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Western Wildfire Lighting

Updated: Apr 2, 2021

For those that are unaware, or do not follow my Instagram account, large portions of the west coast have been engulfed in flames these past couple weeks. The fires started from a broad range of reasons, from natural lightning strikes, accidents from gender reveal parties, and intentional fire setting in some cases. The fires in Oregon alone, my home state, have consumed over a million acres of forest and grassland during this period. Including a couple of small towns that were completely burned down.

Many of these fires started out as small isolated events but occurred in conjunction with a large windstorm that ripped through the Pacific Northwest. This spurred the small isolated fires into large, and difficult to contain wildfires overnight. On my way home from work the night of the windstorm I was blanketed in a heavy sheet of smoke and ash. The commute the following morning required diligent driving as there was a combination of thick fog and heavy smoke making it exceedingly difficult to see more than a few feet out the front of my Subaru.

Despite the devastation to the beautiful Pacific Northwest, the loss of some iconic hiking locations, the loss of property and displacement of many families, and the risk that firefighters are taking to contain the blazes and prevent further displacement of residents, there was a very unique condition created for photographers. The thicker particles of ash caught in the atmosphere created an incredibly unique lighting condition in which the sky is naturally bright orange in the direction of the sun. This casted an orange haze over the landscapes, in a manner that cannot be replicated under normal conditions without making edits to white balance on the photos in post.

Nikon Z6 || NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S || 1/160 Sec || f/4.0 || ISO 100 || 70mm

5-image pano, lightly edited to smooth the transitions. No color adjustments.


Due to how my work schedule fell, I was getting to and from work after dark when I was no longer able to capture any shots with these unique conditions. This proved rather frustrating, as it was also becoming apparent that the orange coloring was slowly turning whiter every day that passed. Fortunately, I was able to get out and find a couple decent spots to grab some shots before the window closed and the smoke merely turned to an impossible to breath white fog. Due to the time constraints I did not have the time I would have liked to get better shots, but what I did get was not too bad. The photo above is a five-photo panorama that was later stitched together in Lightroom. It was shot more into the sunlight (Sun behind the smoke) in a more open area near noontime. The only editing that was done to this image was to smooth the transitions between the photos in the sky. The white balance and color were left alone, as determined straight from the camera itself.

Nikon Z6 || NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S || 1/80 Sec || f/4.0 || ISO 100 || 40mm

3-image pano cropped, lightly edited light level. No color adjustments.


This photo was shot just a couple miles away facing the opposite direction and tucked away in a more wooded area. As can be seen from the decrease in shutter speed, darker image, and less pronounced orange effects from the lighting. This photo was much more heavily edited than the first due to the lighting levels, but the color and white balance were still left alone. I visited a few other quick locations during that afternoon, but we will have to wait and see with what will happen with the pictures. However, I did learn one thing from this event that if a unique opportunity presents itself just get the day off from work. Better to get out there and enjoy snapping some shots than to sit indoors wishing you were outside.

For those that follow my Instagram, you know that these photos are about a week old now. But I figured that I would share this event as it has been a fairly big deal here on the west coast. Luckily, the fires are slowly on their way to being contained thank you to the brave men and women willing to go out and meet the flames head on. A recent, and muchly needed rainstorm has cleared a lot of smoke from the air and I am sure has made the jobs of the firefighters much easier. Here’s to hoping that we can get the firefighters back to their families, and the displaced residents back to their homes soon.

If you are interested in helping out with the relief effort for either the fire fighters, or those effected by the wildfires the below link to the American Red Cross for the Cascades region is a good place to start.

Until next time, have a good one and be safe.

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