Photographing fire trucks

Here’s another assignment that I had photographing fire trucks for the E-ONE calendar. I visited the Oklahoma City Fire Department who had recently had several pieces of aerial apparatus refurbished and re-chassied.

Oklahoma City is the Capitol of Oklahoma and as such offered several traditional government buildings as interesting backgrounds to reinforce the environment of the area. I’ve been to several state capitols in the past as well as the District of Columbia while photographing trucks. One of the main lessons learned early was that the shoot had to be scheduled for a weekend or nighttime due to the activity, the traffic, and the security surrounding these locations.

During the pre-planning stage before I ever leave home, I stress to the local contacts that the closer we are to a large building, the less we’ll see in the image. So I ask them to scout areas beginning roughly two blocks away that would have an unobstructed view of the dome … and in such an area that we’ll be able to use the sunlight to our advantage. In years before the internet, I had to rely solely on the judgement of the firefighters for the leg work before I arrived. Obviously those days are long gone, as I can view both bird’s eye (satellite) and street level views from my home to try and establish both a vantage point and time of day for the lighting.

In this first shot, the capitol dome is behind the truck allowing for a nice view of the columns at the entrance. At the same time, the truck and ladder are prominently positioned to command the viewer’s attention. I also wanted the chrome mirror against the green trees instead of being visually hard to find agains part of the building where there would be a lack of separation.

Oklahoma City fire truck with the state capitol
Oklahoma City Rescue Ladder 1 positioned so that the capitol dome does not fight with the fire truck for the viewer’s attention. Larry Shapiro photo

The shoot took place on an extremely hot Saturday with temperatures in the 90s plus absolutely miserable humidity making everyone move a bit slower than normal and constantly seeking shade and water. We setup another couple of photos on the same government campus with an official looking building surrounded by trees, all of which acted to create excellent contrast to the fire trucks.

Two E-ONE aerials owned by the Oklahoma City Fire Department
Two Oklahoma City FD aerial fire trucks photographed for the manufacturer’s calendar. Larry Shapiro photo

An assignment to photograph an aerial is always more involved and complicated because the truck is shot bedded and deployed. Here, we shot each unit and then both together. Although it only takes a few minutes to move them or set them up … it all adds up to a very lengthy process which was complicated by the extreme weather.

Oklahoma City FD Rescue Ladder 7
Another traditional government building creates a nice contrast to the brightly colored truck. Larry Shapiro photo

I wanted one more shot that would show the city proper and not focus on the state capitol. We drove for quite a while looking for a spot that would work … lighting … enough space for the trucks … enough room for my camera position … and a flattering view for a backdrop.

Oklahoma City fire trucks with the city skyline
We closed down this street where we could setup two large aerial units and maintain a view of the city with the sun at my back. Larry Shapiro photo

This wide street fit the bill to a tee. It was a short stretch of road on an angle between two other streets which made an easy detour for drivers. The firefighters were great sports for putting up with me and the fire department photographer. Both trucks were staffed, so there was a large entourage.

A shot like this is something that I have to be able to visualize, because the actual scene never looks quite this good until it’s framed up. When the firemen stand along side me while I’m at the camera, most often they have trouble visualizing the shot … until I step aside and offer them a look through the viewfinder of my Mamiya RZ67. The classic response after looking down into the viewfinder … is that they immediately look back up at the scene and comment that it looks nothing like what they saw through the lens.

commercial photographer Larry Shapiro at work
This shot from just behind the camera position gives an idea of the setting as a whole.
commercial photographer Larry Shapiro on assignment
As I stand out baking in the street, my loyal cohorts take refuge in the shade of a nearby tree.

Comments are closed.