10/03/12 824 W - + 9 - 5 Reader Mail - October 2012

The gas bag opens the mail bag. These have come through the mails and via Facebook. All answer and advice dispensed free of charge. No warranty, however!

Q: Someone the other day asked me why Dalmatians are used in fire stations. Can you answer this question?
A: Here's a web page with an answer: http://www.kearneyfire.org/History-of-the-Dalmation-in-the-Fire-Service.asp. The short version I've always heard is: (a.) horses used to pull fire engines, (b.) dogs lived at the fire stations (c.) and were helpful with the horses and (d.) Dalmatians ended being the best breed for being around horses. Let me know if it matches what's written on that web page.


Q: Mike, have you heard that Mt. Airy has a museum displaying the history of their city fire department? I just heard of it today, and hear they have their first engine, a 1916 American LaFrance, a 1926 American LaFrance, and a 1946 American LaFrance. And a bunch of vintage firefighting equipment.
A: I have heard of the Mt. Airy museum, but haven't (yet) visited. I blogged about it a few years ago, in this posting. Couple readers sent a couple pics.


Q: I am in the market for my first DLSR camera, and need some help. I'm currently looking at some Nikon bodies, but the choices are overwhelming. The main thing that I am looking to photograph are fires, like yourself. I'm also interested in cameras with HD video capabilities. Do you have any tips or recommendations?

A: Yes, no, and maybe. Here's standard response to camera questions, an earlier blog posting. Alas, the posting's outdated, and my equipment's since upgraded. Still Canon, but newer bodies. Nothing equipped with video... yet. Any current DLSR should be fine for fire photography, at least from Canon and Nikon (which Lee uses). Even shooting at night should be okay, with the higher ISO sensitivities these days. How's that for a concise non-answer?


Q: I am an amateur photographer, but am expected to be a professional photographer when documenting fire scenes. I'm challenged at scenes with low light. Not those scenes that are full dark, but neither are during daylight. Such as first thing in the morning, or right after sunset. My choice of camera and flash settings-- mostly Auto, Auto, and more Auto-- result in an image that's overlit with flash, but still very dark. I've learned to leave the flash turned off, but then the camera switches modes and takes another picture with a longer shutter time. Those look a bit better, but that can't be the best way to take a picture, can it?

A: Try this for starters. 

  1. Turn your camera's program mode to P. 
  2. You are now in manual control of your ISO, or exposure sensitivity.
  3. For late-day light, raise the ISO to 800, 1250, 1600, 3200, etc. Try progressively higher settings.
  4. Keep flash off.
  5. Hold camera VERY steady. Press it against your face, with arm cocked. That will help with any longer shutter times.
  6. That's lesson #1.
  7. See also these slides with some tips.

Lesson #2 involves playing with your flash exposure compensation. You can raise or lower the power of your flash, to over- or under-saturate a shot with lighting.

Lesson #3 involves buying or trying an external flash, repeating the exposure compensation, but also trying to "bounce" the light, but rotating or angling the flash in the direction of a wall, or ceiling. Adding a diffuser to the flash is a good thing to try, as well.

Lesson #4, the final lesson for today. Experiment with existing light. There are seriously powerful lights on those big red trucks. Deploy scene lights or portable lights. You'll be amazed at how much better the shots will be.

Lesson #5, bonus. Take five or ten times as many photos as you normally do. Just shoot like crazy. You'll get better, faster.


Q: Do you have a copy of any guidelines or standard operating procedures for fire photography?

A: Here's the closest thing that I have at present, slides with some tips for firefighters from a few years ago. Plus my slides from this summer, which don't even answer your question. How's that for minimally helpful?


Q: Do you do weddings, and how much do you charge?

A: Negative, I am not a wedding photographer. But thanks for thinking of me.


Q: Can you send me a print of a picture that you took of me, and how much do you charge?

A: Negative, I don't do prints. But I will happily send you a high-resolution version, and you can have the thing printed for yourself. Never any charge.


Q: Can we use your photo(s) on our fire department or rescue squad or EMS web site?

A: Yes, yes, of course.


Q: Bet you make some good money taking all these photos!

A: You wouldn't believe the number of zeros in my salary...

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