Through the fire

In San Bartolomé de Pinares, Spain, residents celebrate the eve of St. Anthony’s Day with the Luminarias Festival. St. Anthony is the patron saint of domestic animals. One of the traditions of the festival involves riding or jumping horses through bonfires, which is believed to purify the animal and protect it in the year ahead. Townspeople say the practice dates back at least 500 years, coming from a time when smoke was thought to ward off the plague. Animal rights groups say the practice is cruel and barbaric, but the city government claims that no horse has ever suffered injury. 
Reblogged from National Geographic


People tend to imagine wildfires as a menacing wall of 50-foot flames voraciously tearing through miles of terrain. In actuality, when covering a fire, it’s often a struggle to put yourself in the right position to capture dramatic flames and heroic firefighters. The fires often burn in steep, inaccessible terrain, and it can take hours to drive around a fire’s perimeter.

Last week, I had just returned home from three days documenting the devastating Clayton fire—a few hours north of San Francisco—when I got a go-ahead from the Associated Press to fly to Los Angeles for the Blue Cut fire. Within two hours of landing, I had wrangled a 4×4 rental, navigated several police checkpoints, and was photographing inside the fire zone.
I was actually pursuing a helicopter dropping water at night (which is fairly rare) when I came across this hillside lined with flickering embers in the Lytle Creek Canyon north of San Bernardino. I was toting a cheap, small tripod. It’s easy to fly with but wouldn’t hold up to heavy usage. The tripod legs were actually resting in hot embers—another reason a cheap tripod can be preferable!
To give the frame a more ethereal feel, I shot this as a long exposure. Sometimes long exposures of fire can be used in a slightly “cheating” way to make the fire seem stronger than it is, but in this case the frame captures more or less what a bystander would have seen.
When photographing fires, there are a variety of tools that can increase your success. It’s taken many years to hone these skills, and I still have a lot to learn. I’ve built up a knowledge of fires and learned how to monitor a police scanner, wear full safety gear, look for different perspectives, and communicate with firefighters and other photographers to figure out where the hot spots are.
One last thing—when working in these areas, it’s important to stay out of the way of firefighters, fleeing residents, and other emergency responders. I always keep this foremost in my mind while shooting. No matter how stressed I am about producing a strong image or meeting a deadline, my job is a distant second to the one of responders, who are struggling to save homes and lives.
Reblogged from National Geographic

Two miles high

A volcano in central Costa Rica is spewing smoke and ash 9,840 feet (3,000 meters) into the sky, sending hundreds of people to the hospital with breathing difficulties and forcing dozens of flights to be diverted.
The volcano, called Turrialba, is about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of the capital city of San José. According to local reports, buildings there are blanketed in ash and the air reeks of sulfur.
Costa Rica is home to dozens of dormant volcanoes, but Turrialba is known for its more regular activity. Twice last year, eruptions shut down the airport in San José because of low visibility. The latest volcanic activity began on May 16 with an explosion of gas and ash, according the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program, and several long-lasting and strong earthquakes have been recorded.
Even with this history of activity, the eruption happening as of May 21 is particularly strong.  
“It seems to me to be the strongest [Turrialba] eruption in the past six years,” volcanologist Gino Gonzalez told reporters at a press conference.
Turrialba is what’s known as a stratovolcano, a conical-shaped peak akin to Mount St. Helens in Washington State and Mount Etna in Italy. These are the deadliest volcanoes. When a stratovolcano explodes, toxic gases and hot volcanic fragments can race down the mountainside with hurricane force.
Turrialba is 10,960 feet (3,340 meters) tall and covers more than 190 square miles (500 square kilometers), making it one of Costa Rica’s most voluminous volcanoes. Tourists used to be able to hike into the main crater, but the trail has been closed for some time due to increased volcanic activity.
Reblogged from National Geographic