Kevin Briggs Photography

Fire in the Sky

Kevin Briggs

Now that Summer is firmly in the rearview mirror — always a melancholy time for me — I thought I would comment on what may represent the embodiment of the Alaskan summer photograph, at least to some: “Fire in the Sky.”

As with “Peak Fanfare,” one of the indispensable aspects of this wide angle shot was the chase, if you will, that made it happen.

At the beginning of one of our “white nights” here in the Great White North, I was just sitting down at my desk in my home office. A split second later I cast my eyes forward, only to behold the very early stages of the scene which would constitute this work in the sky just outside my window.  The colors were not nearly as concentrated at this precise moment as they are in the final fine art photograph; nevertheless, I knew they would intensify in rapid fashion.

I immediately stood up (a few seconds after I had only just sat down) and rushed to grab my camera gear and jump in my truck. I was on the road in under five minutes.

It was another 30-minute journey to my destination, one that was also approached with great haste. All the while — and just like my experience chasing down “Peak Fanfare” — my eyes were scanning the area far north of the horizon when they should have been paying greater attention to the road. One of the most agonizing experiences a landscape photographer goes through (far too often) is being either stuck at a red light or behind slow traffic when one sees with their own eyes certain scenes coming together in the sky above and knowing there is only so much time before such displays evaporate. This was one of those anxious times.

I wasn’t necessarily banging my hands on the steering wheel (nor my head), but pretty close. I thought there was a very good chance I was not going to be able to make my way to the targeted area in time.

Upon reaching my destination — a location with which I was very much familiar — I literally leapt out of the cab of the truck and began carefully (but speedily) assembling my photographic equipment. “Come on!... Come on!...” I kept repeating this phrase over and over.

For those who are not active landscape photographers, it may surprise you to learn just how routine this entire scenario actually is; quite frankly, it really represents a good share of my working experience. All too often there is only a remarkably brief window of time in which everything seems to come together in just the right manner, and you hope you are fortunate enough to be on the scene in order to capture such splendor as the earth and its elements will display in truly brilliant (and often times breathtaking) fashion.

And I’m sure many of you out there thought that being a landscape photographer was almost idyllic in nature, as though I find myself calmly and serenely observing the incredible terra firma beneath and the picturesque sky above, perhaps all the while humming to myself melodically.

…Um… No.

And as it just so happened, with “Fire in the Sky” there was once again not a single moment to lose. As with so many of my landscape works, fairly rapidly after capturing this scene the colors evaporated and the sky became a mixture of pale blue and light charcoal gray.

For those who have never been to Alaska, I am often asked about the colors, tones, and hues which appear in my works: “Are the skies really that colorful?” or “Is the water really that greenish blue?” My greatest aim as a landscape photographer is to capture (and present) the respective terra firma in a way that matches that which I was fortunate enough to witness firsthand.

Such is the case with “Fire in the Sky”: Yes, the sky really was that brilliantly ablaze with incredible color, color which was (thankfully) reflected almost as brilliantly in the water, and color that was entirely gone only a very short time thereafter.

Chasing after a scene like that which is revealed in “Fire in the Sky” is often like carefully observing an individual and beautiful firework — a single and kaleidoscopic explosion — in the midst of a professional firework display. You witness the initial launch of what you know will be a remarkably brilliant display in the sky above and you are immediately overcome with anticipation; you patiently (or sometimes frantically, depending upon your surroundings and circumstances) wait for the apogee of the individual firework to finally be obtained; and then what seems like an eternity later, but which actually only represents a split-second, the firework explodes with dazzling and multicolored light… And then, faster than you would have initially imagined, the brilliant tones and hues have all burned out.

Indeed, it's all about the chase.