being on the match tips combusting and shooting out flames and sparks of burning material as they ignite.

Playing with Matches Photography Tutorial - First Example Image

The molten material bubbles as it heats pushing sparks out as each bubble bursts.

Playing with Matches Photography Tutorial - Second Example ImageAs the match ignites heated gases explode outwards creating a tiny ball of fire with a halo surrounding it.

Playing with Matches Photography Tutorial - Third Example ImageA closer view of the tip of the match as it ejects heated gases.

Playing with Matches Photography Tutorial - Fourth Example Image

Comments are closed.