Tips for Responsible, Effective, and Exciting Fire and Wildfire Photography

One of the most exciting subjects for me to cover during my time as a professional journalist was fires and firefighting, and the potential for great imagery is there for anyone who approaches the subject with a little preparation and of knowledge.

Fires and wildfires are often tragic events that require enormous resources to fight, and often leave a trail of damage and even death in their wake, so they are not matters to be taken lightly. But, at the same time, they also deserve extensive coverage to highlight the efforts of community firefighters. On top of that, the very nature of fire means that well-captured photographs are usually extremely impactful and thrilling to capture. If you decide to dip your feet into these waters, it is very important to approach it with caution and extreme deference, otherwise you risk your own life, the safety of others, and waste valuable time and resources by impeding efforts. fight. fire emergency response.

If you’re a journalist with press credentials, you have an advantage over a photographer who just wants cool fire shots. First of all, your access is usually a bit better. I spent years building good relationships with the various fire crews in the area I covered, which consisted of 13 municipalities and was a very rural but sprawling area of ​​central Utah. This relationship has helped me a lot in my quest for good fire coverage, as fire crews who trust your judgment as a reporter are much more likely to allow you to be closer to the fire themselves. -same.

It is very important that in pursuing your fire shots you never create a situation where you put yourself in the kind of danger that crews might need to spend time evacuating you from the area. They have much more vital work to do. Building trust with your local fire crews means they are less likely to simply deny you access to cover, but it is still possible.

A good way to start building trust with your local fire crews is to know them ahead of time and find out if they have any scheduled burns that might give you the opportunity to get your feet wet safely in the field of coverage and capture. fires. These controlled burns are often used for training purposes, safe building demolition, excess fuel reduction, or a combination of two or more of these things. Because fire crews start the fire intentionally and eventually put it out with the whole process carefully planned and controlled, the safety factor is higher, and they are more likely to allow you access to cover it, because they don’t have to concern themselves as much with the welfare of nearby citizens.

Never show up to an active fire and insist on gaining access to the area, you’ll just burn your bridges with them (no pun intended). Even if you are an accredited journalist, this is just a quick way to ensure that you will also have a hard time getting your photos on future fires.

With the extreme drought and risk of fire that our desert state often experiences during the summer, wildfires are becoming a big problem. If a fire starts and spreads, the main access roads will be blocked by rescuers, and although you can often find secondary roads that allow you a better shooting angle, be careful of the distance from which you you get closer. Wildfires can spread extremely quickly, especially in dry and windy conditions. Before approaching a wildfire, make sure you know your best escape route and any others you may have in case something serious happens and the fire begins to threaten your position. Do not wait until the last minute to get out.

When I’m covering a fire in daylight, I’m a fan of the versatile high-quality zooms to let you move quickly and get multiple compositions without changing lenses too much in potentially dusty and smoky conditions. More recently, I’ve taken a liking to the extremely flexible and relatively new Tamron 18-300 for my Fujifilm camera systems. For a lens with such an extreme zoom range, image quality is very good for my purposes, and the in-lens stabilization helps a lot in the long run and as the light dims.

If a fire is still burning after dark, I always make it a habit to shoot at night if possible. For this purpose I’ve found a fast standard lens to be a good choice, and at wider apertures like F1.8 or F1.4 sometimes the light from a fire is bright enough for you to take some Handheld photos, but it’s a good idea to bring a tripod, even if you have a camera body with built-in stabilization. A nighttime long exposure on a tripod can be a particularly cool shot to capture.

A number of websites will allow you to listen to local emergency radio systems, and during my time as an active print journalist I always had one quietly in the background, and when the calls come in, you can discover the locations of active fires in essentially real-time. I was even able to arrive before the emergency response, but if this happens it is essential that you take care to keep your distance and that you and your vehicle do not block any necessary access for the firefighters when they arrive.

If you are like me and frequently use a drone for photography purposes, you to have to resist the urge to put it in the air, as a fire often requires aerial support, especially a wildfire, and if a drone is spotted in the sky, aerial firefighting teams should stay on the ground until until he disappears. Criminal charges can be brought against you in certain situations if you interfere with air response in this way. That being said, don’t forget that aerial response can also provide some interesting photos, such as planes flying over active fires and releasing bright red anti-flame powder. A long lens will usually be needed to get a good shot of this, but it’s worth it if you can show off the bright red powder cascading down a line of burning trees.

It is absolutely essential that you never attempt to enter a burning structure or a wild area for the sake of your cover. The speed a raging fire can move is faster than you can run, especially loaded with gear.

If you take care to be responsible, safe and extremely aware of your impact on the ability of firefighters to fight the fire, a photojournalist can achieve some very impressive shots. Be open-minded in your coverage and consider any negative impact your presence or actions may have. Stay safe and good luck.

Leave a Comment