POTD: Flambé

_7060984 copy
Baked Alaska. Nikon D700, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro

Flames are a funny thing – they don’t photograph well. Simply, yellow flame is bright because it contains a lot of incandescent little particles; usually, it’s too bright to photograph well relative to surroundings – you land up losing detail in the flame if you have context, or losing context if you have detail in the flame. Blue flame is almost impossible to photograph because most of its energy is heat – there isn’t much in the way of light-emitting incandescent particles. Flames are also very random in an interesting fractal kind of way; photographically that means you’ve got to do many, many takes – four Alaskas, in the case of this shot. And dozens of frames until we got just the right flame.

The problem for food photography – specifically baked Alaskas – is that the lit brandy you pour over the dessert burns blue, which isn’t so great to shoot. Sure, you could composite flames in after, but it would both look unnatural and just be dishonest. So what do we do? Simple: add a little something to the alcohol that makes it burn brighter, and a little yellower.

Interestingly, this is where the high ISO capabilities of the D700 become useful: ISO 6400 with a good amount of remaining dynamic range and very low noise. I don’t think this shot would have worked as well with the D800. MT


  1. I don’t get it: when downsized to 12Mpx (same as D700) output from D800 should be better…or am I overlooking anything?

    • You’re right, it would look better at 12MP than the D700. However, think about it this way: if the entire job (which this image was part of) was shot with a D800 and files were delivered at 36MP, but one was just 12MP, what would your client think?

  2. Great texture!
    But why it wouldn’t have worked as well with the D800?

  3. This is wonderful!! I’m so glad you took the time to get it right. Thank you for sharing. Makes me want to go eat some desert though… 😉

%d bloggers like this: