Photographing fire scenes at night

Let’s face it. These days it’s getting harder and harder to get to a fire scene to witness flames and billowing black smoke. There are several factors that come into play here.

  • There are way too many people on the planet … many more than when I was growing up … too many cars on the road, too many traffic lights …
  • There are fewer and fewer fires to begin with
  • Fires often burn hotter than before but for less time
  • the freak’n firefighters are getting better and are stopping many fires before they get way out of hand
  • some of us are getting older … and it takes a few more minutes to get out of bed and on the road

Add these factors to the basic difficulties of photographing fire scenes at night, and sometimes I wonder why I do it anymore.

… okay, who am I kidding. I love it!

So, here are a few images from a fire in Winnetka (IL) that occurred in the wee morning hours. By the time I arrived, it was out. They had an impressive fire, went beyond the working fire to a Box Alarm for additional companies. This was a house being rehabbed, and the fire basically gutted all the interior work that had been completed in the basement and on the first floor.

I was able to walk the property and see the devastation. Since the fire had long since been knocked down by the time I arrived, I looked for the opportunities that existed to create interesting images.

Here are two examples of what I walked away with.

fireman inside burned out house
A firefighter surveys the damage after the fire was extinguished. Larry Shapiro photo

This first image … illuminated from total darkness, shows a firefighter surveying¬†the massive destruction from the fire. A few feet in front of him is a section of floor that was burned away as a result of fire in the basement.

silhouette of fireman
A dramatic silhouette of a firefighter inside the home after the fire had been extinguished. Larry Shapiro photo

This next shot was taken within a minute of the first … though here I was able to create this dramatic silhouette from the flood light that was in the room behind him. Two¬†interesting shots, both of the same subject created with different types of lighting … producing totally opposite results.

Just because the fire is out, doesn’t mean that there aren’t still opportunities to create interesting or dramatic images. Keep looking for the shot, and don’t be afraid to try something different.