Photographing fire trucks

Here’s the second article in what will be a series on photographing fire trucks with state capital fire departments. This trip was to Austin Texas for Pierce. It took place several years ago before I switched from film to digital capture.

In contrast to the previous article about an assignment in Oklahoma City, the amount of advanced planning and preparation that went into this series of images was minimal. The fact that I was less prepared for creating these shots will become evident. We weren’t planning on this site prior to my arrival and we were a bit under the gun from the time that I was told the state capital was an option. The fire department had to clear things with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and evidently that process wasn’t completed until the morning of the shoot.

By the time we arrived on site with clean trucks and worked things out with the DPS officers, the sun had moved past the optimal lighting for the shot. In addition, unlike the previous assignment, we had  less working room available that offered a clear shot of the building for a backdrop.

Pierce fire engine at the Texas capital building in Austin
Austin Fire Department Pierce Quantum pumper at the state capital in Texas. Larry Shapiro photo

The dome clearly shows the sun had moved off to camera left, and if I’d repositioned the engine, I’d have lost the dramatic impact of the building. We were closer to the building than I would have liked to be, and this forced me to use a normal lens (my preference is a medium telephoto). Subsequently, the engine is less prominent in the frame. I’d prefer more truck and less building proportionately.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post about seeing less of the building the closer we were to it, which is apparent in this next shot. This image was created with a 210mm lens on the Mamiya RZ67. It is my preferred focal length for the way it shows the truck. As you can see by the lines on the road, the engine hasn’t moved. I shifted slightly to camera right so that I could hide the distracting elements (light poles surrounding the center island) behind the engine while still keeping it centered in front of the building. The building here is still dramatic, but does not allow for the full view of the dome.

Pierce fire engine at the Texas capital building in Austin
By changing from a normal lens to a telephoto, the image changes dramatically. Larry Shapiro photo

Two vehicles were brought to the shoot, the other was a tower ladder on a Dash chassis. We did a shot with both units and I did each buy itself. This time I switched to a wide angle lens due to the larger truck. This introduced a small bit of vertical distortion. I was without the ability to shift the lens vertically so I had to add a slight upward tilt to the tripod head.


Pierce tower ladder in Austin Texas
A Pierce tower ladder posed with the state capital in Austin, TX. Larry Shapiro photo

It’s also pretty evident in the series of images that we began with a bright sun and ended with the sun behind clouds.