• Log In
  • Sign Up
    • A couple years back I happened to be in very close proximity to a prescribed wildfire up in Sequoia National Park. I had no idea there was even going to be a wildfire. Fire crews assured us our campground was safe. I absolutely had to photograph it, and ended up staying awake through the night taking long exposures. Below is a shot from the fire.

      I’m still in awe of the scene I saw that night. Never seen anything more beautiful and frightening in my life. I’m now learning that the conditions for photographing a wildfire were perfect that night: smoke blowing the right direction, we had a vantage point, the stars were visible, the mountain side was an inferno, and there was a giant river protecting our side of the hill from burning.

      I’ve tried photographing two fires since, the Loma Fire in 2016 and the Bear Fire last night. On both occasions I couldn’t get a vantage point to see the flames. So much stuff that stopped us: too much smoke, places that seemed to dangerous, law enforcement closing roads, no vantage points, and weak wildfires. 

      How do I produce more photos like the one below?  I have so many followup questions. I have so much learning to do.

      How to stay safe?
      How to protect my lungs?
      How to forecast the direction/intensity/danger/etc?
      What gear to use?
      What about time lapses?

    • Hang on. How did you get stars and flames in the same exposure? I would have thought the flames would be way overexposed if you exposed long enough to pick up stars.

    • I have a friend who fights wildfires for a living. I could invite him to Cake to join this conversation.

      PS. That should actually be a legit product feature. "Invite to conversation".

    • The story:

      Headed up to the Sierra in the end of October, 2014 to camp at Mineral King and hike up a 14’er with 4 of my best friends — mountaineering enthusiasts and photographers. We had no idea there was going to be a fire. No idea that there even could be fires that late in the season. Late October is winter in the Sierra.

      We drove up to camp late at night on the only road up the canyon Mineral King is situated in. No signs of a fire until we rounded a corner at 3 am. As I was looking out at the mountain side through some trees in the foreground, I first thought: “There sure are a lot of people camping up here. I can see everyone’s campfires. Odd, it's really late too.”. Then we passed a sign saying “Do not report to 911. Prescribed Burn.” 

      Once we came to a clearing, we jumped out of the car, and realized the mountain side was burning. It really did look like a bunch of little campfires, but all up and down the mountain. It was a pitch black night. The Milky Way was fully visible above. The fire was dim, and we could barely make out an outline of the canyon. Most surprising was how loud the fire seemed. Embers were popping. Trees were literally falling and branches breaking.

      It wasn’t windy, the fire didn’t seem to move, and signs assured me it was safe. I grabbed my tripod and camera gear and begun shooting. I stayed there until sunrise taking long exposures.

      I estimate I shot the photo within 100ft of GPS coordinates 36.452986 N, -118.617939 W. That’s at 7200ft above sea level. The fire on that mountain side probably ranged from 7,000-10,000 ft. Temps at those elevations would have been well below freezing that night had the fire not warmed the environment.

    • Believe it or not, this was a single exposure with a few Lightroom tweaks. Below is the original image. The actual flames were so faint that capturing it required an exposure needed for star photography.

      Captured with the Sony A7 and a Voightlander 21mm f/1.8 M mount lens.
      ISO 1000
      30 second exposure time

    • Here's a close up. Same fire. Taken ~25 min before.

      Sony 55 mm f/1.8 FE
      Shot at F1.8
      30 seconds
      ISO 100

      Surprisingly dim. The scene was just a faint glow to my naked eye. Nothing like what came out of the camera.

    • Fascinating! The long exposure makes it look like it's a raging, uncontrolled wildfire, scary as Hell.

      I was just listening to firefighters on NPR who fought the Santa Rosa fire and said they went into a feeling of shock and helplessness because of how fast it spread.

    • It was not raging.

      I'm wondering if this is how forests like these are suppose to burn. Natural fires started from lightning are healthy for subalpine forests. They open up seeds in pinecones and clear the brush for new tree growth. The big trees most definitely survived this fire.