First, I'd like to thank Rick for asking me to guest blog on firefighting photos. Rick and I haven't met, but I emailed him to ask about using one of his Route 66 photographs in my blog as a link back to his Route 66 gallery. Rick graciously agreed and asked me to write about fire photography.
Secondly, no one ever called the fire department because they've done something smart. The places where the fire department operates are dangerous places and you have to keep your head on a swivel: downed power lines, powerful streams of water, vehicles driving by, and firefighters moving about concentrating on the task at hand.
Most of America is served by small and volunteer fire departments. Want to get better shots? Get to know those people. Visit the stations, go to the meetings and start talking to the firefighters. get to know them and learn what they do. Like sports photography, if you know the game, you'll be better prepared to make your photographs as the situation develops.
I've been taking pictures for a long time. I just started making pictures in the last few years. The pictures you'll see in this blog post were made as I had time to take them while working at these events as a firefighter or instructor.
Opening Image: Aircraft Fire Training. Fire scenes are dynamic. The background of fire and smoke creates a different image with every push of the shutter release. Fire hoses provide excellent leading lines to a subject. And one end of a hose is a firefighter, at the other is a fire truck.
Above: Night fires offer great silhouette opportunities. On arrival at this fire, out in the country, the structure was too far gone to be saved. Most often, firefighters operate at a slower pace under these conditions, and you have a few more seconds to set up your shot. Interestingly, the flash fired but too far away to be effective which actually allowed me to reduce the exposure in Lightroom by -1.43 and get a darker silhouette. Had the flash fired, the reflective trim on the firefighter's protective clothing would have killed the photograph.
Above: Heat Wave. The heat waves separate this photograph into two planes (so to speak). In front of the fire the structure of the car fire simulator is clear and relatively sharp. Behind the flames, the heat waves distort the firefighters to the point where it almost looks like the lens was made from an old window pane. Why ISO1600? I failed to reset my camera following the night fire mentioned in this blog post…
Above: Firefighting is a dirty, gritty job. This firefighter was preparing to attack this fire when I made this photograph from the fire truck. As I said, it's dirty and gritty work so in post-processing, drop the exposure (-1.07, here) and contrast (-100 here), bump up the clarity to (+100 here) to bring out that dirt and grit. In the photograph you can see what appear to be lens spots - they're not. That’s debris coming from the fire - rising with the heat and smoke and falling when it cools down.
Finally, don't forget the human side. People are present at every scene. Capture firefighters taking a break, people's emotions, people helping people and so forth. Like sports photography, there's a lot going on on the other side of the camera.
For more of my work, please visit my site.
Thanks again, Rick!