07/26/15 7353 W - + 6 - 4 How to Become a Fire Photographer
By Mike Legeros
Version 1.1 – July 24, 2015
So you want to become a fire photographer? Meaning, someone who takes pictures
of firefighters in action, at structure fires and other incidents. Basically, a
combination fire buff and photojournalist.
For the purposes of this document, we’re presuming
that these are civilians. They might have prior experience as a responder—or
agency affiliation therein—but they’re not presently active as one.
What about active responders who are taking pictures
on- or off-duty? Much of this information is applicable, but there are probable
gaps. Such as the policy and legal considerations for someone taking pictures of
their own department in action, and how they use or share those photos.
Also worth asking, is anyone with a camera at a fire
automatically a “fire photographer?” Of course not. The label applies to
someone with a set of demonstrated skills and practiced standards. They’re
adept at getting good shots, telling a good story, and sharing appropriate
imagery. They’re agile on scene and know where to stand and where not to stand.
They work with the responders and their community and not against them.
Does that still sound interesting and exciting? Then
let’s proceed with what we’ll call a direct download of Mike’s brain.
You have been warned.
How to become a fire photographer
Three easy steps:
Or with slightly more explanation:
pictures from public perspective.
pictures/share pictures with fire department.
relationship(s) with firefighters and fire department.
mastery of technical skills for photojournalistic techniques required for
about fires and fire departments, to better choose what you’re photographing.
and demonstrate how to edit and parse pictures, to respect privacy of victims
and promote positive image/actions of firefighters.
and demonstrate how to conduct yourself at a fire scene, to minimize impact on
permission to take pictures from “inside the tape.”
you be posting your pictures using social media? If yes, become familiar with
technologies, practical, ethical, and legal considerations.
you be submitting your pictures to local news media, as citizen contribution?
you be selling your pictures to local news media?
you be using your pictures in other commercial contexts?
you provide copies of your pictures to responders, as a rule or by special
and posting skills
and choosing photos
with emergency services
About This Document
and advice from the perspective of Mike Legeros.
a fire photographer in Raleigh, NC, with ten-plus years of experience.
been shooting in the city and county and alongside a second and
longer-serving fire photographer. Thus, the responders in this area were
already "camera friendly" to a degree.
had official credentials from fire and EMS for most of that time. He also
had prior experience as a city firefighter (from long ago) and existing
relationships with local responders from that and prior book and
pictures have always been publically posted on the Internet, on a personal
web site. In recent years, they’ve also been published via social media.
freely gives copies and permission to produce his photos to the responders
depicted therein. His images are frequently used for local, regional, and
even national purposes, ranging from internal training documents to
city/county annual reporters to the Responder Safety Network.
pictures have also appeared in a few industry text books and a number of
does NOT submit his photos to local news agencies, either as a “stringer”
or as a “viewer photo.” However, he’ll occasionally submit (and craft
postings) for fire news-based web sites.
takes pictures at both fire and EMS incidents, as well as training and
special events. Plus stock picture needs, typically for printed or bound
rarely "holds back pictures" intended solely for the emergency
responders. (Thus doesn't photograph deceased persons, wounds on patients,
blood stains or splatter, etc.)
is NOT a forensic photographer, though his pictures are provided to arson
investigators as needed.
is not a burning city. Most of his fire scene photos are "after
control" or during overhaul. When he shoots a working fire, they are
often quickly controlled. Multi-hour conflagrations are extremely rare.
Just a couple times for him. Nothing like the "big workers" in
northeastern cities, for example.
web site is www.legeros.com/firepics.
Or see his “best of” annual compilations at
There are other types of fire photographers, of
course. They include:
who shoot only structure fires or fire-related incidents, but avoid
vehicle accidents or medical calls.
who take pictures exclusively for agency use, and don’t publically share
who post a portion of their pictures, per incident, but provide copies of
all shots to the responders.
who sell their images to news agencies, or use for other commercial
purposes. They may post their pictures, most, some, or just a couple.
who serve in a forensic or investigative capacity. Their pictures are rarely
publically shared, but used for internal or legal purposes.
Mike’s tools and techniques?
of Canon DSLR cameras.
still images almost exclusively.
shoots video clips, typically one or two 10/30/60 second clips. Sometimes
he compiles multiple short clips into a single video file for posting.
Mike has presented or participated in workshops on
this topic twice, for the North Carolina State Firemen's Association annual
These things are probably are the minimum that’s
required, to get you started or ensure a good path that’s followed:
with passion. Fire photography (and fire buffing) is a niche vocation. The more
burning desire (pun intended) that you have, the farther you’ll probably go.
those who you’re photographing and who will be seeing your photos. Forging a
strong connection with your local responders will prove very useful.
or develop the technical skills to create good pictures, from lighting and
exposure to composition to post-processing.
sensitive to what you’re shooting, and what you’re representing through the
pictures that you make. Not every photo needs to be shared with every person.
the shot. Strive for the best position possible while not endangering yourself
or others, nor impeding operations. (The best fire photographers are assets and
away as needed. There’s always another incident, for those times that social
pressures or legal questions (or issues) or personal (or official)
confrontations present themselves.
Technical camera skills
and foremost, how are your camera skills?
your pictures in proper focus and with proper lighting and exposure?
you capture faster-moving action and without blur?
you understand flash techniques, such as fill flash for daylight shots?
you create depth of field effects, such as close and far objects both in focus?
you understand the modes of your camera?
Program Shift, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual?
Mike doesn't use manual mode and still hasn't learned how.
Canon DLSR cameras are always on "Program Shift" with the occasional
switch to Aperture Priority, for night shots with low lighting.
the best way to learn or improve camera skills?
tons of photos.
night, rain, shine, up high, down low, facing light, deep in shadows, up close,
you create a well-composed photo?
are the "things in the picture" arranged in a way that produces the
best shot or the best intention of what the shot is trying to show?
"composition and photography" for more detailed explanations and
the best way to learn composition?
take tons of photos.
look at lots of other people's photos.
do you like or not like? What works or doesn't work?
try revisiting your own photos.
to a set of pictures taken X weeks or months ago.
skim through them.
at any those that jump out at you.
because they're associated with the experience of what was happening in the
shot, but because they strike your eye.
pictures are the ones that are likely well-composed.
is the ability to tell a story through pictures.
of shots and shot elements.
or unusual details.
and their emotions.
translates to such skills as:
to capture action (and often fast-moving action) as it happens.
your camera ready (and pointing in the right direction) for when action is about
(a bit) to sports photography.
to perform in varied conditions: heat, cold, light, dark, sun, rain, smoke,
to perform in changing conditions, within a situation that’s dynamic and
saturated with excitement, movement, danger, emotion, exertion, exhaustion, and
take a house fire.
"thing" is the burning building, right?
in the direction of the flames and fire away, right? Yes and no.
happening before, behind, or around that burning building?
is fighting the fire versus watching the fire versus reacting to the fire?
does the larger picture look like?
the house alone on a huge lot, or sitting in a row of clustered dwellings?
for action, it's just the guys and gals with the hoses, right?
for a moment and look around.
other that's happening, from pump operators at the trucks to chief officers at
the command post to law enforcement officers directing traffic.
there are spectators, pointing to and talking about the fire.
here are the firefighters in rehab, being tended to by medical personnel.
Fire photography skills
There are also some technical issues specific to photographing
fire and flames. They include:
flames amid surrounding darkness.
to control for differences in exposure, between the bright object (fire)
in the frame with dark objects (everything else).
by adjusting metering, exposure.
by adding more light, to brighten surroundings and reduce contrast.
lights or scene lights (from apparatus) have brightened surroundings,
and contrast is reduced.
stripes and surfaces.
noticeable at night, when using your flash.
on coats and helmets (and apparatus) glow much brighter than
also happen in daylight photos, if using fill flash.
interfere with camera’s ability to focus.
become opaque when illuminated by flash.
obscure what’s being seen in the shot, though can be improved in
happen when it’s raining.
uses a large umbrella on scene, held in crook of arm.
he’ll hold with one hand, and operate camera with other hand.
sealed cameras and lenses are less likely to experience damage from
atmosphere elements on the fireground.
are also more expensive.
Processing and posting skills
you've taken those photos, you'll do things:
the pictures (to make them look better, if needed)
the pictures (so other people can see them).
appropriately called post-processing.
any alterations to the image, after it’s copied from the camera.
you press the shutter, the “raw” digital information is stored on the memory
your camera saves images as JPEG, the camera will also perform processing on
the camera’s settings to control components of the processing.
your camera saves images as RAW, no processing will be performed on the image.
copied to your computer, RAW images require at least some processing to match
the quality of a JPEG image produced by the same camera.
save images as RAW? Google for an explanation.
you copy the pictures to your computer, how do they look?
they need to be lightened or darkened?
the tint or colors in the image need adjustment?
the entire image need any slight rotating, to straighten same?
you cropping the image, to improve the composition?
there defects in the picture that you want to “digitally airbrush?”
are two notable approaches here.
a bit sloppy when you shoot, then correct later.
be more exact as you shoot, to minimize or negate any “after work.”)
second versions for sharing
you be sharing (or posting) the high-resolution originals?
not, you’ll create second versions of each image.
dimensions and lower resolution.
file size as well, which helps with sharing.
to share high- versus low-resolution versions?
is best for printing photographic prints, as well as usage in printed materials
like books and magazines.
is also best for viewing small details in photos, which will be blurred in
lower resolution versions.
resolution is better for viewing on web pages, downloading as screen savers,
and printing on paper.
can help here with “resolution,” “DPI”, and other concepts.
does Mike do?
photos are saved as Canon RAW.
set of images is created for web posting.
pixels wide on longest side
is unsuitable for producing photographic prints, however.
people who want photographic prints, Mike provides full-size versions (with 300
Mike never uses a watermark.
people label their fire photos, either in the corner or the center of the
has never done that.
you'll want to post your pictures, e.g. making available for public viewing on
a web site.
ways to approach this.
a photo posting web site, such as Flickr.
uses same for some of his photos.
to use, both for uploading and for browsing.
if you already have a web site, add “photo album functionality.”
does this for most of his photos.
individual photo albums for each incident or event.
the HTML, which Mike incorporates by hand.
is another option
does this as a secondary means of posting photos.
as teaser images.
subsets of an album, but with people-centric photos.
easy to post photos to Facebook.
can also comment upon and easily share photos.
settings, depending how “open” your Facebook page is.
you can create a “public link” to any given album that does not require the
viewer to use Facebook to view.
and unwieldy URLs to albums.
clunky to view albums and photos therein.
Picking and choosing photos
snapping to posting, that's the entire life cycle. Soup to nuts.
let's press pause and talk about an intermediary step.
belongs between "processing" and "posting."
it also applies on the fireground itself, and when you're choosing whether or
not to take the picture.)
pictures should you keep or discard?
pictures should you share or withhold?
let's talk about quality versus quantity.
has evolved over the years, and his number of "keepers" is fewer and
fewer after a particular fire.
his ever-improving eye, the shots just don't look as good.
example, he’s not a fan of blur.
rarely post photos that are notably "soft" or outright fuzzy.
with poor composition.
as “merging lines.” Google for explanation.
my viewers have an eye as discriminating as mine? Probably not.
probably love a slightly fuzzy shot of themselves in an otherwise good action
the other hand, what would someone with a “really good eye” think of the my
probably see a handful of really strong shots and that's about it.
everything that’s not awful, dozens or hundreds.
only the best/good/not bad, a few dozen or several dozen
only the best of the best. Maybe a dozen or fewer “great shots”.
thoughts on this?
a fire photographer, he’s doing a couple things at once.
to create art, but also producing documentation.
the purposes of “showing what happened,” that means a lot of “suitable” photos.
fine for what’s needed, but won’t win any prizes.
okay for him.
Next, let's talk about the content of your pictures.
Some questions to ask yourself:
this photo make the responder look good?
it make them look bad?
the latter, what purpose is being served by sharing the picture?
you, there are gradations of "bad".
supply line spilling out of a hose bed is BAD.
person out of several without a safety vest is bad.
what about the ethics of photojournalism, you say?
the visual truth be told, regardless?
functioning as a fire photographer and not a news photographer.
serving a purpose that is aligned more toward “value to the responders”
than “value to the general public.”
free to debate.
correct procedures and safe operations depicted?
do they demonstrate cut corners or outright unsafe practices?
relates to the prior point.
yet... pictures of “wrong things” can also add value.
they often embarrassing or “trouble getting” to the person or party
they’re also excellent as a warning or teachable moment to others.
does Mike do?
tries to sweat the small stuff, and adjusting his shooting (or posting)
to eliminate "personal mistakes" (if you will).
say, larger operational oops are going to be captured, across the scope
of many pictures.
he sometimes learns of “oops” after the fact, or even long after the
primary focus on scene is taking pictures.
not a chief officer nor safety officer, and isn’t necessarily watching
for all things and all ways those things are performed.
with the territory.
hear later, sometimes years later, about how someone “got in trouble”
because of a photo that showed them doing X or not wearing Y.
the pictures be distressing to the public?
you showing (or preparing to show) blood 'n' guts, or other things that
may shock a lay person?
yes, the audience for your pictures is the responder community.
general public is not necessarily the intended audience.
if posting the pictures anywhere even quasi-public (like Facebook),
exclude such photos.
are just too many potential problems that can result.
a bit like Murphy’s Law.
there’s a chance that the “wrong person” will fine a posted photo, they
probably will find the photo.
expend your energies on the control and distribution side.
“do right” from the start.
does Mike do?
never takes pictures of blood 'n' guts.
if there's an injured or deceased person on the scene, he composes his
shots to exclude any gore.
about, say, bodies under sheets?
may be included in shots, but will likely be omitted from posted
things that Mike treats as sensitive:
displays of distress or grief in people, particularly in close-up;
or laughing responders in the context of emergency scenes;
of flesh, such as victims or bystanders who are wearing minimal
yours pictures cause distress to the responders?
is a little different, and relates to special subject matter.
as, say, a vehicle accident that injuries or kills a responder. Or
responder’s family member
as tastefully shot, the entire set of photos may be too distressing to
notes, this is fairly rare, if not exceptionally rare.
common are “run of the mill” and occasionally serious emergency vehicle
he knows or has personal relationships with all local fire and EMS
chiefs, Mike usually will ask ahead of time.
I took photos at that accident. Do you have concerns about me posting
you concealing information that can identify any patients, in the interest
of medical privacy, HIPAA, et al?
is something that Mike does.
hides the faces of patients receiving treatment, either through framing
or blurring added in post-processing.
is not a requirement of photojournalists, mind you, whose photos are
published by news media.
a longer and more detailed conversation to have here, for responders
taking pictures on scene, and what they should or should not share with
Familiarity with emergency services
piece of the puzzle is understanding what happens at emergency scenes.
- Such as...
are the vehicles used for, and how are they positioned?
do the various people do, in their various roles?
is equipment used?
tactics are performed?
work or buff experience in fire and EMS greatly helps in this regard.
already understand the sequential flow of actions and activities on scene.
also know better versus worse places to be physically present.
how to stay out of the way, and, more importantly, out of danger.
are a couple classes of danger, or physical risk, as we'll call it.
contact with fire and flames and collapsing walls should be exceptionally rare,
for new or seasoned fire photographers.
be that close to the building!
likely are collision hazards, if your physical person gets too close to moving
people or vehicles.
carry heavy objects around the fireground.
a helmet as you watch your surroundings.
pike poles and long ladders are obvious hazards. For example.
the more familiar that you become with emergency services, the better you'll
understand what responders value in photographs.
things worth showing and sharing, versus those things best left
do you learn about emergency calls, so you can respond and take pictures?
are a couple ways.
can hang around the fire station, and follow the trucks in your personal
the department uses a siren to alert its members, you can listen for the big
blow, and head in that direction.
the department uses pagers AND you are affiliated with them, you may be given
one and have ready access to information about calls.
more new fire photographers, however, you'll be "listening to the
listening to a scanning radio (or scanner) that monitors the frequencies used
by the department(s).
recent years, scanning applications for mobile phones and computers have become
let you listen live (and for free) to radio calls, via an Internet connection.
are a great start but have some limitations.
you can only hear one broadcast and on one channel at a time.
if someone is talking on a "tactical channel" (about activities
happening at an incident), you won't be able to hear any traffic on a
"dispatch channel" (used to announce calls).
you cannot click a SCAN button, to bypass the current transmission and continue
scanning for other transmissions.
as firefighters directing traffic on one talkgroup, while you’re waiting to
hear the first arriving engine at a reported structure fire on another
a physical scanner can help.
can program the dispatch channels to override the tactical channels, as a
upside? You won’t miss any dispatched calls.
downside? You might miss important tactical information, while "less
interesting" calls are being dispatched.
solution is multiple scanners.
uses three scanners at once.
monitors tactical channels only.
monitors city fire dispatch only.
monitors county fire dispatch only.
does NOT monitor EMS dispatch, because Raleigh and Wake County have first
fire units are dispatched to all priority (and, for him, notable) EMS
much do scanning radios cost?
VHF-only radios, for city and county fire dispatch, are available in the $100
800mHz “digital trunking” radio required for tactical channels costs $350-$550
could also bypass the last step, and use a scanner application for tactical
is, provided there are live scanner feeds for your area, that included tactical
channels but exclude dispatch channels.
versus tactical traffic?
traffic: “Wake Forest Engine 1, respond to a vehicle fire at 100 Main Street.”
Forest Engine 1 is responding”
1 has arrived. This is a structure fire, not a vehicle fire. Send a full
1 has found a fire in the kitchen, and is advancing a line through the front
door, with two people.”
is under control.”
Forest fire units are clearing the scene on Main Street.”
to the scene.
most new fire photographers, this means in a civilian vehicle and without any
emergency lights or legal usage therein.
the rising excitement and rushing adrenaline from your mind to your body.
the time to think about where you're headed, what you'll be shooting, what will
be happening on scene.
notes that it gets easier.
his heart still races when there's a working fire or major fire in the vicinity
and he's but minutes away.
after ten-plus years of chasing calls.
Some of this was covered in the prior Familiarity
Part I - Arriving
parking, consider leaving at least two hydrants between you and the
your chances of being blocked in, by subsequently laid supply lines.
parking a solid block away (or more) from the scene, with plenty of room
ahead of your vehicle, so additional arriving units have places to park.
reduces your chances of being blocked in.
don’t hinder the movements or parking of arriving units.
if you’re the first one at a working fire?
erupting! Sirens in the distance! What to do?
park in front of the house, stupid.
out of your car, snap a couple pictures, get back in the thing, and move your
car a block or more.
parked, grab your gear and go.
an official vest or coat or uniform?
the thing, even if it’s tempting to skip it and just run right ahead.
keeps a couple things in his trunk, for all-weather fire photography.
of fire boots,
of steel-toed shoes,
of socks, and a
can be donned over or in place of his shirt 'n' shorts 'n' sandals,
during warmer months.
forget to fill your pockets:
battery or two.
memory card or two.
scanning radio (if you have one).
Part II - Conduct
don't get in the way of the responders.
on and familiarity with fire scenes will help you here, as you learn what
actions are coming next, and where people will be moving/walking.
likes to standing with his back to utility poles. Good spot that isn’t
(usually) blocking anyone’s path of walking.
easier is putting the responders between you and the incident!
most new fire photographers, being “inside the tape” isn’t an option.
be limited to “behind the lines” and out of immediate disruptive way.
a respectful distance between your camera and your subject.
varies based on the person being photographed, and the situation being
injured or deceased persons, notably in vehicle accidents, often produce
observe concern from responders, bystanders, and family, friends, or others
involved in the incident.
about fatal fires?
scope and size of these incidents are larger, and there’s usually less
camera sensitivity therein.
there's a world of difference between shooting street pictures of a
shooting close to the room or part of the building where the deceased
person was found, and related activities are underway for, say,
investigation or body removal.
around the scene
spend your entire time in Division Alpha (the front of the fire
around to each side.
behind the structure.
from all sides can help tell a better story.
you develop your skills and practice your craft, you may have the opportunity
to become affiliated with one or more fire departments.
might approach them, they might approach you.
you may prefer to remain unaffiliated.
you might prefer to remain unaffiliated.
you're taking fire photos for commercial purposes and it creates (to you or to
others) a conflict of interest.
affiliation can have such benefits as:
credentials that can help with identification and access at emergency scenes.
access on the fireground (e.g., getting “inside the tape”).
personal relationships with their members.
to information about incidents and events. Such as incident notifications, or
news of training events, such as live burns.
affiliation can also include obligations.
when “what they want” supersedes “what you want”.
as a picture or entire incident that you’ve photographed.
excited about the pictures and want to post.
have other concerns and request no posting.
example, fire apparatus involved in traffic accident.
when your presence is requested for taking pictures.
as a major incident or special event.
adjusting your current or planned activities on the fly.
the value of having two or even three available fire photographers, for a
when you’re asked to take (or not take) specific pictures.
will you get some shots of the truck placement" or "this exposure
damage over here" or "a picture of our crew."
the particularly popular "don't take a picture of me because I am
not wearing a vest
not wearing my helmet
not wearing my PPE
not supposed to be here."
has observed a magical mystery effect, where helmets and safety vests magically
appear at roadway incidents, after he appears carrying a camera. What’s up with
are Mike’s affiliations?
Fire Department and Wake County EMS, both agency and system
credentials including identification cards and branded personal protective
equipment (notably safety vests).
using and wearing these things, he bears the responsibility of responsible
you plan to use social media to share your photos?
thus experienced using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other channel?
does Mike use and/or recommend?
Part I - Photos as they happen
but not always, Mike posts a couple “real time” photos at incidents and
photos, typically shot from same vantage point as his camera photos.
caution. Phone screen (viewed on scene) is smaller than computer monitor
(viewed at home). Check posted photos after you’re home, to ensure that
they’re sufficient quality (not blurry) and showing appropriate content
(nothing needing deletion).
caution. Mike has learned to take his camera pictures FIRST, and then his
he can become distracted and move into position for the next shot, and
without taking the more valuable camera photo.
valuable because camera photos are almost always better looking and
higher quality than phone photos.)
posts real-time photos to Twitter and Facebook.
doesn’t use Instagram.
has a limit of four photos per Tweet, so Mike will often shoot (or choose)
four representative photos.
larger (or more photogenic) incidents, he'll post a second and even third
Tweet with photos.
repeat the photos on Facebook, either in a dedicated album that he
creates for the incident (occasionally) or for his monthly "Fire
& EMS album" (most of the time).
also posts barebones incident details to Twitter, and may copy and paste
into the Facebook posting.
Part II – Photos after posted in albums
also uses social media to promote posted photos, on legeros.com or his
to Twitter the album title and link, and either a single photo or a 2x2
montage of photos.
to Facebook a similar announcement. Either about a specific album, or a
note about multiple albums newly posted at
Part III – Before you post that fire photo to
blog posting of mine from March 2015.
are also fire-based notification services in places around the country.
as Carolinas Fire Page (CFP) in the Carolinas.
is a longtime member of CFP, both for notifications and contributing incident
recommended for anyone chasing calls. Helps augment local monitoring that
you’re doing (and invariably learning of an incident that you didn’t catch).
good for travel or just monitoring what’s happening in other geographic
are a ton of people who focus on fire apparatus and emergency vehicles.
may occasionally shoot fire scenes, but specialize in posed truck photos.
has no advice on this front.
Harkey and FireNews.net did a super feature on this subject around 2006.
an archived version of same, via the WayBack Machine.
- See also this article
by Dennis Maag for Fire Apparatus Journal, from a few years back.
has not (yet) used a UAV to take aerial photos.
someday, and maybe someday soon.
have much advice here.
services and particularly chief officers are seeing increasing value in these
tools and aerial footage therein, both as live inputs and for subsequent review
and training purposes.
both responders and the general public have strong opinions about
"drones" and how such photography relates to privacy.
FAA regulations are evolving about their legality.
on a side note, drones and wildfires don’t mix, see this
blog post of mine.
it gauche to take pictures of responders who are posing?
it bad form for firefighters to pose for a picture?
no, maybe. At a minimum, it’s probably a puzzlement to property owners or
patients, who are feeling the opposite of enthusiasm at that moment.
greatly enjoy their work and it always shows.)
happens when someone takes a picture, of you taking a picture of smiling,
worse, picture of a responder taking a “selfie” at a fire or emergency.)
a tough one to explain to those outside the profession.
does Mike do?
he sees a crew or group of responders standing together, he discretely snaps a
advises his popular phrase "don't smile."
should you store all those digital pictures that you’ll be accumulating?
have enough disk space from the get go.
needing to expand after two months or six months of shooting.
you’re going to have a massive collection of pictures.
you stored them on a single computer? Do you add one or more hard drives? Do
you store them “on the cloud” and/or using a Digital Asset Management system?
are a couple needs to address, including:
access. Can you readily access the files? Are they are a click or two away,
versus, say, connecting one or more hard drives otherwise stored in a closet.
finding. Can you easily find images that you’re looking for? Are all the
pictures in a single directory? Are they stored across folders that are named
or organized in a logical or hierarchical fashion? Do the file names contain
additional identifying information?
Meaning, information about images, such date taken, location of picture,
agencies on scene. (EXIF data stored with the image will help on the time/date
in the event of a disk crash, your house burns down, nuclear holocaust, etc.
does Mike do?
storage, he has a pair of 4TB hard drives on his home computer. They are
mirrored, so each is a real-time duplicate of the other. Periodically, he creates
a copy of that disk, and stores in a fire safe. He also creates a second copy,
and stores off-site, at a second physical location.
organization, he has a single folder for all fire photos. Then subfolders for
each year. Then subfolders for each incident.
identifying images, he uses Flash Renamer. This is a third-party program for
quickly renaming files. He renames every photo using this format: date + agency
name + street name + image number + initials. Example:
2010-03-03-rfd-main-st-01-mjl. (Why such long file names? So I can easily
search on dates, agencies, and street names to find files. My initials are
added to help identify one of my photos as one of mine.) See this blog posting
from March 2010 for more about
finding images, he uses the standard Windows search. Does a search on, say,
“rfd” to find all Raleigh FD pictures. Or a search on a street name, or other
descriptor used in his file name.
a lawyer, don't play one on television.
photography is not a crime.
onto private property is a crime.
photographs in certain ways (such as commercial use of a person's likeness) can
be a crime.
else can address these issues.
Information Portability and Accountability Act.
is a law that places responsibility specifically on healthcare providers and
their associated partners (e.g. record keepers, insurance companies, etc.).
law does not apply to people or organizations that do not provide medical care
or manage information therein.
example, a newspaper is not a healthcare provider, and therefore a newspaper
can identify and discusses the specifics of a patient receiving medical care if
they have that information.
does not and never applies to pictures taken by civilians in any place, at any
time. That includes at accidents, inside ambulances, or inside hospitals.
law absolutely applies to any agency that provides medical treatment and
maintains electronic records therein. That means most fire and EMS agencies.
you a volunteer or paid member of such an organization? If yes, HIPAA applies
to you and your actions.
be surprised if you are confronted by others, in the course of performing fire
asking why are you taking pictures, or if you’ll take their pictures.
owners or tenants or other civilians impacted by a fire, and perhaps not
feeling good about having their picture taken.
or family members of civilians impacted by a fire or emergency, and with
negative feelings about your photography.
(including law officers) requesting that you stop taking pictures, or move
farther away from the scene.
your purpose and intentions.
their advice or recommendation, for best/safest place to take pictures.
prepared to leave the scene, if the confrontation becomes disruptive.
also notes that displayed credentials, such as his “EMS photo unit” yellow
vest, likely minimizes questions and potential confrontations as listed above.
you a responder that’s taking fire photos, either on- or off-duty?
your agency’s policies and procedures!
in writing? Consider talking to the chief.
include taking photos, storing photos, distributing photos, and using photos.
should you do, when someone or several people or a group of people object to an
image, or an album of photos?
can be helpful.
and un-posting photos can remedy issues.
discussion point for private conversations.
do we store our massive collection? We were using a digital asset management
system called Razuna, but we’re moving away from that. Either Google Photos or
Flickr. I'm also thinking a dedicated hard drive with internet access (you can
get a 4TB Western Digital MyCloud for about $150 these days.) (DW)
thing you might want to mention is that it would be very helpful to become
friendly with the people in-charge of a local or regional training academy. I
know you mentioned training but I think becoming heavily involved with a
training center is one of the best things a fire photographer or prospective
fire photographer can do. It provides a tremendous opportunity to learn your
craft under all types of situations and conditions and also to meet many people
who can help provide access to fire scenes. (JC)
- For interstate
crashes, ALWAYS park ahead of the scene (drive past it and park). You’ll
be protected by the blocking apparatus, but blocked in by the wreckers. Sometimes,
the entire interstate is closed. Righting an overturned tanker, for
example. You could be stuck on scene for HOURS if you didn't drive past
and park. (JT)
- Asking the
responders "Where can I park out of your way" really helps me. Also, asking
permission of any home or property owner also helps. Asking "Can I stand
in your yard with you" eliminates a lot of issues. (JT)
- Always checking
in with the incident commander is important in my county. They have
accountability set up and if you're on their scene, they want to know it, since
legally they're responsible for you if they've allowed you inside the
tape. I always tell them, "Hey, I am here. Let me know if I get in
the way" and then "Hey, I am leaving, thank you for allowing me on
your scene." (JT)
Thanks to these reviewers for feedback. This
document wasn’t created in a vacuum, and your input is appreciated:
Thank you the these and SO MANY others, for the many earlier
conversations and knowledge sharing that we’ve done of the years. You all have helped
me become a better fire photographer.
Mike, thank you for all of this very valuable information! I will adopt this is as our Fire Buff Bible or Operations Manual.
Evan Caulfield (Web Site) - 07/26/15 - 13:16
This is a fantastic guide – I will have to refer back to it often as I develop my skills. Thank you!
Andrew Pang (Email) (Web Site) - 07/29/15 - 19:46
Great resource. Glad it’s out there now but would have loved to see this years ago. (I may still share with people as a resource.)
I’ve got a few additional thoughts that I hope will be helpful, but first a little of my background:
• I’m a lifelong fire buff who started taking fire photos as a kid with my father.
• I spent 2+ years in NYC doing freelance work and buffing FDNY fires.
• After NYC, I moved to Virginia and into journalism full-time for 5-ish years and covered many fires and emergency responses and built some good relationships with responders.
• While I loved journalism, it wasn’t a sustainable career for me, so I switched careers to the tech world and took on the role as the PIO for my rural Virginia county fire/rescue department in my spare time. I did this for more than 6 years until this past spring when my tech career took me to Texas.
– Some of my photos: http://thatis.me/~YAiPj
• Since I recently moved, I’m currently taking some time away from actively buffing or working with emergency services, but intend to get back into it in the future.
Accessing the scene:
• Urban (based on my time buffing the FDNY)
– Traffic and parking is a huge challenge.
– I often biked to scene or took subway and walked.
– More likely to have authorities (police) limiting scene access. The more onlookers they have to deal with, the greater their need to restrict for safety.
– You’ve got to think about emergency vehicle access, probably more so than urban/suburban incidents. In a rural setting, there’s a higher likelihood of narrow single-lane roads and dead-end roads. Expect water supply shuttles to be coming and going. Pulling into a side drive? That might be the spot the engines/tankers/tenders back into to turn around instead of backing down the lane. Expect to walk. Don’t be the person that causes access problems.
– Think about weather and drivability. Can you get there and back safely in mud, snow, ice? Will you be able to get out of your parking place when it’s over? Is it on a hill or is it level?Is it wet, muddy, snowy, or icy? I’ve seen some benign-looking parking spots turn tricky when it came time to leave.
– Don’t overlook the walk back to your parking place. In the winter, it can be cold and dark, especially compared to a well-lit, fire-warmed fire scene.
• Freeway: My personal rule was to avoid the interstate unless an entire direction was shut down and there was a compelling reason to go. It’s dangerous, and traffic is a pain. If possible, I looked for a nearby overpass to shoot from with a telephoto lens.
Stand a good chance of beating the first-due units on a call? Think about staging to let them in first, especially if you’re unaffiliated with a department. I’ve been first-in and that can bring good pictures, but it can also make things dicey.
• You’ll be the first to encounter hazards. (See below: “Your safety and comfort on the scene.”)
• You could be the first to encounter the displaced or victims. Are you ready for that?
• You could block access for responders.
• You could get parked in.
• You risk appearing like someone glorying in other’s distress. “Man, that guy was here before the fire department and all he wanted was pictures."
Your safety and comfort on the scene
• Be aware of the weather. Be prepared.
– If it’s hot, have drinking water or access to it. You don’t want the EMTs having to treat you. If you’re affiliated with a fire department, you should be able to get water from the rehab section.
– If it’s cold, do you have sufficient warm gear?
— Do you have gloves which offer both warmth and dexterity?
— Will you stay dry?
—- Keep some chemical warming packs in your gear.
—- Use them to keep you warm. Be familiar with how they work and how/where to put them.
—- Use them to keep your spare batteries from getting drained. At the least keep spare batteries in an inner pocket close to your body heat, but that may not be enough if it’s really cold. Keep extra batteries handy on colder calls. (You may be able to revive them by warming them.)
– If it’s stormy, what are your concerns?
— Lightning: I was on scene of a lightning-caused house fire once and lightning struck nearby again during the firefighting efforts. It was close enough that it made my Nikon DSLR go crazy until I did a complicated reset to discharge the static electricity. I’m glad it wasn’t worse.
— Wind: Does the wind present hazards of falling trees/branches or flying debris? Might there be downed power lines? What about downed poles/trees in the road as you respond?
• Check in with the Incident Commander when you arrive. Mike mentioned something like this. (It may not always be easy to tell early on who the IC is.)
– Let them know you’re on scene.
– Ask if there’s any safety or other concerns you should know about. (Power lines, propane tanks, holes, etc. More below in a bit.)
– Let them know you’re leaving.
• Maintain situational awareness.
– Don’t get tunnel vision. This can happen when pulling up at an active scene as your adrenaline pumps. It can also happen as you spend too much time gazing through a long lens.
– Watch for downed power lines, leaking fuel, hazardous materials, etc. Assume downed lines have live electricity.
– As Mike alluded to, watch bystanders. They could be emotionally disturbed because of the incident or they may be part of the reason for the incident.
Familiarity with emergency services:
Take the free FEMA classes online to learn about the Incident Command System and the National Incident Management System. Hopefully your emergency services are NIMS compliant. Sure, there will likely be some regional quirks, but having the ICS/NIMS background will help you understand some of what you might hear on the radio.
• Introduction to the Incident Command System (ICS-100)
• ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incident (IS-200)
• Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents (ICS-300)
• National Incident Management System (NIMS), An Introduction (IS-700)
Further, if you can get the SOGs/SOPs for your department, you’ll know more how they operate and what may be “bad form” on the scene.
If you’re a credentialed member of the media, your state may have laws that give you inside-the-tape access, as long as the incident commander deems it safe or non-impeding to response. For example,
• California Penal Code 409.5(d): http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displa..
• Code of Virginia 27-15.1: http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title..
• Shoot what you see. Cut later. (Photojournalist hat on here: Don’t self-censor as it happens. You can choose not to share sensitive images, but you can never go back and take the next iconic hero photo that you chose not to take.)
• Firefighters are probably more interested in photos of themselves making entry than working a defensive “surround and drown.” Of course, you may not have the luxury of being there early enough for photos of making entry.
• Think of unique vantage points to shoot from. In New York City, I talked my way onto at least one rooftop and into an adjacent apartment to shoot the action from above.
• Mike suggests having clothing/gear in the car for use on scene. I’d also suggest having something for after the scene, depending on the weather. A change of shoes is nice, and sometimes clean, dry clothes are good too.
• Hopefully goes without saying, but carry a high-quality flashlight with good batteries, especially for evening and night-time fires. As a journalist, I usually went with a Petzl headlamp that allowed for hands-free illumination. As a fire PIO, I had the department issue Streetlight Survivor LED on my turnout coat.
• More thoughts as soon as I post my comment.
Now you’ve got me thinking of the website/blog posts I would make on this and related topics.
John Collins (Web Site) - 08/01/15 - 20:10
AWESOME additions, John! Thank you for taking the time.
Legeros - 08/02/15 - 08:36
Both Fire Engineering and Firefighter Nation publish occasional profiles of fire photographers. Google to find them.
One of them recently contained this advice, which is also good (and which I had forgotten that I had learned so long ago): Don’t try to interact with crews as they’re working a scene. They’re busy, they’re focused, and they’re thinking (and need to be thinking) about other things than a photographer. Meet ‘n’ greet at the station. Or away from scenes. When they’re working, you should be working. e.g., focused on taking pictures.
Legeros - 08/05/15 - 08:18
Made a new page to this posting, and other related content. And with an easy peasy address: http://legeros.com/photos/#fire
Fire Photography Resource Guide. Single page for everything, blog postings and conference slides.
Legeros - 08/10/15 - 22:38