On assignment, photographer Mark Thiessen takes images of a night burnout operation in Seeley Lake, Montana.
On assignment, photographer Mark Thiessen takes images of a night burnout operation in Seeley Lake, Montana.
Photograph by Mark Thiessen/Nat Geo Image Collection

Meet a Wildfire Photographer

Get the scoop on how a wildlife photographer braves raging blazes to capture amazing shots.

Fighting through out-of-control flames to get the perfect picture is part of Mark Thiessen's job. Nat Geo interviewed to learn more about his amazing career.

You’ve taken some supercool pictures. How long have you done this?
When I was 14 I heard about a car wreck. So I shot the picture and dropped it off at the local newspaper. That afternoon a big stack of papers landed on my doorstep for me to deliver—and the picture was on the cover.

What’s the hardest part about capturing a wildfire photo?
I’m constantly battling the smoke, trying to find a clear shot of the flames. My head is always on a swivel. But I try to think creatively when I’m in dangerous situations, and sometimes that’s when the best pictures happen.

What's your favorite thing about shooting these blazes?
I get to see one of nature’s fiercest forces up close and personal. It’s not crazy exciting all the time—it’s actually full of boredom, peppered with insane activity. But the secret to getting good fire pictures is to be out there a lot, because you never know what’s going to happen next.

Do you ever get scared?
Scared isn’t the right word. You have to have respect for the fire and keep calm. I'm always looking at ways to reduce risks, and that’s how I keep from getting scared.

Seeing how people are affected by these fires must be hard. Can you remember a time when it was really tough?
San Diego, California, had a big fire in 2007. Some neighbors were looking through piles of ashes where their homes had been. I’m always amazed by the reaction people like these always have. They say, “These are just things. We’re all OK, we all have each other, and that’s what’s most important.”

What advice do you have for kids?
Once you find something you love to do, you have to be persistent. Success doesn’t come easy—obstacles are thrown in your path all the time. The people who aren't passionate say, “Oh well, this isn’t going to work.” But the people who are passionate leapfrog ahead.