FireRescue, Training

Social Media: Anyone Can Take a Photo

Photos educate people about the job

By Rob Reardon

I am sure you have heard the saying that anyone can take a photo. That is true, but not everyone can make a good photo. Ansel Adams, a renown photographer, said, “A photograph is made, not taken.” When you are the photographer, you need to treat the camera like an artist would treat his brushes. There are many elements that make a great photo–composition, lighting, perspective, and the ability to tell a story are some of the most important. It is important that the pictures you post on social media are good quality.

A photograph is a fraction of a second in time. It’s honestly very difficult to capture what you see. You must anticipate what you are looking to photograph, because many times if you saw something, it’s already too late to capture it. When you are making a picture, you should be looking at all the elements in your camera screen’s field of vision. It’s important to remember that there is no better lens than your eyes. Your eyes can see things with shadows and brightness that even the best camera can’t. You might have never noticed, but your eyes are able to easily zoom in on objects–that isn’t always possible, depending on the camera you use. It can be difficult to translate into a photograph what you see with the naked eye. Trying to capture what your eyes see takes practice. This is no different than the training we do as firefighters. 

Before becoming a firefighter, I worked for years as both a professional photographer and later as a professional videographer. Many times, I hear people say that you need a professional camera to take great pictures. That is not true for most of what your organization should be posting on social media. I have taken many magazine and newspaper cover shots with camera phones and not my professional camera gear. A camera is like a halligan tool. If you hand the halligan to the right person, it is amazing what he can do with it. To use a halligan, you need to learn your craft; it’s no different when using a camera. If you want to learn how to take photos, emulate those who are already taking great photos. There is a tremendous amount of resources available online to get better at the craft of photography. Read and listen to the masters. “The lens can do nothing that its operator does not make it do” is another quote from Ansel Adams, which is so true.

Documenting a crash scene using the camera on my phone. It’s tough to find a phone today that is not as good as if not better than some the of bulkier “professional” cameras. (Photo by Tyler Reardon.)

When I was a teenager, I had two photography mentors who were brutally honest when reviewing my photos. They were both award-winning photographers who dedicated countless hours to teaching me the art of photography. I remember shooting a photo that was, in my opinion, great and asked my mentor to look at it. He said the photo was flat and it was the photographer’s job to give it depth. This is achieved by having a foreground and background.  From this day forward, I have never looked at photographs the same way. Many of my photos have both foreground and background.

By getting on top of the rig, I was able to get DUXBURY in the foreground and the accident in the background. This allowed me to push our brand. (Photo by author.)

It is important to understand what you are trying to show in a photo. What are you looking to show your audience when you are at a house fire or motor vehicle accident? Do you know what you are trying to show your customers? When I teach social media and show students photos I have made, most never understand why I was doing what I did. Once I explained, they were able to see how my images tell a story. When I take photos for my department, my goal is to show the public what our firefighters are doing. 

A photo from an incident also can help with investigations or just recalling what the scene looked like. Photos are also great for training firefighters who weren’t on scene. Photos are a visual history of our department and the firefighters who make it what it is.

Firefighter group shots are a way to preserve the history of your department when done correctly. We try AFTER a fire to get a group photo, if possible. (Photo by author.)

Remember the saying that “A picture is worth a thousand words”? Well, it’s true. People are attracted to posts with photos. Our department’s posts that include photos do extremely well. I use analytics to confirm interactions with photos that perform much higher than those that do not have photos. Looking at analytics on my social media accounts, I find those with photos on average perform 90% or higher than those without photos. People are attracted to and remember photographic images. 

As great as photos can be, they can also cause problems, and we are seeing this all over the Internet. Photos of firefighters posing during house fires or while at an emergency are not appropriate. If you are taking photos during the scene, they should be showing what your firefighters are doing. These photos educate people about the job that firefighters are doing.  Pictures are very important to the fire service, so take the time to learn how to make a great photo.

 

Rob Reardon has been in the fire service for more than 20 years. He is a captain and the public information officer (PIO) for the Duxbury (MA) Fire Department (DXFD), where he has worked for the past 18 years. He is an EFO and CFO graduate. He is PIO for the Plymouth County Technical Rescue Team and the Southeastern Mass Technical Rescue Team. Prior to working at DXFD, he worked for 10 years in the media for television stations and major newspapers as an award-winning photographer. His photographs have been used on the covers of many national magazines, newspapers, books, calendars, trade publications, and worldwide on TV news. You can follow him on Twitter @reardonphotos, on Instagram @robreardonphotos, or at www.robreardon.com.