Fire Photographer Profile: Kevin Brautlacht

Firefighters on scene at a fire in Buffalo, New York. Photo by Kevin Brautlacht.

Fire photographer Kevin Brautlacht has been capturing spectacular photos of Buffalo (NY) firefighters in action for years. Kevin took some time to discuss with us his approaching to buffing fires in this month’s Fire Engineering fire photographer profile.

FE: What got you started in fire photography?

KB:  My dad was a firefighter for 34 years with the Buffalo (NY) Fire Department, so I had an interest in the fire service for most of my life. I began taking photos at the fires I went to really as a way to do something rather than just stand around and watch the action. I enjoyed that, in some small way, I was documenting the history of the fire department and the work the firefighters were doing. When I came across Bill Noonan’s photo book, Smoke Showin’, it inspired me to try to reach that level of professionalism in my work.

FE: What kind of equipment do you use?

KB: I have always shot with Nikon equipment, even way back in the film days! Currently my main camera is a Nikon D7100 with a 18-200 lens and a SB-600 speedlight. 

FE: What have been some of more memorable jobs?

KB: The very first fire I went to was a fire in St. Mary’s Church at Broadway and Pine. It eventually went to five alarms and it still is probably the largest fire I have gone to. There was a warehouse fire in North Buffalo a few years ago. It was a large complex with multiple buildings and I was able to get into the rear where they were setting up a ladder tower. I was a couple hundred feet from the fire building taking some pictures when several small LP tanks in the building began to explode. I felt the heat and shock blasts even from where I was standing. When I looked at the pictures later, the fireball was almost twice as high as the four-story building next door. When my dad was still working, I was sleeping overnight at the firehouse and riding along with Ladder 1. They got a late night fire in the lower West Side. It was a good worker but the crews had knocked it down fast. I was standing out front when the battalion chief came up to me and said that my dad got hurt and asked me to try and convince him to go to the hospital since he didn’t want to go. Somehow we talked him into going and thankfully his injuries were minor. I never liked going to a fire that my dad was working at after that.

FE: What’s unique about the area you cover – the place, the firefighters, the hazards, etc?

KB: Buffalo is a great place to buff fires. It’s densely packed with wood frame buildings, some only a few feet apart. It’s also possible to get from one end of the city to the other quickly. That helps because if you don’t get to the fire in 10-15 minutes, the firefighters already have it knocked down. 

FE: What have been some of your more memorable publications?

KB: It’s always exciting to see your work published, but the most rewarding is certainly when you get a magazine cover. I have been blessed to have had a few covers for Fire Engineering [including the cover for the March 2015 issue– Ed.]. Just as exciting has been having my photos used in Mike Dugan’s column “Fire Focus.” It’s rewarding that my work is used to help train firefighters and visually illustrate some techniques. I was also published in the 2015 Fire Trucks in Action calendar, which is put together by fellow fire photographer Larry Shapiro. There are some big names in fire photography in the calendar and I’m happy to be in it with them.

Buffalo Dwelling Fire

FE: Any advice to aspiring fire photographers?

KB: My advice for new fire photographers is pretty basic: respond safely and don’t get in the way on the fireground. You should also respond right away, don’t wait for the first companies to arrive on scene and call they have a working fire. You can never make up time on the road. Practice shooting in all kinds of lighting conditions. You should have a good idea what settings to use as you walk up to the scene. This is especially helpful at night, when it’s hard to change settings in the dark. When I first started out I went around at night and took pictures of buildings, writing down the different settings I used. I was able to see what worked and what didn’t. I still use those settings I found worked best as my base settings today.

See more of Kevin’s photos at www.wowmephotos.com.