Topic: Other Type: Best Practices

Photo Challenges and Opportunities Specific to FAC Practitioners

Authors: Michelle Medley-Daniel

In part one of this series, we looked at three practices to improve visual communications:

  • learning to use your equipment;
  • applying lessons from deliberate practice and critiques;
  • and telling visual stories.

Now, I want to explore some of the particular challenges and opportunities for FAC practitioners who want to improve their photography in service to their FAC work.

Your community’s FAC story is one that evolves over time. Photography can help you capture and document your adaptation efforts at all stages including documenting pre-wildfire implementation projects and planning efforts, capturing the story during an active incident and sharing after-the-fire recovery lessons. Images can help you in each of these stages if you focus on what you want to communicate about FAC in that stage. Following are some challenges and opportunities to consider as you capture the visual story of FAC in your community.

PRE-FIRE

Environmental portraits like this one of a fire manager in the field can humanize a story and help people connect with your message. Photo by Larry Luckham.

Environmental portraits like this one of a fire manager in the field can humanize a story and help people connect with your message. Photo by Larry Luckham.

Pre-fire photos are an opportunity to grow local support by telling stories about the condition of your landscape and level of community resilience. They can help demonstrate what effective treatments look like, who works on and cares about FAC and engage additional participants in your work. However, these photos can be challenging to make visually compelling. Images of community capacity-building and planning are notoriously less-than-thrilling.

Bringing creative ideas to your photography at this stage is critical. One way to characterize community capacity-building is by focusing some of your stories on individuals who are participating. Sharing the story of what motivated that person to get involved, and their vision for the work can help the audience connect and be an invitation for others to join. A well-executed environmental portrait is a perfect accompaniment for such a story. Environmental portraits help illuminate the subject’s character by placing them in a setting where they feel natural and at ease.

 

ACTIVE FIRE

Wildfires provide many dramatic and emotionally engaging opportunities for photographs. They can also be challenging to capture due to safety concerns, rugged terrain, difficult access to your desired perspective and shifting smoke and flame action. If you plan to take photos of an active fire it is important to stay safe. Never put yourself in a dangerous situation in order to get a shot. Even in safe locations you must take care to ensure that your presence is not impeding fire managers.

If there are opportunities to safely capture pictures of active fires, you may be surprised at how beautiful the firelight and smoke can be. Check out the pictures on the Mid-Klamath region’s fire-related community Facebook page to see many excellent examples of active fire photos.

 

AFTER THE FIRE

Capturing after-fire pictures presents a unique set of challenges. Safety must be considered in an after-fire situation where snags, unstable structures, sediment flows and other dangers may be present. Depending on the impacts of the fire you may also need to employ people-skills. Some fires destroy structures or otherwise damage property. Photos that demonstrate these losses are an important part of the story, but equally important is being sensitive to the individuals whose property was lost. Permission to photograph should be obtained. Storytelling can be a helpful part of healing—inviting people who have experienced a fire incident to contribute or participate in photo documentation can help people make sense of their situation.

Photos can help tell your story like nothing else. They can engage people in your work and invite them to take action, demonstrate the need for your work, display the impact of your efforts and document changes over time. How have you used photos to tell FAC stories in your community?

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