• February 18, 2015

A Photographer Drawn to One of Nature’s Fiercest Forces

Becky Harlan

Mark Thiessen has been photographing wildfires for almost 20 years. And he’s been on staff at National Geographic for almost as long. In his own words, he’s been “bitten by the fire bug.”

In the video above, Thiessen talks about the time he got covered in flame-retardant goop, shares tricks for shooting fires when they’re at their peak, and reveals the surprising personal characteristics that are indispensable when shooting wildfires. Hint: It’s not being a daredevil.

Picture of a car driving through a wildfire
A firefighter supervisor drives through flames that jumped the road in Seeley Lake, Montana.
Photograph by Mark Thiessen
Picture of a collage of photographer Mark Thiessen shooting wildfires
Mark Thiessen photographing wildfires over the course of his career.
Photographs by Frank Caroll, Brian Day, and courtesy of Mark Thiessen

Is there an extreme subject you love to shoot? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Last year, Thiessen worked with National Geographic’s Your Shot community to curate the #wildfire2014 hashtag.

See more wildfire photographs taken by Thiessen for National Geographic magazine.

Meet one of the photo engineers who make tools like Fire Cam possible.

There are 14 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. viral shah
    March 19, 2015

    Awesome job drawn and team. But dangerous. Fire has no place to or dose nit go in predicted direction. But these guys made it every time.
    And drawn was write that ‘ u can not watch such nature burning by sitting in office’. U got to be out for capturing such moments.
    I also m looking for such advantage to provide such shot to world. And I wish that I can get my self on right time and right place.
    Luck they.

  2. Fernando marquezbaute
    March 9, 2015

    Como siempre,fotos superan tabú losas.Felicitaciones

  3. Anita Deters
    March 6, 2015

    I have a son who is a hot shot in Nevada, I have always been amazed at the beauty of wildfires, as well as saddened by the devastation it brings. I thank all Wildland firefighters who put their life on the line for people they do not know and our forest.

  4. michael detering
    March 6, 2015

    Having fought wild fires for over 65 years and have my ranch over run by fire mostly human caused I have a different view. We need more interaction by people raised in the cities to understand what is going on with out wild land. A start would be the CCC being re invited to give the youth a interaction of what urban life is doing to the wild lands.

  5. michael detering
    March 6, 2015

    I live in the wild fire zone of north central Washington. When city people took over the forest service things got out of hand. Cattle,sheep, logging and wild life kept the wild fires some what in check. Now with globe erratic weather patterns the forest and planet are in danger. We need the CCC (Civil Conservation Corp) to work in the forest for cleaning up the mess we have made of our forest.

  6. Pete Tiffany
    March 5, 2015

    Back in 1967 I got hired by the State of Idaho to fight forest fires, we were called “Smoke Chasers”. I got a week of training at Fire Camp and in my 1st 10 days I got sent to a very big forest fire down on the Salmon River about 10 miles up from Riggins. They flew us up to the top of the ridge above the fire in a helicopter and dropped us off It was one of the most awsome sights I’ve ever seen, with trees crowning (where the top of the tree burns), they were dropping fire retardant from old bomber planes, and to top it off, we had rattle snakes coming up the hillside to escape the flames. It sounds a little scary, but it was amazing too, and I enjoyed it. I wish I had taken pictures. These photographs bring back those memories.

  7. Audrey Carroll
    March 5, 2015

    I love knowing the gods of fire!

  8. ricky bisht
    February 26, 2015


  9. JESullivan
    February 23, 2015

    I experienced wildfires on several western Nat’l. Forests back in the 70s as a Wildland Fire Fighter. Shy of my infantry combat tour in Vietnam NOTHING ever impressed me as did a fully developed wildfire. The scope and duration of such an event along with its’ ferocity are fearful and humbling. Nature is truly an awesome force and when she runs rampant, it takes a true warrior to stand in her way, regardless of motive or life station. Theissen is such a man.

  10. Jo Ellen Pearman
    February 21, 2015

    I’m fascinated by extreme weather, and living on an island along the gulf coast of Florida, photo opportunities are plentiful.

  11. manshi
    February 21, 2015

    wow…………………………stars on the earth

  12. Shantilalsinha
    February 19, 2015

    Very nice

  13. Frank Carroll
    February 18, 2015

    mark! Becky bought my photo of you on the line in ’92! YeeHaw!

  14. Donna
    February 18, 2015

    Wow! Amazing!

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