How I Got the Photo – Cole Burston (Picture Story)

2016 NPOY PICTURE STORY NEWS, Finalist – Covering the Fort McMurray wildfires (Cole Burston / Independent for AFP)

Beyond the logistical nightmare of heading into a completely fluid and unpredictable situation, the Fort McMurray wildfire was a standout assignment for me.

The complexity and challenge of covering this story will be familiar to those who know there’s only one road in and one road out of Fort McMurray, Alberta.

My 15 days in May, and a week in June, during the wildfires were spent speeding up and down an almost 300KM stretch of highway from Lac La Biche to Fort McMurray, trying to cover all aspects of the story.

Shooting the story of the day to feed the headline news seemed to be the goal of each individual day. But painting a strong, balanced, and accurate visual for the macro story of the Fort McMurray wildfires was always in the back of my mind while shooting.

This was my first time covering an event of this magnitude. Having an international wire service trust me to be its eyes on the ground, along with complete autonomy, added a good amount of pressure.

There were long days spent standing on the hot tar of Highway 63. There were cold nights sleeping in the car. There was the searching for fuel on an evacuated reserve (and being followed door-to-door by dogs left behind in the haste of evacuation).

The stress of trying to do it all was eased off my shoulders by the strong encouragement, camaraderie, and help from fellow photographers in the same situation as me, out there just kind of winging it.


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