Finding Beauty During the Forest Fire Season

May 23, 2023

Wildfire impact can lead to devastating loss of life, property, personal belongings and habitat. Even those not in the direct path of a wildfire can suffer effects, as smoke and pollutants in the air can reduce air quality, impacting physical health, mental health and psychosocial well-being. 

For the landscape photographer, not in the direct path of a wildfire, alongside being grateful that our lives are not significantly hindered by wildfire, we can still enjoy the beauty in nature despite smoke-filled skies. As long as it is safe and after considering ways in which we can help those affected, there are a few ways a landscape photographer can continue to spend time in nature and capture photos despite smoke-filled skies.

1. Focus on the micro world

Beauty is everywhere this time of year. But, when skies are grey and dull due to wildfire smoke, and visibility is poor, now is the time to get up close and personal with your subject. Macro allows me to ignite my creative soul and play with light and sparkly things. Smoky skies don't affect macro photography's outcome like the visibility of those wide-angle scenes. Instead, the smoke-filtered light can create the unique possibility of playing with lighting in a fun and unique way. Not a macro photographer? Give it a try anyway, and allow yourself to have fun trying something new.   

ISO 160, 105mm, f3.3, 1/1600 ss

2. Head into the forest

The forest beholds untouched beauty. Lush greens, soft light, and textured trees showcase well during the soft diffuse light common when smoky skies prevail. Smoke settling into the forest will cast a dreamy fog-like atmosphere along the forest floor. In addition, light beams not usually visible in the forest will reflect off smoke particles and offer interestingly lit scenes. So when those wider views are not permissive, and you lose visibility and the opportunity for wide-angle photography due to smoky skies, take the time to venture into the forest and discover the jewels waiting for you there. 

ISO 64, 22.5mm, f9, 1/15 ss (10 image focus stack)

3. Embrace the motto, "You get what you get, and you don't get upset."

Light through moderate smoke pollution can be incredibly beautiful. Light rays are often visible, and smoke in the atmosphere can cluster, appearing cloud-like and colour with striking reds, pinks, oranges and yellows. This can result in some spectacular sky conditions, so putting away your wide-angle lens is not always necessary. 

I've found that when landscapes are filled with smoky skies, colours will appear outside of sunrise and sunset times. Therefore, you'll likely want to head out to your chosen landscape location earlier than you typically would during non-smoky sky conditions. Peak colour can even show up mid-day, so always be prepared. 

ISO 31, 14mm, f13, 0.8 sec

Weather and environmental conditions are not something a landscape photographer can control, so instead of feeling disappointed that you might not be able to capture the images you were hoping for, embrace the opportunity to find beauty amidst a less than an ideal environment. 

To donate and learn how you can help victims of the Alberta wildfires, visit the Canadian Red Cross at 


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