In every country you have traditional events to celebrate, and some of them have very ancient roots, like celebrating the end of winter or Midsummer.
Luxembourg has a very nice tradition called „Buergbrennen“ which is celebrated on the first Sunday of Carnival (also called „Buergsonndeg“) and marks the end of winter (although the local climat does not really care about dates). This tradition is celebrated throughout the country and attended by thousands of people.
The „Buergen“ (the word’s origin comes from the Latin „burere“ meaning „burn“) consist of huge stakes of wood, logs, straw, branches, a lot of old, dry Christmas trees that are set up on hilltops or exposed areas by inhabitants, scouts and local fire brigades. Quite often, they do contain a large cross in the middle and more creative versions tend to contain the silhouette of a real „Buerg“ (meaning fortress in Luxembourgish).
In many villages, there is a traditional torch-lit procession from the village to the ‘Buerg, where the fire is lit when darkness has fallen. As part of the event, traditional dishes like pea soup or mulled wine are served, as well as barbecued sausages and chops.
Preparing for the mud
This year, I joined a few fellow photographers to take pictures of the local “Buergbrennen” in Niederanven, a village situated at the east of Luxembourg City.
As the weather forecast was not very encouraging, I had already prepared myself for bad conditions. Luckily, it did not rain during the event, but the rain of the last days had transformed the area in a mud disaster. I had put on my hiking boots, rain pants, but within seconds, my boots were full of mud and had at least doubled their weight.
The challenges of shooting the fire were to get as close as possible to use wide angle, to avoid the enormous heat and to have at least a few images showing the fire with the surrounding crowd. This was a challenge due to the important contrasts in light: bright fire and a crowd in the dark.
After the fire was lit, it was clear that I had to get quite close to catch the size and power and integrate a good foreground. The first shots from a distance were ok, but didn’t give any real impression of the raw forces at work.
This was a critical moment where I had to stop and reflect on what I was going to do: where is the wind coming from? Has the wind direction changed rapidly in the last minutes? Where will the burnt wood fall down? Safety first!
After checking these parameters and after having had clear eye contact with the firemen present (in order to let them know I have checked the area and I’m aware of what I’m doing), I managed to get closer.
And after at the back of the “Buerg”, I got this very nice shot, with the camera very low on the tripod, giving this 3 dimensional representation mud, water, smoke on the ground. These are the moments where I love my old Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod, with its flexible legs and the option to tilt the middle pole horizontally.
While the fire was raging and big chunks of wood crashed to the ground, I was watching my surroundings and waiting for the ideal foreground (similar to street photography).
And finally, after some patient waiting, I got this shot with the fireman’s silhouette in front of the “Buerg”.
It was a great and interesting experience to shoot as close as possible, having the right equipment (and knowing blindly how to use it) and beeing ready to knee down in the mud.
But my rain pants didn’t survive as the God of plastic couldn’t agree with my body’s size and flexion, and my boots remained full of mud until April (my wife refused to take them on board for our Iceland trip if I left them uncleaned).
Equipment used for this shooting:
- Fujifilm X-T1 ( DE , UK , US , FR ) *
- Fujifilm XF 16-55 mm F2.8 R LM WR ( DE , UK , US , FR ) *
- Manfrotto Manfrotto 190XPROB (UK , DE , US , FR )* discontinued, replaced +/- by Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 (UK , DE , US , FR ) *
- Benro B-2 ballhead (UK , DE , US , FR )*
- Neewer Black Metal Quick Release L-Plate Bracket Hand Grip Camera Grip for Fujifilm Fits Arca-Swiss Standard (XT-1) (UK , DE , US , FR )*
* Affiliate links