Photographing fire trucks with people

This post is more about photographing fire trucks with people from an assignment in Eureka, CA. In the last post I wrote about the first dramatic location that I used, a lumber mill with huge piles of cut logs. I really wanted to incorporate the redwood forest with the fire engine, but this presented many obstacles to creating a great shot.

First of all, although there was a small, narrow road that went through portions of the forest, we had to be able to get the engine in there somewhere without scratching it or … heaven forbid, getting it dirty.

We scoured the path with a smaller vehicle so I could not only get a feel for a potential background, but equally as important I needed to locate a vantage point to shoot from with a clear enough field of view that would allow an unobstructed shot of the fire engine.

Next … was the concept of lighting. The forest was fairly dense and only minimal direct sunlight filtered through. It was a forgone conclusion that we wouldn’t have the same lighting from the lumber mill with full sun to bring out a rich red and clean white. Although that’s what the client was expecting for the product, I was determined to offer them an alternative that was so incredibly dramatic that they’d accept the change in the norm for fire truck photography.

Once we could conquer the sight and lighting … we had to understand that the image would require a slow exposure due in part to the darkened conditions in the woods and the relative slow film speed for Fuji Velvia or Provia. This in and of itself was not an issue because photography with a Mamiya RZ67 is tripod based, and that means the shutter can remain open for a long time without fear of camera shake.  The concern was for the images where I included the firefighters. They were going to have to hold pretty still.

Pierce fire engine in a forest
Parking the engine just off the road gave me enough room to create a shot with a wide angle lens. Larry Shapiro photo

This first location required the use of a wide-angle lens, but the next spot allowed me to shoot with a 110mm normal lens.

Kenworth fire engine in a forest
Setting up this shot was like threading a needle, but we nailed it. The foreground foliage creates a natural vignette to draw the viewer’s eye right at the fire engine. Larry Shapiro photo

Since we were in the woods, the firemen changed from structural PPE to wildland PPE, a common practice in wildfire prone California. I put them all in poses that would either allow them to balance with the aid of a tool or simply a rigid stance.

firemen in a forest with Kenworth fire engine
Since I was using a very slow exposure, the firefighters were given poses that would help them hold very steady. Larry Shapiro photo
firemen in a forest with Pierce fire engine
Although dramatic, this is not my favorite image due to the strains of all the elements from the wide angle lens. The tall trees and proximity of the fire engine create distortion and lines that are somewhat troubling to me. We were in a clearing here and didn’t need to have the shutter open quite as long. Larry Shapiro photo