A photographer has been capturing some of the world’s worst wildfires — more than 100 of them. His astounding imagery of the disasters, which often see entire buildings and countrysides ravished by flames, saw him and his team become 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalists for breaking news photography.
Wildfires, particularly in California, seem to have dominated news headlines of late. In fact, 16 of the largest wildfires ever recorded happened in the last 20 years.
A news photographer for over 25 years, it wasn’t until the Rim Fire near Yosemite in 2013 that Noah Berger found his love for capturing wildfires. He says it was after the experience of working on it for three or four days that he “ramped up” everything from his knowledge to his gear in order to continue working on similar cases.
Talking to Atlas Obscura, he said:
The other aspect of [photographing wildfires] is that we were out there and not dealing with the normal part of life — you’re not returning emails, you’re not going to the post office, walking the dog. It’s really trying to get the best photos you can, without dealing with a lot of layers of life that are tedious.
He credits a statute in California as the reason he can gain such great access to these natural disasters, as it allows press access to emergency zones, unlike in other states.
Naturally, fire safety is imperative, with he and the team always trying to predict what the fire is going to do and bearing exit routes in mind at all times. Berger says that for the most part, he’s clued up, but that heavy winds always keep him on his toes due to their unpredictability and their tendency to spread fire sporadically.
Berger praises the sturdiness of his camera, claiming that aside from a little dust-cleaning at the end of the year, shooting wildfires has little bearing on his camera’s competency. “Our stuff is made for abuse,” he says. Berger tries to travel light when shooting fires, much more so than he would if shooting corporate work, taking with him just two lenses.
Originally told to Atlas Obscura. All images Courtesy of Noah Berger/Associated Press and used with permission.