Sep 14, 2011

Fires at night

It is a little bit awkward to talk photography in a situation where something much larger, namely a house fire that destroys a family's home, is involved. Certainly nothing here is meant to lessen the impact or tragedy of what is going on in these pictures. Not far from where I was standing was a distraught mother who escaped with her children. One poor kid had run out without clothes. The debate on whether to take or show those pictures is for another time.

But as fire photography goes, night time fires provide the most drama and light character. It is a constantly changing situation because the fire itself is up and down, and the lights from the fire trucks and other emergency vehicles are literally moving all around with lots of red and blue in the mix.

This would be a good photo during the day, but at night, the contrast makes the fire pop.

You can shoot Aperture priority and just pay attention to + or - exposure compensation for how much bright light is in the scene.. Manual exposure is much the same, just watch the meter and know what the bright areas and dark areas are doing to your exposure. Are you exposing for detail in the fire itself or for detail in the darker areas?

Here -2/3 gave a useful mix and still left detail in the flame.

And here -2 gave an image that is pretty close to what it looked like in person.

After the major firefighting operations are over, the unique lighting situation is a very interesting shooting gallery for firefighter portraits. By this point at this fire all daylight was gone so I switched over to Manual and just worked with what the meter was telling me...
Lots of directional light from the trucks creates lighting you would have a hard time duplicating (or predicting).

Including the fire trucks in the photos means lots of light shining directly into the camera, but that isn't all bad either.. again, manual exposure is a must to keep any detail in faces as the constantly flashing lights will drive the camera meter to madness.

Sept13 Night Fire-432

Again... this is a situation where something terrible is happening in peoples' lives, so photography can seem trivial. But if you are going to do the job of photojournalism, you better do it as well as you can to justify being on the scene, and to honor the people risking their lives to put out the fire.

Don J.

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