I went up to the Niobrara Valley Preserve on Wednesday to help with a prescribed fire. Upon arrival, I got the happy news that Chad had enough people to work the fire and he wanted me to concentrate on getting photos. How about that for a great job? I did, of course, also help keep an eye on the fire, and even raked some smoldering manure piles off the edge of the firebreaks, but mainly, I spent the day photographing fire operations.
I may share some of those fire photos (and videos!) later, but today, I wanted to show you some shots taken after the fire was out. Those of you who have been on prescribed fires know the smoke lingers a long time after the flames are gone. When you combine that low smoke with a setting sun over the Nebraska Sandhills, it creates magical photo conditions. I am very grateful for the opportunity to take advantage of those conditions this week. I hope you enjoy the images.
I started out photographing silhouettes of plant skeletons against the backlit smoke. That was fun enough, but soon, the sun started to get colorful, turning the smoke that same golden tint. That’s when it really got interesting.
I was using my 18-300mm zoom lens, which covers an amazing field of view range, from wide angle to telephoto. As the sun dropped, I started zooming in more, taking advantage of the way a telephoto lens compresses the landscape. That compression folded the hills together, creating gorgeous tonal layers of light. (I’m not sure that phrase actually makes sense but I like the way it sounds.) It’s a technique that works great in the mountains, especially with early and late day haze. As it happens, it’s also fun in smoky Sandhills.
Eventually, the call came across the radio that it was time to get everyone together and debrief from the fire (oh yeah, we were there to do work!). I hopped into the line of vehicles heading back to the staging area to recap the day and learn what we could from the day’s events.