Number of years as a photographer:
I dabbled in film photography in my youth, but it was cost-prohibitive to pay for all that film processing. I rediscovered photography in my 40s when I got a digital point-and-shoot camera. My kids got together and bought me a Costco special Canon set-up one Christmas, and I was off and running.
How did you get into photography?
Originally, I was doing a lot of nature and landscape photography while out hiking or camping. That morphed into shooting fire in a pretty unique way. For many years, I worked with LAFD Captain Danny Wu organizing the annual LAFD/LAPD St. Baldrick’s fundraiser event. I was the LAPD lead and dad of a cancer survivor, while Danny was the LAFD lead. Every year, the same photographers would show up to shoot the event. Among them were Mike Meadows, Steve Gentry, Juan Guerra, and Ryan Ling. We would always talk about photography, and the guys thought I might enjoy shooting fire. I started monitoring LAFD calls and rolling to incidents near my home. It turned out the guys were right. When the Powerhouse Fire burned in the Angeles National Forest in 2013, I jumped in with Ryan Ling, and I was hooked. I have been shooting fire ever since.
What camera do you shoot with?
I have gone through several Canon cameras since that first one my kids bought me. My current everyday set up is a Canon 70D with a Sigma 18-250 lens. If I know I am going out on a major emergency, helicopter rescue or a brush response, I’ll grab my professional cameras, which are a 5DS and a 5DS-R with L-series lenses. My two favorite lenses are the 28-300 and the 100-400.
Any words of wisdom to pass on to someone wanting to shoot emergency incidents themselves?
My personal motto is: no photo is worth dying for. It is important to be safety-conscious at all times. In the last few years, fire photography has changed. It used to be the same half-dozen guys showing up to shoot an incident. Now, there can be dozens of shooters at an event. They tend to get in the way and cause problems for emergency responders while all vying for the “money shot”. It has gotten so bad on occasion that I have just left rather than working the scene. That being said, I understand the draw to emergency services photography and recommend that would-be photographers study fire behavior (this includes structure, brush, vehicles, etc.), watch closely for hazards and stay out of the way. I also recommend investing in good PPE. Along that same line, I’d like to remind my firefighter friends to don their PPE. It may save them from injury and also makes it easier for me to share my photos. It’s very frustrating to catch a heroic act only to be unable to publish the shot when the firefighter’s PPE is missing.
Favorite fire photo?
I have many favorites from over the years. I love shooting the helicopters in action as well as the boots on the ground. One of my very favorites was a residential structure fire on Plummer in 87s back in 2013. It was right around the corner from my house, and I arrived before FD to find an LAPD officer pounding on the door in an attempt to evacuate anyone from inside. As 87s pulled up, the house was cooking, with fire blowing out the windows. I got some great silhouette shots of the guys donning their PPE, pulling hose lines and getting to work. One of those shots was my first Grapevine cover. What made it even more special later was that one of the guys I shot that night was Dave Moorman, who later passed away. I was able to provide Moorman’s family with a bunch of shots of him at work for use in his memorial, which I think they really appreciated.