National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Media Tips & Tricks

photo of wildland firefighter with drip torch in full personal protective equipment.NWCG Media Tips and Tricks is intended to guide field personnel in capturing quality videos and photos in the field, selecting images for projects, and providing content for committee and subgroup web pages. NWCG strives to include accurate and relevant imagery in all products with diverse representation of people, agencies, and landscapes.

Follow these tips and tricks for creating professional photos and video intended for use in NWCG products and materials.

Before you start, remember who you represent and be mindful of the content you gather.

  • Are subjects wearing all required personal protective equipment (PPE) and is it current?
  • Are safety regulations being violated?
  • Could any of your media be misinterpreted or misconstrued?
  • Are your subjects behaving appropriately and professionally?
  • Does your content reflect the values of duty, respect, and integrity?

Take a moment. Trust your gut. If you are unsure, don’t shoot the photo or video.

Firefighter taking a photo of a single engine airtanker dropping water on fire.Composition:

  • Use the Rule of 1/3s to create compelling images. Imagine lines dividing the frame into 1/3s vertically and horizontally. Place your subject at any intersection of these lines.
  • Frame your image like a piece of art, including and excluding content with intention.

Exposure Triangle:

  • In dynamic or challenging environments, your camera’s automatic mode is your friend.
  • Explore the relationship of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to exercise further creative control.
    • Search online or read your camera or phone’s user guide for specific information on adjusting these features.

Resolution and File Format:

  • Bigger is not always better. 4K video and RAW images eat up storage space fast, and many computers may not be able to edit them.
  • For video, shoot in Full HD (1920 x 1080 resolution, 30 frames per second).
  • For photos, shoot in the best quality JPEG format your camera supports.

Image Orientation:

  • Landscape (long edge horizontal) or portrait (long edge vertical) orientations are equally appropriate for photos.
  • Shoot video in landscape orientation unless strictly necessary to capture your subject.


  • Digital zoom equals image quality loss. Move your camera or your subject closer even if you have a variable lens.

Hold the Shot:

  • Try not to constantly pan, tilt, or zoom.
  • Hold your video shots for at least 10 seconds before cutting or moving the camera.


  • Poor sound quality and unwanted noise can make beautiful video unusable.
  • Wind filters and external microphones can mitigate environmental factors.
  • Be mindful of background noise or side commentary.


  • A tripod or monopod provides a solid base, which is especially important for long lenses and low light conditions.
  • Compact gimbals are an affordable game-changer for stabilizing action shots.
  • Use both hands and good body position when you have to stay mobile.
  • Lean up against a solid object to stabilize your body and minimize shake, especially in low light or windy conditions.

Wildland fire personnel sitting at table with laptop two people standing behind with COPYRIGHT? over the top.

Copyrighted Material:

  • Images in the background (e.g., corporate logos, paintings, celebrities) or music on the radio cannot be published without owner permission.

Invest More in Learning Than in Gear:

  • A well-educated amateur with a smartphone may capture better images than a novice with a professional camera.
  • Study basic image composition and production processes and get to know your gear. The web is full of useful tutorials.


  • When documenting complicated objects or actions use:
    • wide angles to establish the subject,
    • medium framed shots to focus attention, and
    • close-ups for finer details.

Plan Shoots to Maximize Efficiency:

  • Every project has a goal, and every shot should serve that goal.
  • A shot list or shooting script guides your efforts and helps prioritize time in the field or studio.
  • A minute spent to make corrections before pushing the record button can save days in editing.
  • Extra memory cards and batteries are cheaper than a repeat trip or lost opportunities.

Review Your Shots:

  • Verify you have what you need before you leave and reshoot if necessary.
  • Back up and log footage daily while your production memories are fresh.

Talk to Your Subjects:

  • A quick conversation with the people you are filming is time well spent.
  • Get image permission from subjects (in writing if not government employees).
  • Explain the purpose of the shoot and establish credibility as the photographer.

Video file formats acceptable for PowerPoint slides are WMV and MP4. These are the most common formats which compress the video to a smaller, more manageable file size. 

Videos may be inserted in PowerPoint slides with the following methods:  

  • Embedding Method: Embedding a video file packages the video clip within the PowerPoint file. This method enables the PowerPoint slides to be presented without relying on external media files to be called upon during the presentation. Video files embedded within the slides will increase the total size of the PowerPoint file. 
  • Local Drive Linked Method: Inserting a video file via the local drive relies on an external video file saved on a local drive/ccomputer. PowerPoint will rely on the external file during the presentation of the slides. Playback of the video clip will fail if for some reason the video file is not saved on the local drive/computer together with the PowerPoint file. 
  • URL Link Method: Inserting a video file via the URL or web address is accomplished by uploading a video file to a public facing website or web server like YouTube. This method will play the video within the presentation of the slide(s) provided the host computer is connected to the internet. Playback will fail if no internet connection is established or very low bandwidth is detected. Do not link a video file in your PowerPoint slide from any web service without prior permission from the owner/author of the video. 
  • Documents: Microsoft (including Word, Excel, and other file formats) and PDF files may be inserted within PowerPoint slides. PDF files do not require the user to have Microsoft programs installed on the host computer.
  • Graphics: Graphic images need to be formatted as JPEG or PNG files. Other formats, such as TIFF and EPS, can be used but will increase the size of the PowerPoint file.

All videos, files, or graphics inserted into NWCG PowerPoint files must be fully accessible.

Photos and Graphics:

  • Consider additional photo sources beyond personal libraries, but ensure they are official government or state sources, such as the NIFC photo library or CalFire's library
  • If searching for photos or graphics on the internet, use Creative Commons or royalty free images only. 
  • Choose high quality, visually appealing images.
    • Images must be 72 dots per inch (dpi) minimum, at 1200 pixel minimum width or height, typically 1.5 to 2 MB in size, and in JPEG or PNG file format.


  • Videos must be captioned or provided with a SubRip Subtitle (.srt) plain-text file that contains subtitle and captioning information.
  • Videos will be uploaded to the NWCG YouTube channel, then embedded and linked on the NWCG web page.





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