Fire Down Below: In the Right Place at the Right Time, Bill Hatcher Captures a Dramatic Aerial Shot


© Bill Hatcher

Bill Hatcher was near the park entrance when a wildfire forced the closing of Tioga Pass road into Yosemite National Park last summer. “The fire was threatening to cross the road into Yosemite,” he says, “and helicopters and tankers were being sent out on kind of a bombing run to cut the fire off.”

Hatcher had been photographing at Yosemite two weeks prior and had returned on this day. “It was just a ‘being there’ moment,” he says. “They’d been working on the fire for a few days, but now it was moving toward the road. It took the air tanker four tries to line up to drop the retardant, and on each pass the plane got lower and lower.”

Which is how he was able to make the shot from his ground-level position. That, and the help he got from his gear: dialing in the DX crop setting on his Nikon D810 effectively gave his 400mm focal length a 600mm equivalent angle of view, and his image the dramatic immediacy of the moment.
The “bombing run” was successful. The fire was kept from crossing the road, and it was eventually brought under control.

Hatcher’s specialty is adventure and outdoor photography. Often his work is concerned with environmental issues, and he was quick to share the environmental rescue captured in this eyewitness image.

“The photo was at my Instagram site within minutes of shooting,” he says. “I have rock climbers and other outdoor people looking at my site. Some friends of mine were showing up in a few days, and I’d been in touch with a park ranger I knew at Yosemite. He was probably on the other side of the road closure, so I wanted to show him something he couldn’t see from his position. It was like using Instagram like a Twitter account.”

Tech Talk: Bill Hatcher took the Yosemite firefighting image with a Nikon D810 and an AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR. The camera settings were 1/800 second, f/9, ISO 200, aperture priority, and center-weighted metering.

Portfolios of Bill Hatcher’s images are featured at his website,

You can view his Instagram photos at