Adding fuel to the fire

OK the odds of this happening are very small but I wonder if anyone in 7th century China, after watching a firework explode over head, had any idea that centuries later I would be photographing a performer call Red Sarah on stage at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London? Probably not.

The art of pyrotechnics is lost on me. I light the blue touch paper and run. So it was a great surprise to see not one but eight devices being used on stage. I have seen fire performances before but not live sparkling fireworks held above someones face!

Initial Cleanup

I was happy with the original frame seen here but the lighting on the skin caught my eye so I made a mental note to make this the image to edit. I firstly went over the image and cleaned up some of the distractions.

  • There a couple of sparks at the top and around the main grouping that needed taking care of.
  • Some of the highlights of the curtain behind the performer were just a little to bright.
  • A couple of wrinkles on the dress had to come out.
  • Used the clone stamp to add back the addition of one of the pyrotechnics that didn't fire on the night.

Close up of the skin detail.


This clean frame was duplicated in Lightroom and exported to Topaz Glow. After playing around with the settings I found one that looked liked the skin was translucent enough for the bone structure and veins to be seen. This was saved back to Lightroom and both it and the clean frame were sent kicking and screaming into Photoshop as layers.

I created a black layer mask over the Topaz Layer and named it 'Skin'. I then used a soft white brush and painted back the Topaz level. The effect only really worked on the chest and arm areas. I wanted to leave the face as it was and left the neck mostly intact.

To the left is a 100% close up of the detail. It really did look too much like a cadaver was up on stage if the effect was all over. I added a curves layer to brighten and enhance the area below the waist as this was a little to much in shadow. These two layers were combined to a single frame back to Lightroom.

Selective Blur

I have been playing around with using selective blur on  my edits and this was no exception.

I opened the image in Photoshop made a copy of the layer and added around 40% Gaussian Blur and a Radial Blur. These are the two main effects I have in my work, they complement each other so well in shots like these.

I added a black layer mask on the blur layer and used a large white brush to bring back the layer below. This really anchored the performer to the center of the image, focusing on the head below the sparking firework. I then added a sharpening layer to the face, hair and exposed chest area.

Final Image

Below is a before and after. The selective blurring technique is one I intend to employ a lot for now on to drag the viewers eye to the focus of the image. I also intend to purchase a few more plugins to add to my work flow. I have always been an advocate of using little plugins that can make a massive impact to an image. Well worth the money!

About Red Sarah

This blog post has been possible with the blessing of the performer Red Sarah.

Red Sarah - The Doyenne of Disguise and Mistress of Make-Believe, with an act for all occasions and uncountable skills. From fire performance to crafting and drag-kinging, Red Sarah is the essence of true showbiz. Drawing on her 15 years in the limelight, booking Red is like booking your own piece of stardom itself. Red Sarah is a top billing performer who knows how to steal a show and deliver entertainment like no other. You can learn more about Red Sarah at and