Posted in Behind the News

‘A sign of the times’: How I got that shot

, by Patrick Maks

During an assignment on Tuesday covering the LNU Lightning Complex fires in Northern California, photographer Noah Berger captured a gripping AP image of flames surrounding a COVID-19 safety sign at a senior center.

The photo immediately rocketed across social media.

Berger recounted how he got that shot:

We were watching the flames come over the hillside really fast and really strong, so everybody was kind of on edge and the air was pretty charged watching the fire bear down. Mostly we were shooting a complex of homes that we thought the fires would burn, and then the firefighters came in and saved it. As I was walking out of that complex back to my car, I just turned and saw that hillside on fire. What caught my eye was that there was a directional sign, so I stopped to shoot that, and then I noticed next to it was that sign. It doesn’t take a lot, you just look at that sign and think, ‘That’s 2020.’ That’s a sign of the times that everybody is so freaked out about this one thing and another crazy thing comes on top of it. It didn’t take me long to make that connection even when I was shooting it.

Berger said he took 15 to 20 frames of the scene over a couple of minutes. 

“I wish I had gotten there a few minutes sooner,” he said. “The flames would have been in a better position right in front of the sign, which would have been even better, but you take what you can get here.”

He said sometimes it takes hours for a picture to come together. 

“With this photo, I just turned around and it was there,” he said.

Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires burn in unincorporated Napa County, California, on Aug. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Berger, who regularly covers wildfires in California for AP, said he and other photojournalists keep safe by traveling in groups and planning exit routes. 

He called Tuesday’s fire “definitely one of the top intensity fires that I’ve been in the middle of.”

Read the AP news story.