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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Working in Interesting Locations: 
Photographing Models in a Fire Truck Factory

by Joe Farace

I am always on the lookout for interesting locations to make glamour images, so when I had the chance to photograph gorgeous models at a fire truck factory for a calendar, how could I say no?

Shooting in any kind of factory presents lots of challenges. Obviously, there are lighting problems with fifty-foot high ceilings and mixed light sources. There were also environmental challenges for the me and models when shooting in the winter inside a hangar -like structure that's heated with the type of radiant heat that keeps the trucks comfy but not necessarily the people working inside-especially when they're wearing next to nothing!

When shooting digital images and working under weird lighting conditions, the typical and the most obvious solution is to create a custom white balance setting using the flip side of a Kodak Gray Card. (It's white in case you never noticed.) The problem I encountered almost immediately at the fire truck factory was that the color balance varied within a few feet of anyplace I shot. Just when I thought the camera's white balance was perfect, I'd take a few steps to the left and the color would look sickly. My initial solution was to play with all of the camera's built-in color balance settings and find one that worked until I finally found that using Auto White Balance, which all the digital gurus will tell you NEVER to use, worked best. Since the Canon EOS 10D and other digital SLRs, like Olympus' E-1, let you set the specific color balance in degrees Kelvin I used a Minolta Color Meter IIIF at my last shoot. I was able to get almost perfect color balance by reading the color temperature and changing the camera's White Balance settings each time I changed locations within the factory.

This photograph of Kyla Young was made with her wearing part of the "bunker" protective clothing used by real firefighters. 

The image was made with a Canon EOS 10D set at ISO 800 and the White Balance set on "Auto." The lens was a 28-105mm f/2.8 lens at 105mm with a shutter speed of 1/20th of a second at f/4.5. 

No camera support was used and no color balance tweaking was done in Adobe Photoshop CS to get the results you see here. 

(Kyla Young appears courtesy of Vapor Industries)

Photography is all about lighting so I initially tried using available light--every monolight I had available--but the results were less than impressive. Not only were there the inevitable color balance issues, but color reflections became more a problem. Remember kiddies, we are dealing with really large vehicles painted bright red, international orange, signal yellow, and blessedly and thankfully the occasional (although not enough of them) white. So color pollution is a challenge that retouching can't always solve. After four different photo sessions at the factory I have come to believe that using available light is the most cost effective way to shoot there, although I sometimes add fill flash using an on-camera Canon ETTL flash unit, such as the 420EX. This approach to lighting is not necessarily the best, but from the client's point of view it's the most affordable way to deliver the quantity and quality of images he can afford.

This image of the wonderful model Leslie was made with a Canon EOS 10D set at ISO 800 and the White Balance set on "Auto." 

The lens was a 28-105mm f/2.8 lens set at 45mm with a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second at f/4.0. 

No color tweaking was done to this image file to get these results. 

A Canon 420EX with Sto-fen diffuser attached to the head, which I consider an indispensable accessory, was used as fill because of Leslie's placement inside the rear doorway of the truck.

Let's get to the question that's in the back of your head right now. All shots at the factory are made when there are no workers present and with the full permission of the company's owners, and while one or both of them may be in the factory at the time of the shoots, they did not hang around gawking. OK, buckaroos? Safety is the most important aspect of any on-location shoot, such as the one with Leslie standing on the bumper of a fire truck. An experienced firefighter is always "on set" both as liaison with the factory and also to act as safety advisor to make sure the models are completely safe in any of the poses or situations in which they are placed. For example, this bumper was thoroughly cleaned to make sure there were no metal shavings or bits and pieces before Leslie stood on it, and a veteran firefighter was just out of camera range to come to her assistance if needed.

OK, by now you've noticed that both of the previous images have been made at ISO 800. Yuck, you must be saying, what about noise? Yeah, what about noise? The real question here is two fold: How much noise can you tolerate? And how much noise does your camera produce at high ISO settings.

Waddaymean you never tried?

Don't make any generalizations. Test your own camera. The Leica Digilux 1 I shot at an indoor car show had horrible noise at ISO 400 and under low light conditions the Canon SD10 produces noticeable noise at ISO 200 and too much at ISO 400, but the EOS 10D produces hardly more noticeable noise at ISO 800 than it does at ISO 400. In fact, it looks better, because the quality of the noise changes with exposure. And more exposure seems to soften the noise.

In past columns I've talked about noise reduction software but my favorite remains Noise Reduction Pro. It was used on the photograph of Leslie, but not for Kyla's image since I have noticed that how obnoxious the noise is depends on the image's overall brightness. Most of the time, I apply the Noise Reduction Pro Photoshop compatible plug-in at its default settings and am pleased with the results. 

The Imaging Factory also offers a $39.95 Noise Reduction plug-in, compared to the $99.95 pro version, and you can download them both for a 30-day trial and test both plug-ins on your noisiest images to see which one you like best.

'Splain this to me, Lucy... 

This shot was originally made using a custom white balance while photographing Megan, who was Miss September for the past two calendars. 

She's lying on the hood of a white emergency vehicle and is the only one in this story I had to color correct. 

This image was made with a Canon EOS 10D set at ISO 400 with a 28-105mm f/2.8 lens set at 45mm with a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second at f/4.0. A Canon 420Ex was used for fill. 

I was perched on a 30-foot high rolling platform (another advantage of working in a factory) shooting down on Megan lying on the hood of a tall vehicle wearing only her boots and hat.


Joe Farace is Colorado-based photographer/writer who has written or edited 24 books, many of which are is available through But it's not all glamour. Be sure to visit to see Joe's automotive work.

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Text & photographs 2004 Joe Farace














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