Oh Boy, Oh Boy! I get to photograph inside a real fire house! With real fire fighters. Dancing fire fighters!
The photo was to be a pre-event for an upcoming Fireman's Ball and Fund Raiser. When I got the word, I went into high gear, hoping to do some Joe McNally, big room lighting.
Photographers Plan. The Gods Laugh: For nearly two weeks, e-mails flew back and forth, trying and re-trying to secure a location and some willing subjects. I made the decision to run with a "Princess At The Ball" theme, and had intended to pose two firemen helping a firewoman, dressed to the nines, emerge from a fire engine. I thought the idea of a woman having two possible dance partners would provide some visual interest. I assumed it would be easier to get to off-duty firemen to pose in the shot, since there would be more of them available. I even went so far as to fax this concept sketch to my Fire Department liaison. Plans were made for a 10:00 am shoot so that Cissie could join me.
Days pass. Then the wheels started to fall off.
Pot Hole #1: "We can't find female firefighters. Can we do two men?" I respond, "Wives, sweethearts, almost anybody will do."
Pot Hole #2: "We located the fiancé of a firefighter. Unfortunately, she's a teacher and would only be available after 4:00." I respond, "I'll move the date and the time to something more convenient."
Pot Hole #3: "We have two women, but only one man." I respond, "We can just reverse the roles illustrated in my sketch. Now we'll have two ladies helping a fireman out of the fire engine."
Pot Hole #4: "I am down to a single female, and we'll need to make the shot at the administration substation where she works. I can have an antique fire engine available for your use." I respond, "That will work. I'll see you there."
I arrived at 4:03 pm, planning to begin photographing at 5:00 sharp, for no more than ten minutes. it turns out that this is where the two antique fire truck are stored. My female subject, a fire inspector, is getting dressed. Two fire engines inside the station, some ambient light, but workable.
With nearly an hour to set up, I start putting my lighting solution together. Key Light is a Adorama Li-on radio control flash, set to Group A. A second Li-on, designated Group B, serves as an Accent Light to illuminate the Station Banner in the background. Two SB-800s are placed to serve as kicklights from behind. I wasn't happy with the direction the photo was taking until I dropped the shutter speed down to 1/30 of a second. The background came alive with a large highlight on the floor behind my dancers provided by the windows (not the flash) in the back wall.
Pot Hole #5: Since this was a regional effort, I was asked to avoid showing any references to a specific city in the photo. Because the fire engine on the left was marked "Burlingame", I had to take a lower shooting angle so that it wouldn't show. Then the shooting schedule was moved up because my subject had to leave at 4:45. I could have used those additional minutes, but deadlines are deadline, so I started shooting.
After I showed my subjects some of the preliminary images, I turned around to see that several of my subjects' office mates were happily recording the event on their iPhones. When I showed them our progress, they too were pleased with the results.
I would love to return to the station and attempt to right the wrongs made during my first attempt. More likely, I'll keep those lessons in mind for the next time I must make a photo under similar conditions.