Fire Photographer Profile: John Spaulding

Firefighters at the scene of a house fire in Rochester, New York. Photo by John Spaulding.

Fire photographer John Spaulding has been covering firefighting ops in and around Rochester, New York, or some time, contributing both to the Fire Engineering Web site and his local journal, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, where his work includes profiles of local fire officials and posts on local history. John agreed to share his perspective on taking fire photos in his part of the world in this month’s fire photog profile.

FE: What got you started in fire photography?

JS: My father worked at Eastman Kodak Company so there was always a camera in the house. By the age of 14, I had my own Pentax K1000 and was in a photography program in high school. During high school I also entered the local fire department’s explorer program. Eventually I was hired as a freelance photog for a weekly newspaper, and have progressed from there.

FE: What kind of equipment do you use?

JS: Currently, a Canon 1D Mark III with an L series 28-300 lens. I have a Nikon D200 for a backup and of course I have a GoPro as well. I am never without a camera.

FE: What have been some of more memorable jobs?

JS: My submission to Fire Engineering that included an article on a small rural town that had a propane distribution farm fire. They saved it, and the town, from being wiped off the map.

I also shot an image of a firefighter in the City of Rochester signing what turned out to be an autograph for a little girl after a house fire. When I asked her why she wanted his autograph, she said, “He’s a hero.” The next day, the company visited her school. 

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

JS: I live in an area that goes from rural into the city itself. Because I have been around a little while, I have developed a good rapport with fire officials–that definitely helps.  

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

JS: Getting hired by our daily as a freelancer was a big moment, as was my above-mentioned article. I also had a two-page image in JEMS recently. I am still waiting for the cover shot for Fire Engineering, and a shot above the fold in the Democrat and Chronicle.

FE: Any advice to aspiring fire photographers?

JS: Knowing your geography is ultra-important, as is being proficient at listening to the scanner and the lexicon that goes with that area. Use a good SLR such as a Nikon or Canon with a good lens and then spend some time editing. Having good cutlines is important, as well. Photoshop is a must-have for me. I often take my laptop with me, so I can edit and send on the spot for breaking news. I am always listening and have friends that send me texts when something breaks. “If you’re getting yelled at, you’re in the right place,” my first publisher used to say. Drones are a sticky subject right now, and I would hold off until the governing agencies figure out the legalities more. Most importantly–always have a camera with you. And I’m not talking about your phone. The last thing–shoot in RAW–always.

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