Photographing fire trucks

This will be the first installment in a series of posts about photographing fire trucks with people.

For several years I was contracted to provide the calendar photography for Pierce Manufacturing. I travelled on-location to the fire departments that owned the trucks which were selected for inclusion in the calendar. My assignment in photographing the fire trucks was to create compelling images which fulfilled several requirements:

  • the images had to positively display the product
  • the images needed to portray the environment of the department
  • the images had to be respectful of and complimentary to the fire department
  • the images needed to be beautiful

Fire truck photography in and of itself is not inherently difficult. Many people produce beautiful images of trucks throughout the world. The difference for me is in the details. The expectation was that no detail would be left untouched. Lighting, reflections, glare, color, complimentary scenes without distractions, and medium format transparencies that were perfectly exposed and crystal clear.

One year I was asked to incorporate firefighters into the images after I’d captured their truck by itself. This may seem like an innocuous task, but it was much more involved than one would think.

Several items to consider:

  • firefighters (like most ordinary people) are not models. Except for a small minority of firemen that I encountered, they needed direction in front of the camera.
  • inclusion of the firefighters could not detract from the product
  • creating a calendar of 12 unique images meant having different looks to minimize repetition and keep each image unlike the others
  • the firefighters needed to be reflected in a positive manner with dignity

One of the stops on this whistle tour was not very far away … Chicago.

I asked to use Buckingham fountain, and that’s where we setup early one Sunday morning.

Pierce fire truck with firemen in Chicago
Chicago Tower Ladder 10 with firefighters at Buckingham Fountain. Larry Shapiro photo

I offered the client the truck with the aerial bedded and elevated. I was conscious of the location of the aerial when it was raised so that didn’t interfere with any of the buildings in the background. The shot would have been more dramatic if the aerial had been painted white. The contrast with the gray/off white/muted buildings would have been striking … but that of course was not how they purchased the truck.

I did have concern about the fountain behind the truck. If you’ve ever been to the fountain, you might recall that it’s patterns and the water discharge is continually changing. The first image shows a nice white spray behind the truck which creates a nice contrast. By the time we were ready for the next series, the pattern had changed and became a distraction behind the outrigger and turntable … it was out of my control, and we were running out time to have the area without spectators and tourists.

Pierce fire truck with Chicago skyline
An alternative option with the aerial elevated slightly. Larry Shapiro photo

Both shots seen here with firefighters were also taken without anyone. I was using a Mamiya RZ67 with Fuji Velvia. The camera was on a tripod so that successive images were virtually identical.