It is hard to comprehend the scope of tragedy involved with superstorm Sandy, from the loss of life to the loss of property to the loss of power. The most powerful way to bring the stories to life is often through photographs, but the “getting” of the photographs is often taken for granted. Andrew Burton, a photographer for Getty, has shared with Picture This what it is like to cover a severe storm.
Andrew’s images have been in major media outlets around the country in the hours and days since Sandy has passed, and he has taken the time to describe his experience between shifts shooting in and around the New York City area. His responses are below.
How do you decide where to take your photographs?
There’s a massive desire to be everywhere at once – flooding in the financial district, hospital evacuations in midtown, a building collapse near the meat packing district (and that was just within Manhattan – let alone Staten Island, New Jersey, etc).
I decided where to shoot by coordinating with a team of editors and by coming across scenes on my own. It takes good coordination with your editors about what is happening in real time, about what they’d like you to cover, and the best ways to go about getting there. After that, it becomes a matter of battling the elements, access, etc.
What was it like to cover superstorm Sandy?
The wind and rain weren’t as bad as I expected for Sandy, though the surge of water moved surprisingly quickly. At one point I parked my car near the flooding (but far enough away that I thought the car would stay high and dry) and got out to take photos – not five minutes had passed and the water was rapidly approaching my car. That surprised me.
Was this the first hurricane you had photographed?
I covered Hurricane Irene last year, but that didn’t require too much effort - Sandy was much more intense, comparatively speaking. Those are my only storm experiences.
What do you need to cover a severe storm?
I prepared for coverage by stocking my car with extra clothing, water and food. The car has acted as a home-base between shooting and transmitting. For the past few days I’ve been wearing rain jacket and pants, along with rain boots. I water-proofed my cameras with good-old-fashioned plastic bags and duct-tape.
Was there a photograph that you did not take?
There are always a million photos I wish I could have taken, wish I had seen, wish I had known was occurring - but that’s the nature of the business. There’s always another photo to be found.
Any final thoughts?
Ultimately, the main priority is to stay safe, document what is occurring, and get the images out on the wire quickly.
It’s always sad to have to photograph loss and destruction; I have been very moved by the people’s willingness to let me into their lives, and allow me to photograph what has happened to them.
Andrew Burton is a freelance photographer based in New York City. More of his work can be seen at www.AndrewBurtonPhoto.com