Looking for a useful tool to tell the story of your Firewise successes? Taking pictures can be an excellent way to promote the work of your Firewise Community, document accomplishments, and better define work that needs to be done.
What story do you want to tell?
There is more to taking a good picture than just aiming and shooting. Make sure you know who your audience is and what story you are trying to tell when you take aim. The type of story that you are trying to tell will determine what kind of pictures you take.
You can use good pictures to document the stages of your Firewise community’s growth. Just like looking back at family photos, it is fun to see the progress that your community has made through time. Take photographs of community gatherings, meetings and clean-up or other field work you’ve accomplished.
To take photographs for assessments, make sure your photograph documents what you are trying to say. Good photos can clearly describe both where the community needs to improve as well as what they are doing well. This helps the community understand its own strengths and weaknesses. Try to define the caption for the photograph so that it is crisp and clear and describes what you are trying to share.
If you are documenting project work for before-and-after pictures, make sure that you include a focal point such as a tree, pole or other background landmark that you refer back to so that they can see the progress made at that location. Pick an area where you think the work will make a noticeable difference.
One great way to tell the community’s story is to get good, natural shots of residents at work or at a gathering. Always make sure to take photographs of people as they are facing you. Make sure that you do not include photographs of people doing work without wearing proper safety equipment such as helmets, chaps, gloves, goggles, etc. This could cause the work that you are doing to appear unprofessional, or even unsafe. Make sure that contractors that you are photographing are wearing proper safety equipment.
Organizing your photo record
Not only is a photo record a great way to celebrate your success, but you may also be called upon by the media or a grantor to provide a photograph in a pinch. Keep your photographs organized in files according to event or date. Include a Word document summary in the file so that you can remember details such as names and titles of individuals, locations, dates and what was accomplished.
Technical tips and tools
If you’re just starting out, take some practice shots with your camera or cell phone first to make sure you are comfortable with the equipment before you have to take pictures for your project. Don’t forget to take extra batteries and bring a charger.
Unless you are already a skilled photographer, consider getting an introduction to photography book. I found great tips in a few different books that helped me set up some terrific shots. You can learn a lot about such things as lighting techniques, (like making sure the sun is not directly behind what you are trying to photograph), symmetry (how the picture is balanced) and more. A good rule of thumb is to take more than one shot of what you are trying to get from many different angles. I try to take a minimum of 3 to 5 shots. Many professional photographers take many more to get just the right shot. In the age of digital photography you can simply delete photos that did not turn out well.
You don’t necessarily need fancy software to enhance your digital photos. For example, I took a basic computer skills class and learned that there are simple tools available in Microsoft Word to change effects in a picture. Some great and easy-to-use tools will appear on the top toolbar when you click on the picture on the format button. You can adjust the brightness, color and border of the picture from here very easily.
Minding your manners: Firewise photo etiquette
Taking pictures in wildland and WUI areas have some of their own special considerations. Here are some things to watch out for when you’re taking Firewise photos:
- First and foremost, stay aware of local conditions. Make sure that you are in a safe place and watch out for hazards such as cars, dogs and wildlife (rattlesnakes, etc.). I once was trying to take a photo for a grant report and stepped into a fire ant nest. Needless to say, I never got the shot.
- If you are taking pictures in a neighborhood, make sure that you tell neighbors in advance what the purpose of your photographs are. You don’t want them to call the police.
- Don’t take photographs of identifiers on homes and areas for Firewise Community assessments or grant reporting. Identifiers include the home address, license plate numbers of vehicles, or homeowners themselves.
- If you want to take a picture of a child in a community gathering, make sure that you get permission from parents or guardians.
Photographs can document great work and tell your story for your partnering fire departments, media outlets, grantors and legislators. Make sure that your pictures tell a great Firewise story.