THE PHOTOGRAPH of Kings Fire taken by Steve Ellsworth that took the internet by storm.
BY Jamie Wanzek
Professor Steve Ellsworth can be found teaching Math and Science courses at Sierra Nevada College. With camera in hand Ellsworth also demonstrates an eye for photography, outside the classroom. This fall, Ellsworth experienced viral fame when his photograph of the King Fire earned National recognition. With the long-time hobby of photography, Ellsworth enjoys combining his professional and personal interests.
“I’ve always had an interest in science and math, and photography is something that all comes together here at the lake. I’ve also always been interested in Fire-Ecology and taught Environmental Science here at SNC,” Ellsworth said.
While the King Fire was beginning to expand rapidly, Ellsworth was contacted by a friend who works as a firefighter explaining, “Steve you’ve got to get down to the lake for photos! There are these amazing pyrocumulius clouds(a dense cloud associated with fire beginning to form).”
With a background in Environmental Science and Fire Ecology, Ellsworth knew the pyrocumulius clouds would create a breathtaking sunset over Tahoe.
After class on a Wednesday, Steve went to Incline Beach with his camera.
“After watching the clouds, I knew the sunset would be absolutely spectacular. So I sat there and watched, planning photos. As soon as the sun went behind the pyrocumulius clouds, these brilliant colors came out.”
That evening, he posted the photos on his personal Facebook. Little did he know that internet stardom awaited him.
Later that evening, another firefighter friend reposted one of his photos to a Facebook site for firefighters. This site allows friends and family in the community to touch base with loved ones. After the image was shared to the site, it went viral.
“I am a scientist, and I think we need to allocate more funding for the fighting of these fires and the prevention,” said Ellsworth. “We as a society are not spending enough financial resources, social resource or any resource at all, and I think that resonated with people.”
Ellsworth saw an opportunity to bring attention toward the funding and fighting of these fires through his photography.
“The image got re-tweeted and re-shared thousands of times that one night. I think what resonated with people was that it was a beautiful image, but also the connection with Tahoe. People thought what we could lose with this fire,” Ellsworth said.
According to Ellsworth that evening and following morning, his Facebook site and email exploded. He went through media outlets in Boise, Seattle, Los Angeles and large media networks NBC, CBS Nightly News and the Associated Press.
“I had always heard about videos and images going viral but I didn’t realize what people go through,” said Ellsworth.
The entire week, Ellsworth spent all his time responding to emails and Facebook messages regarding his photography and media credits.
By the end of the week, Ellsworth was contacted by Channel 3 KRCA. This time he was asked to call them at 7 a.m. Half-asleep before a cup of coffee, Ellsworth contacted the news anchor. They said, “Oh Steve! Thanks for calling us, we’d like to interview you at 7:10 a.m. for a live interview.”
“While still in my pajamas, I collected my thoughts. I was told someone would call back in a few minutes at 7:08, and then at 7:10 you will hear the news anchor talking about your image,” Ellsworth said.
Channel 3 KRCA was able to find Ellsworth’s Flicker account where the entire series of photos taken of the fire were shared. They shared his images on television while they interviewed him about the photos and where one would reach him, if they wanted the images.
“Thats when I realized I could plug the college and put SNC’s name out there. I explained that people can contact me through SNC if they wanted the images. I sure enough got emails through my school email,” said Ellsworth.
Throughout the hectic week, Ellsworth explained what he learned about media and how it is shared rapidly.
“I learned the challenges of journalists today and the power of social media, I think amateurs have really closed that gap between professionals with digital photography. I think going into journalism and photography would be a huge challenge,” Ellsworth said.
While photography remains a hobby, Ellsworth concludes the experience was once in lifetime.
“I don’t know what I could ever do again that would be on the same scale,” Ellsworth said.