C+O Photograph Fire Tornados, Explosions, and other SCIENCE! with Vance Avery

We’ve been sitting on these photos for quite awhile. Like before last summer awhile, but that’s the nature of busy commercial photography work! You get so caught up in the next thing that sometimes you forget to share the stuff from the past on your own channels!



I met Vance (An accomplished actor, and science presentation specialist at TWoSE) while doing a portrait of Alan Nursall, Telus World of Science Edmonton’s CEO, for an article in Avenue Magazine. During that shoot, Vance helped out by providing some EPIC fog machine work, and bringing us a variety of props like the high-powered laser pointer we used, etc. Suffice it to say, Vance has a sweet job and has a lot of fun.


When Vance approached me after the shoot about doing some headshots for him so he could have an updated version for his role in Edmonton Musical Theatre’s production of The Ultimate Book Show I jumped at the chance to do some photos of him doing his science presentation thing, in addition to the actor headshots. Because, uh, FIREBALLS!


That’s right, his day-to-day life includes fireballs, fire tornados (or fire-nado if you like), van de graaff generators, colourful flaming substances, and more!

science fun fact:
This flash paper – tissue paper treated with Nitrocellulose – is a staple of magicians used to distract and misdirect. Because the flash paper is very light, when it ignites, the convection of the hot air rising will carry the paper along with it making for a cool effect.
science fun fact:
Different elements when burning will appear different colours. For example Strontium will burn bright red, almost a pinkish colour.

We had a blast using all the different items Vance has at his disposal to explain scientific principles to kids and get them excited about how the world works.


Vance also being a pro actor with experience on broadway, among other places, nailed his job by portraying expressions from reserved to ridiculous and everywhere in between. Thomas and I always love working with actors, because they just get it, and put themselves completely out there. Actors are willing to be vulnerable in order to get best the shot.


Science fun fact:
flour particles when finely spread out in the air are extremely flammable and even explosive in contained spaces. One of the most dangerous places to work is a bread factory or a grain elevator for this very reason. This principle is how the above demonstration works.


Tech Talk & How To Capture LIGHTNING!

(psst. step 1 is make sure you and your lights are far enough away that you/they don’t get lit on fire.)

The fireballs and fire-tornados required good timing and also having to balance using a slow shutter-speed to expose for the moving flames without being too bright, and also trying to introduce artificial light for some good light on Vance and the rest of the room without washing out the colour and intensity of the flames.


That being said, the above photo of Vance demonstrating a van de graaff generator was actually the most difficult of all. Firstly, there’s no telling when the static is going to discharge, similar to a lightning strike. So I used a interesting technique to capture it. You can do the same to get photos of lightning!


SLOOOOW THIIIINGS DOOoooown to capture something FAST.

On a tripod (which I had also used for some of the flame photos) I set for a really long shutter speed, like 2-5 seconds. We then turned off all the lights in the room. That’s so we could shoot that slow without picking up ambient light – if we had even a bit of light in the room the exposure would be really bright since it’s exposing for so long.


The flashes of light from the static arcs triggered the optical light trigger on my flashes which were set up camera left and right. If there wasn’t an arc from the generator or my flashes going off then the picture would be practically black. BUT the split second that the lights do flash during that long exposure light the whole scene and freeze the action so things aren’t motion blurred really. Because it was super dark I couldn’t focus much in that time and had to pre-focus before we would turn the lights out and then just check to make sure it was sharp.


One issue was that the static would discharge a lot and the flash would sometimes fire multiple times within my one exposure, which would obviously freeze multiple moments and also be too bright, so I had to watch for that.


Comprende? Please ask questions in the comments below if you would like me to clarify something. I’m an open book.


The camera left flash also had a blue-green colour gel on the front of it, and was pointed slightly towards the lens causing the flare/haze you see.


Wrapping Things Up – Check out TWoSE’s Adult Night!


We hope you enjoyed the photos! You can follow Vance on twitter at @vanceavery.


Also be sure to check out Telus World of Science’s DARK MATTERS night on February 19th. It’s an 18+ event “where the science is served on the rocks & the adults come out to play”, and features a Horror and Sci-Fi short film festival among other things and the regular attractions. Tickets are only $14 in advance!



Cheers, and have a great weekend!



Also below are examples of headshots we did for Vance!


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