Skill + luck = great photograph

Hewlett Gulch fire. THE DENVER POST | RJ Sangosti

Photo: THE DENVER POST | RJ Sangosti

There’s something mesmerizing about this fire photo; it intrigues me in a way I can’t explain. It looks like a painting. The flames seem impossibly orange. The smoke roils with color — grays, blacks, and menacing, choking browns; it has depth and layering. The deep green trees either fade into blue haze or pop with sharp detail. Often a photo like this is as much luck as skill. The photographer has to have the skill and equipment to get the shot, but being in the right place at exactly the right moment can be pure luck. A change in lighting when a cloud moves in front of the sun, an unexpected wind shift, or a sudden billow of smoke when another tree explodes. Photojournalist Sangosti, probably viewing the fire from a hovering news helicopter, had a very good day.

This photo, taken May 15, accompanies today’s Denver Post story about the Hewlett Gulch Fire now burning in the mountains northwest of Fort Collins, Colo. The fire began Monday afternoon, has grown to some 5,000 acres, and is only 5% contained.

Categories: Photography

21 replies

  1. You’re right. It really does look like a painting. Almost tranquil from this vantage point, but absolutely terrifying live no doubt! 😯

  2. (Nooooo! no fires! )
    But interesting photo – reminds me of that English painter Turner who dealt in light, atmosphere, smoke and such

  3. It’s is way too early for fire season. We are in for a very long summer…..

  4. I’ve noticed some subtle changes with your site. I love them. I especially love the font.

  5. This is indeed an outstanding picture. It does leave me wondering if the photographer was merely lucky or exceptionally skilled, but I suspect it was a combination of both. I have noticed myself, since the perfection (if that’s not too strong a word) of digital photography, that being freed of concern for the cost of film allows one to experiment more and simply delete all but the best shots. Then too, that practice can lead to an appreciation for composition. This picture not only has exceptionally pleasing colors and contrasts but also is level and places the principal point of interest, the fire, near the “golden mean” of the frame.

    • Bless digital photography and that no film thing. I’ve never forgotten the vacation I spent up here years ago. For a week or so I went crazy buying film and shooting pictures, determined to catch at least a few great shots of some of my favorite places. Slides and photos. Rolls and rolls of film. Got home, and the processing alone cost me more than all the rest of the vacation combined. And no particularly memorable shots either. That’s when I decided I was not and would never be Ansel Adams. I stopped hauling all that heavy equipment around with me and have trusted to the “emulsion of the mind” ever since. I’ve been just as happy. Maybe moreso because I’m more immersed in my surroundings and not busy trying to “get the shot.” (Admittedly I am sometimes very tempted to buy a new digital SLR with a good long lens … )

      • You might need a long lens for birds and the like, but for normal telephoto work of 3x or so the regular little cameras now all come with motion stabilization, a function called different names by different makes. It electronically compensates for camera shake. If you get one I recommend a large memory chip and shooting at high resolution. They are truly amazing, and generally under $200.

        • That’s what I’ve got — A Canon PowerShot SD890 IS. 5x zoom, 10 megapixel res. It is amazing. So much technology in a pocket-sized package. I’ve yet to figure out and try all its features. The shutter lag is my only complaint. No stop-action or split second shots with this one. Push the button and take a nap waiting for the shutter to respond. I bought a much bigger memory card and shoot at the highest res (in case I ever want an 8×10 print of something fantastic).

  6. Fantastic pic, PT! i totally agree!

  7. I suppose I’m the only one who sees the frog from an old Sugar Smacks cereal box in the clouds. Stay safe!

    • I have no recollection of a frog on the Sugar Smacks box, but if we’re going to look for faces, I see two deep set dark eyes in sort of a chimp face looking intently at the highest point of the flames. Or maybe it’s more of a scruffy dog or cat face. I’m not seeing a frog. But the eyes are definitely there.


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"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." ~ Edmund Burke

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