Blue Fire

Blue Fire
Losail, 2011

The story behind this image:

On Saturday night of the 2011 season opener, I was working in the pit lane when I noticed something visually striking. When some bikes were revved up by the mechanics in front of the pit boxes, every now and then some blue flame would appear deep within the exhaust pipe.

This blue fire was visible for a tiny fraction of a second, but I thought if I could capture one appearance it would be an interesting image. We often see unburned fuel escape from engines and flame out from exhaust pipes, but during the day this fire is orange. But there is something about the night lighting in Qatar that makes it this distinctive blue.

I tried with several bikes to get the blue fire in a frame, but as I said, it appears for such a brief moment (a thousandth of a second maybe?) on my first try I took around 200 photographs without catching any blue fire. I had my camera set to its fastest speed of 8 frames per second, and I timed my attempts to coincide with the likely appearance, if any, of the blue fire, which was just after the engine had been revved.

The flame appears because fuel sometimes passes through the combustion chamber without being ignited by the spark plug. When it reaches the super-heated exhaust pipe, the high temperature ignites the fuel and makes the flame appear. Often I would see blue while looking through the camera, and if I did, I knew I didn’t catch the fire in a frame. Light only passes through the camera to my eye when the shutter is closed, so if I were to capture what I wanted, I would not see it at the time. When the bike was turned off and wheeled back into the pit box, I looked at the images I’d made on the camera’s small LCD screen and found nothing.

I tried again half an hour later, this time making 163 images before Hector Barbera’s Ducati was warmed up enough to be switched off and returned to the garage. I scrolled quickly through the images again and saw nothing. It was not until I was deleting all the misfires on the computer hours later than I found I had gotten lucky after all.

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