Yesterday I showed you some of the newspapers and magazines that my Casselton derailment photos appeared in and today I thought I’d act like the MSUM photo instructor I am and explain how I was able to get the photos.
The first rule in breaking news photojournalism is you have to get a photo of something – anything at all. The Big Thing just might be over by the time you get there so if you even catch a glimpse you need to take a photo. So on my drive to Casselton I stopped and made some images with my cell phone and DSLR of the smoke rising off in the distance just so I at least had these images.
Ok … got ‘em. I tweeted the photo on the right and carried on.
Now I needed to start getting something interesting. The smoke is impressive but we can’t see the source and there really isn’t anything to give us a sense of scale so I begin to use what’s around me.
People and cars! We know how big they are so now we can get an idea of the size of the smoke plume. The highway patrol officer in the foreground is an added bonus because showing emergency personnel means this is serious, right?
The situation was serious enough that the West Fargo Police Department even dispatched officers to assist. After I made the above photo a West Fargo officer arrived on scene and asked me (and everyone else) to move back. I didn’t argue because as you can tell I can only see the smoke rising above the trees and it’s not a terribly compelling situation at this point. You have to pick your battles in journalism and need to respect the fact that law enforcement has their own job to do so I willingly cooperated.
At this point I had already missed one explosion – it occurred right as I was getting out of my car. Great. Now as I drove north of town to try and find another location that might show the actual train a second fireball lit up the sky. In a way this wasn’t a bad thing as it made me believe that as the fire spread it was causing new tank cars to explode – translation: there would be more.
I drive back into town to get south of the tracks where I assume I’ll have the best view (and I’m right) because legendary ND photojournalist Bruce Crummy has already found this spot on the west edge of town. Soon a firefighter shows up to take his own photos of the fire! Good, now we have another emergency responder to add some interest. I photograph him two ways: with the fire in focus and him out of focus and then the opposite.
As Bruce and I keep making images I notice the fire creeping higher and higher – another explosion soon? Yup.
This is at the beginning of the fireball – pretty good but can it get better? Yes it can. The two images below are my images that were published the most in the last week.
Other than being in the right place at the right time and simply clicking the shutter, what else helps set Bruce’s and my images apart from the hundreds of images on social media? We both know how to expose images properly so there is plenty of detail not only in the fireball but the rest of the scene as well.
This is the photo the Star Tribune ran three columns wide on their region front page.
Isn’t the updraft below the fireballs amazing? Those are the sort of details I don’t see when I’m shooting because worrying about focus and composition so they are the happy little things I see after the fact.
As I said yesterday, this would be a lot less interesting to talk about if BNSF or emergency personnel had been injured so I’m thankful that wasn’t the case.
Now I can get back to the oh-so-less-stressful act of photographing weddings.