Ten House is located on Liberty St., spitting distance from the World Trade Center site. They just got two new rigs, and it fell to 10 Truck chauffeur, Aaron Burns, who doubles as the house photog, to shoot a postcard of these brand spanking new machines. A postcard, and maybe a shot to put on the wall, if things worked out.
He’s a good shooter, but staging and lighting two trucks on the streets of NY at dusk, well, he needed a hand. He’s a friend of Captain Cascone’s, who was a subject of the original Faces of Ground Zero Project. (Jayson Cascone’s first day of work as a probationary firefighter was 9/11. He is now, I believe, the youngest captain in the history of the department.) Aaron mentioned he had discussed doing the picture with Captain Cascone, and my name came up.
Happy to help. The Ten House is a good bunch of guys, and luckily, it was a bit of a slow night. It didn’t start off well, of course, because it’s, well, location work. When we showed up, they were paving the piece of street where we were gonna put the trucks. Hmmm. Okay, we grabbed a bite, and came back. Paving was done, so we placed the truck. But the engine had a run, so we waited some more. And it got later, and the sky got darker. Which meant when we the trucks got into position, we had to work fast, as always. (Is there such a thing as a leisurely location shoot?)
The most important lights in a deal like this are the ones you put behind the subjects. If you just throw frontal light at a scene like this, you flatten it, and make it recede. You want the light to skate and skip around the tarmac, backlighting everything, creating highlights, and some drama. Color’s important, too. We used red, of course, and some we gelled to a tungsten balance, via a CTO.
And then we started spraying light around. There’s no real science to it. Put a light behind the truck, and bang it into the pavement. If it looks good, cool. If it don’t, move it till it does. It’s basically real rough kind of rim lighting. You ramp up the drama of course, by spraying down the street, which is easy when you’re working with FDNY. These guys generally have access to water.
Of course, once you establish a light level, there are things that will drop into black holes real quick. Like the cabs of the trucks. Two SB-910 units per cab, gelled warm, brought them to life. Again, nothing fancy. They are just sitting on the seats, pointed at the ceiling.
Radios! Here’s the snag when lighting emergency vehicles. You gotta have their emergency lights on, and once those gumball machines start spinning and flashing all over the place, guess what they trigger? All your lights, if you are on slave eyes. Hence, radios play big. Gotta hand it to Pocket Wizards. This area of Manhattan is laden with all sorts of RF and that can play havoc with sub standard radio triggers. We used every radio we had on this, from Multi-Max’s, to PW3’s, to Plus X units. They kicked butt. We hardly had any misfires, which is crucial when the light is dropping like a stone down a well and you’re half listening for the bells in the house to signal a run.
The front of the trucks was rough to light. Big windshields, right? We tried lots of places where the light looked decent, but the hit off the glass looked like a shotgun blast through my sensor, so opted to put up a raw light high and far away, roughly akin to a street light, and it played over the grilles of both trucks. Not pretty, not fancy, but it worked. We also experimented with bouncing a strong light source off the pavement, which also had some success, and produced a low glow on the front of the trucks.
Then—you look for dead spots. And if there’s time, you engage in some accent lighting. These things to me are luxury items. If you have the time, do it. It evolves the picture in a positive way, and makes it a bit more three-dimensional. But honestly, there’s been lots of times on location all I could do is get the big bones of a picture in place, and then I just gritted my teeth and shot it as best I could. At the end of the day, the shot is more important than that curlycue of light on the bumper that would have been nice.
But here, we went for it. We hung a couple more SB units in the back cab of the truck, and then clamped another to the engine, firing at the “10” painted on the truck door. Caused a minor hit, but it brought the logo out of the exposure basement. Dropped another flash in the middle back of the trucks as well. Sheesh….I think we had eleven lights out there all over the street. Sketch below.
And of course, we did a group shot of the guys. Same lights in back, with a big, hand held Octa up front. A good bunch, as I said up top.
Production pix courtesy of Annie Cahill.