vsncouver-gilbertCanadian_Tour_0101Canadian_Tour_0099Canadian_Tour_0097Canadian_Tour_0094
responsiveslider_lol_02 The Language of Light DVD - More
MeetJoe_02 Meet Joe McNally - More
inthebag What’s in the Bag? - More

Rollin’ with The Pride of Midtown

Jul 2

In Equipment, Lighting, On Location at 9:27am

That’s what the 54 house calls themselves. They are unquestionably the most popular and photographed firehouse in NYC. Literally millions of tourists are spread around the world, at home, with pictures of this house and “the guys.” In terms of runs, they are the busiest fire company in all of NY.

The guys are incredibly patient and easygoing about the constant stream of pedestrian traffic that flows in front of their doors, and the resultant, endless requests for photos and a smile. They are a great bunch. I got to know a few of them right after 911. One of my friends is Rich Kane, the driver of 4 truck. Rich is a veteran firefighter, good guy, terrific photog, and resident firehouse sex symbol. Mike Corrado of Nikon is also his good friend (they shoot a lot of sports together). So a few weeks ago, Mike, Rich, Brad and I got 4 truck together with a D700.

Strategy wise, it’s good to do this with a ladder truck and not an engine, cause as you will see, the up top ladder gives you a base of operations and a sturdy, extended platform to hang your rig off of. The gear needed to do this:

4 Bogen Magic Arms, each with 2 Bogen Super Clamps; 1 heavy duty Gitzo monopod; 1 SC-29 cord; 1 D700, 1 14-24mm f2.8; SU-800 trigger; 3 SB800 flashes; Justin Clamps; gaffer tape; gels; ball head; metal cable lanyards; zip ties; Pocket Wizards. (Couple notes later about ball head and PWs.)

Okay. Get what you figure will be the main light positioned first. That pretty much is standard placement, something on the dashboard, affixed with a Justin Clamp, and a warming gel. The flash from here, muted and adjusted properly, simulates instrument panel glow, at least in theory, though these shots have been done so often, everybody knows a strobe is down there. Okay, first result.

Would you let this man drive a fire truck? Hmmm….

Okay, one light is not enough. The cab of the that truck is large, and black. More punch is called for, or the driver will look like Dracula on a high speed run to the blood bank.

Had the notion I could maybe hide a light behind and somewhat obstructing the rear view (which is okay, given the way Richie drives:-). This light got a heavy red gel, and then some gaffer tape treatment, and a series of zip ties to make sure it didn’t go missing during a run.

All the while, you have to finesse camera placement and angle. I’m racked out to 14 mil on the zoom and the camera is upside down for convenience sake. (Hey, it don’t know.)

First few tests showed we had to bury a third light in the cab, filling the passenger side just a touch. Again, trying to avoid the big black hole in the photo type of deal. But, the system is running CLS/TTL so the 3 receivers have to see the impulse from the SU800. We hot shoed it–no go. This is where the SC29 is invaluable. Pop the SU trigger onto the 29 cable and hook it to the camera, then run that puppy out along the monopod, lock it into place with another Bogen Super Clamp, and boom, the strobes see the signal and you still have full wireless TTL. I could have locked the strobes into SU-4 mode and popped ‘em with PWs, but then I’ve got 3 units to ratio manually, and I’m crawling all over the truck, sometimes in the street off a run. Rather play with the values from one source, the SU800, and program strobe punch from there. It’s talking to the camera, and vice versa, so there will be a natural variation to the feel of the light as the truck zooms from light to dark areas of the street.

The camera’s out there, right? I’m pretty nervous, cause NYC streets ain’t exactly the autobahn. More like a donkey cart trail. Lots of bumps. But then I relax. It’s Corrado’s camera! I use the Manfrotto Hydrostatic Ball heads pretty religiously, but opted here for the Really Right Stuff system, cause I was unsure of whether I would go horizontal or vertical, and the RRS L bracket seemed to make sense. Mistake. (It’s the little things you don’t think of , ya know?) The L bracket I had for my D3 didn’t configure to the bottom of the D700. Man I had to give that set screw a pretty good, well, screwing, to get it to lock and then it was still kinda fragile looking and cattywampus. That’s where more zip ties and cable lanyards came in. I didn’t want the camera disappearing under the wheels of the rig, or, worse, flying through Richie’s windshield. (In the interests of safety and given the fact this was a live fire vehicle, Mike, Richie and I rehearsed getting the clamps and the monopod off the ladders. We got it down to about 30 seconds, within limits in case of a call.)

I tell ya something that saved me. The big LCD in the back of the D700. I had to check angle and exposure periodically, out in the street, and looking at a small, dark monitor whilst standing on the bumper and arching backwards hanging onto the wiper blade of the truck would have made for a long night. Also, perfect type of shot for full frame. Nuff said.

If you notice the background to some of these production pix, you’ll see it is a memorial. Engine 54/Ladder 4/Battalion 9 lost 15 men on 911. It was a rough time. Firehouses are resilient places, though. They bounce back. Lots of banter. They hang together and love each other like brothers, and just like brothers, cut no slack and take no prisoners when it comes to dishing out grief. If you are short, or bald, or have a big nose, and maybe are packing a few extra pounds, it’s well, noted. The operative phrase here is, “Don’t limp.”

Especially true for probie firefighters, who join the house and have to jump to for everything during the course of their probation. One of the things I did that night for the house was shoot new head shots for a bunch of the guys. We had a recent addition to the house in front of my lens, and see the shadowy figure in the background, high on the truck, bucket in hand? It is called, no mystery here, “bucketing.”

He smelled the prank and stayed dry. But a firehouse is not for the faint of heart, or the easily damaged. Guys will be guys. A veteran of the department I know pretty well used to go fishing to pass the time. To do this he would affix a dollar bill to a well worn wallet and attach the wallet to fishing line, crack the firehouse door, slip it out on the sidewalk and see what he could reel in. Most folks got a laugh and appreciated the joke, though he did say there were some interesting reactions when he did this at a house right next door to a methadone clinic.

Probie’s get lots of attention. Witness the power sit up. At some houses I’ve heard about, the competitive and eager to please new guy is told it is a strict house workout routine to push out sit ups while being restrained via a towel over the forehead, held by another guy. Invariably, the towels slips momentarily over the fnugys eyes, while he continues to try to power through the situp. While blinded by the towel, another firefighter, usually the biggest guy in the house (one house had a guy so big they called him “double date”) strategically locates himself in a squatting position over the hapless probie. He of course is buck naked. The towel intentionally slips and the new guy does an accelerated face plant into a butt crack. This is called fun.

Back to the streets. Had lots of misses, but a couple of real good hits. The other reason to work with 54 house photographically is that their zone includes Times Square. Talk about Friday night lights! The streets are almost daylight bright, except it’s neon.

I’m in the cab behind Richie, driving the camera with a Pocket Wizard. Lots of frames, cause you never know. You’re making what is hopefully a series of educated guesses. And depending on lots of variables to hopefully tip your way.

I can’t comment all that intelligently on the D700 (Pipe down right now, Mike. Corrado will read this and shrug and say, what else is new?) because I had it in my hands for only a few minutes until I put it at the end of a pole and hoped for the best. But, strategically, it was a great solution because you have the bright LCD, 12.1 megapixel FX (full frame) CMOS sensor, terrific metering system…in short, a package that gets most of the way to D3 in a smaller, lighter body. That played huge in my head as I watched the camera dropped into space on the end of a boom pole that was waving around like a swizzle stick.

We’ve made big prints of these shots for the house, though, as one of the guys riding in the truck commented, “Oh, yeah, that ‘s my wife has been asking me for, big prints of Richie Kane driving the truck. She’ll be so pleased.”

They’re a good bunch, and I certainly represented myself better that Friday night than I had in our most recent encounter. I had gotten one of those contracts, you know the ones, that tell you they are not going to pay you any money, but they are taking from you all rights to your intellectual property, in perpetuity, in the known and yet to be discovered universe (I tell ya, the reprints rights on the moons of Jupiter are going to be a gold mine, hang onto those.), for all time, yet again, and furthermore, and by the way, we own your house, too. Instead of fire bombing that particular publication, I went to Times Square and stripped down to my u-trou with a couple of pithy things written on sandwich boards.

Just when I’m at my most undignified (a not infrequent condition) 4 Truck rolls through Times Square. “Hey Joe–what the f^%%$#(*&^%%k are you doin’?” Oh well….

Hey there’s links like crazy to the D700 and SB900 out there. Those links will give you more technical skinny than I can. I just feel lucky we have tools like this. I mean, I started with a Nikkormat, and then my first motor driven camera was an F. As Marty Forscher used to say, “you can hammer a nail with that camera.” True enough, but that wasn’t what it was for, was it?

Availability is always an issue in the early days of stuff. Got a call yesterday from Jeff Snyder, who I mentioned in my blog yesterday. Jeff is one of us. He is in the trenches, shooting and experiencing all the ups and downs of shooting that we do, so he is, IMHO, the real deal. He is just about single handedly responsible for taking his (relatively) new posting at Adorama and using it to catapult that operation more into the forefront of our industry. Witness the Sportsshooter site. More on Jeff and Adorama in a day or so. But he advises contacting him direct via his email—jsnyder@adorama.com. He’s like the man behind the curtain, pulling levers, making connections and working his butt off to get gear to people.

More tk……

62 Responses to “Rollin’ with The Pride of Midtown”

Richard Cave says:

on July 2, 2008 at 9:55 am

Good post, wish I had opportunities like that. must be a bit hairy watching all that expensive hardware bouncing around the end of the boom.

Looking at that picture in the sandwich board and seeing DH legs from strobist is having dodgy looking legs a genetic predisposition to being a good phot?

Because I have horrid looking legs also…

T lehman says:

on July 2, 2008 at 10:04 am

Joe

Since you were having trouble with the units seeing the controller, did you consider trying the radiopoppers in this set up?

Ken says:

on July 2, 2008 at 10:14 am

Joe,

Great article today. Thanks.

Please tell your readers Nikon has announced firmware updates on the D3 and D300.

Ken from KY

Mags says:

on July 2, 2008 at 10:19 am

Great post!!!!!! These are probably the best images that show NYC fire dept in action! wonderful! and a great opportunity to hang with the firefighters.

Lori Barbely says:

on July 2, 2008 at 10:32 am

Incredible and very inspirational! Thanks so much for sharing :)

sid says:

on July 2, 2008 at 10:40 am

did you say D700?? awesome..

Awesome shoot btw.. looks like a lot of work and a lot of fun!

Mike Lao says:

on July 2, 2008 at 10:44 am

Joe,

All I can say is – WOW! You tested the D700 and showed the practical use of it! Thanks for sharing with us how you did the shoot. The photos are really amazing! I’m a big fan… I have your book and I’m really learning a lot from it.

Mike

Mike Bateman says:

on July 2, 2008 at 10:54 am

Joe, this was a great story. Your stories are always full of great ideas and interesting tidbits of information. For example, the power sit up. I need to remember that one. =)

Terry Reinert says:

on July 2, 2008 at 10:55 am

I have to tell you… the stuff you pull off… it is absolutely amazing. Sometimes I think that the shoots that I do are big productions… setting up a few lights, a reflector or two, and getting a model set just right… then I read your blog and see that the things I do is child’s play!

Great photos from the truck! As always, you nailed it. Thanks for the behind the scenes look and the details as to how you made this happen. It is very helpful in many ways… first of which is helping me realize I have a whole lot more to learn!

Sergei Rodionov says:

on July 2, 2008 at 11:26 am

8) Cool shot with sandwitch board..

But seriously – thanks for sharing (and twice so – b/c everyone is so hyped up about D700 – nice to see you doing some real work with it, instead of shooting test targets and making weird conclusions) ..

Interesting write up on how you did that shot with truck… Pity that PW still got no way to trigger me E- system remotely.. :(

Michael Tapes says:

on July 2, 2008 at 11:26 am

Hi Joe,

Enjoy your work, your inspiration and all the great knowledge that you pass on to all. Well done! Thanks.

I also am curious why you would not use the RadioPoppers in a situation like this. Seems like what they were made for. To use CLS at its fullest, without the line of sight and other IR issues. Thanks..

Michael Tapes
WhiBal

Ken says:

on July 2, 2008 at 11:36 am

Joe,

Great post, it would make my stomach hurt to put a piece of expensive equipment on the end of a pole and then hang it in front of a fire engine while it drove around Time Square.

You truly inspire me. Thank for sharing.

Ken Worley

David Apeji says:

on July 2, 2008 at 11:47 am

Hi Joe, I am amazed you haven’t said anything about your new book (or did I miss it?). I pre-ordered it anyway – is it really shipping in December 2008/Jan 2009?

Bob Koss says:

on July 2, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Joe,

I’m trying to decide between a new D300 or a D700. Any comments on the 95% viewfinder of the 700?

Lewis Woodyard says:

on July 2, 2008 at 4:44 pm

You get to play with all the fun toys. Or is that tools?

owen-b says:

on July 2, 2008 at 5:59 pm

Hi everyone – love this post, very educational, but as a newbie to lighting off camera, although I understand most terminology the following section confuzzled me:

This is where the SC29 is invaluable. Pop the SU trigger onto the 29 cable and hook it to the camera, then run that puppy out along the monopod, lock it into place with another Bogen Super Clamp, and boom, the strobes see the signal and you still have full wireless TTL. I could have locked the strobes into SU-4 mode and popped ‘em with PWs, but then I’ve got 3 units to ratio manually, and I’m crawling all over the truck, sometimes in the street off a run. Rather play with the values from one source, the SU800, and program strobe punch from there.

What’s an SC29?
What’s an SU trigger?
What’s the cable/trigger set-up and how does it work?
What’s SU4 mode?
Why would you be setting levels manually using PWs, but not have to do that using an SU800?

Sorry for n00bness, appreciate your patience :)

Andy Tan says:

on July 2, 2008 at 6:57 pm

Joe – Thanks for a very enjoyable post.

I’m studying photography full-time and these ideas and concepts are an inspiration.

:)

mungkey says:

on July 2, 2008 at 11:41 pm

Great post joe! Thanks for sharing your ideas. Always love reading and learning new things from you.

Black Shadow says:

on July 2, 2008 at 11:49 pm

A very entertaining and informative read Joe.

One part caught my eye – the part about “those contracts” as I find myself being presented with them more often. What advice do you have for dealing with them?

ian says:

on July 3, 2008 at 7:48 am

For those asking why not use the poppers… Perhaps Joe was requested to find a solution strictly using Nikon gear? maybe we’ll see it in an ad for the D700/sb900?

Heck if someone loaned me the latest gear, I’d feel compelled to use their stuff too!

Mark K_NJ says:

on July 3, 2008 at 8:20 am

Thank god for zip ties. You can pretty much get through life with zip ties, gaffer tape and a prayer.

Great production and execution as usual. Hopefully the 54 won’t have to be called in when your fire up your 4th of July BBQ…

Michelle says:

on July 3, 2008 at 9:09 am

Wow Joe, I thought the 700 was a myth, it sounds like a great rig, and the photos look great. Shame you had to strip again for a rights grabber, I’ve just been burned by one of those. Bleugh.

Keep on truckin!

debbi smirnoff says:

on July 3, 2008 at 9:32 am

LOL, I want to marry you!
Debbi

Dave Hutchinson says:

on July 3, 2008 at 6:26 pm

Joe, you are too much. Most of us wish that we had your energy and creativity to get it done! Great work! Thanks for sharing your secrets! -Dave-

Will says:

on July 3, 2008 at 7:34 pm

Now that is how you test a new camera!

Hafiz says:

on July 3, 2008 at 10:47 pm

Wow! You already used it? Here in my country, there were just starting to whisper about the Nikon D700 and SB-900. Great camera indeed. p/s: From the details, D700 is not a semi-pro D-SLR, but a small pro to be exact! Yeah, I watch your photography video on youtube. Truly amazing!

Jacob says:

on July 4, 2008 at 10:09 am

Fantastic work Joe, it really does inspire me. You are the lighting guro! Thanks for sharing all of your information and insight.

john fowler says:

on July 4, 2008 at 5:05 pm

D700!?!?!?!!!!!

Mark Scheuern says:

on July 4, 2008 at 5:38 pm

I assume the small amount of motion blur on the exterior (non-strobed) part of the truck was caused by your rig not being perfectly rigid. I like it but I wonder if that was deliberate. Beautiful stuff and I have pre-ordered your new book.

Danielle says:

on July 4, 2008 at 11:01 pm

Joe, I love to read your blog and learn from everything you do. You work inspires me to continue learning. What makes it even better is that I ALWAYS get a good laugh! You are hilarious!

Dudley says:

on July 5, 2008 at 5:15 am

I have posted the following question on Strobist Flickr and was urged to ask you direct so here it is:

I’ve been watchng some of Joe’s lessons on Kelby Training Online. He is in the studio and almost always seems to have his camera set to 1/60th at f/5.6. I understand an aperture choice for depth of field required but why would he use a shutter speed of 1/60th, particularly with a 70-200 lens? He is shooting against a black background so it really is a mystery to me. I would have set the D3 to 1/250th, it’s synch speed. Any ideas anyone?

Eric says:

on July 7, 2008 at 12:45 am

What a fun shoot, and a great write-up. I like the motion blur and think it an interesting, perhaps accidental tool to keep in the toolbox. It lends a much busier feel to everything while you still have the sharp face to anchor to.

Fernando Hiro says:

on July 7, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Mr. McNally, I’m a fan of you from São Paulo, Brazil, every day I visit your website, only to learn a little bit more of Photography. Recently i bought your DVD Speed Of The Ligth, but here in Brazil is very dificult to have your products.

I hope you can visit us sometime with one of yours Workshops, because the first student, i guarantee that will be me.

Regards

Fernando

Ken Anderson says:

on July 8, 2008 at 7:18 am

What is there to say? Much respect compadre………

Mitchell Franz says:

on July 12, 2008 at 1:27 pm

That sign should also have photo credit with food and cough syrup because a lot of people will be like well we will give you credit. Keep up the good work Joe.

Dr Bouz says:

on July 13, 2008 at 7:29 am

Mr McNally
Al compliments for you from Belgrade – Serbia
Dr Bouz

reza khalili says:

on July 16, 2008 at 1:16 pm

woow.the best.

Jeffrey Hogan says:

on July 19, 2008 at 8:15 pm

What brand is that ball head?

Jimin Lai says:

on July 20, 2008 at 1:15 am

Hi Joe, incredible stuff.. I’m thinking of switching over to Nikon myself. I think they’ve finally got it right…

KenQueuet says:

on November 29, 2008 at 7:46 am

Joyce says:

on March 5, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Is nice to see some good articles like this one, thank you.

Kyle Pochek says:

on March 20, 2009 at 9:22 am

Joe

I actually had a idea close to this because my father is a police officer in PA. I am trying to incorporate the emergency lights into the photo but not have him be black because of the intensity of the lights. I was thinking of mounting a D200 on the push bar of the cruiser and use a tokina 10.5 so i get a good wide shot. The only part that i am stuck at is where and what flashes to use, i have a sb-28 sb-600 and an sb-800 and i can trigger all of them. Any advice would be more than appreciated.

-Kyle

Kyle Pochek says:

on March 20, 2009 at 9:22 am

Joe

I actually had a idea close to this because my father is a police officer in PA. I am trying to incorporate the emergency lights into the photo but not have him be black because of the intensity of the lights. I was thinking of mounting a D200 on the push bar of the cruiser and use a tokina 10.5 so i get a good wide shot. The only part that i am stuck at is where and what flashes to use, i have a sb-28 sb-600 and an sb-800 and i can trigger all of them. Any advice would be more than appreciated.

-Kyle

Framkalla bilder says:

on March 19, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Hi, that was without a doubt an awesome read. I had actually been searching for a photo printing related article for a while now. Great! Is there a way to subscribe? because I can’t seem to find the information anywhere.

Steve Gold says:

on March 31, 2010 at 12:21 pm

I seriously can’t believe it. I pray Wayne Rooney is ok for the world cup!

framkallning says:

on August 26, 2010 at 7:11 am

Great post!!!!!! These are probably the best images that show NYC fire dept in action! wonderful! and a great opportunity to hang with the firefighters.

einstein says:

on July 20, 2012 at 10:17 am

Its great as your other posts : D, appreciate it for putting up.

Leave a Reply