Photographing fire trucks

Here’s another example of photographing fire trucks with a state capital. This was a film shoot in Madison, WI for Pierce. I had spent the day driving from town to town with a half dozen or so to shoot. Nothing specific had been arranged with any of the departments, and as I had setup a night shot with a neighboring department, when I arrived in Madison, the guys were willing to take their aerial to the capital for a late night shot.

This was shot on daylight balanced film since the only tungsten balanced film I had was used on the other night shot that I mentioned. So remember, back in the days of film (something that I’m sure some readers know very little about) … there was no white balance setting. Film was designed for certain types of lighting and other corrections were made with the use of colored filters on the camera.

I also had only a flash unit for supplemental lighting. The capital dome is illuminated at night by flood lights that make it quite bright. Couple that with a dark red fire truck at night, and you can begin to see the wide dynamic range involved with the scene. I used transparency film because that’s what the client(s) wanted for their uses. Negative film would have offered more latitude, but it wasn’t an option.

Here’s one shot straight out of the camera.

night shot of fire truck with state capital
A Madison, WI aerial with the state capital at night shot with daylight transparency film. Larry Shapiro photo

So, the main concerns here were:

  • the overall color temperature
  • the street light that I couldn’t avoid on the upper left side of the frame
  • the blown out upper area of the dome
  • the reflective stripe on the truck

After experimenting and bracketing, I was able to achieve a more balanced exposure that was delivered to Pierce. Now let’s take a look at the image after scanning the frame and doing some post production in Photoshop.

fire truck at night with a state capitol building
Madison, WI aerial after the original image was scanned and edited in Photoshop. Larry Shapiro photo

Here’s another version with a slightly different position relative to the truck. Unlike the previous shot, the capital dome is not centered directly above the truck.

dramatic photo of a fire truck at night
Balancing the capitol dome and the fire truck required multiple layers in Photoshop to create this final image of a Madison FD aerial with the state capital at night. Larry Shapiro photo

Had this assignment been conducted today, the outcome would have been considerably different with more detail in the building plus perfect lighting on the truck without the glare from the reflective striping.