Flames envelop the side of a vacant tenement during a four-alarm fire on Fayette Street in Lowell, Ma. (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).
Following up on a nighttime police radio alert about a nearby house fire, I encountered a large plume of smoke billowing from both the front and top of a 3-decker house, with fire engines all around. First I looked for dramatic photos -- either big flames or some human emotion -- but nothing like that was visibly present, and I learned there weren’t any residents at risk because the house was a vacant tenement. It was easy to get a few good photos by using my flash to photograph the firemen spraying water on the smoke clouds pouring from the front. When the smoke got heavier in the front and clouded my view, I moved to the back of the house where some small flames were showing and the Fire Department was congregating with additional hoses. Suddenly the entire rear of the house exploded into bright flames, so I turned off the flash to shoot natural light photos of the burning house brightly contrasted against the black nighttime sky. The flames stopped as the fire was brought under control, so I patiently looked around for photos of the firemen doing strenuous firefighting activities, or reaction shots of people watching. However, there was almost no one around and there was nothing compelling to shoot in the reactions of the fire and police, who were disgusted with having to fight yet another fire at an abandoned building that was likely caused by an arsonist.
1) The strongest photos of fires contain some element of human interest or drama, such as firefighters strenuously working, residents anxiously watching, or spectators looking on intently.
2) If there is no human perspective, look for bright flames illuminating against a black nighttime sky.
3) Firemen spraying their hoses on the burning building is another very strong photo.