If you have spent any amount of time in a firehouse, you probably, at one time or another, have had someone come in and ask you to pull the companies out so they can take a picture of them. Nothing is more photographed in the fire service than apparatus and there is probably a buff in your town that could tell you about every piece of apparatus that has ever been in your station. There are numerous web sites, books and magazines dedicated to photos of both old and new fire apparatus. Whether it is an engine, a ladder or a rescue, there is something about a fire truck that everyone loves.
Taking photos of apparatus during the daytime is relatively simple. You can set the camera to "P" and as long as you have a wide enough lens or are able to move far enough away to get the whole rig in the shot, you can fire away. One of the pitfalls of apparatus photography is that many shots look exactly the same. The apparatus may be different but they are shot from the middle of one side and show a flat fire truck. To avoid this, try to take a shot from a corner, it gives the photo a more 3-D look. Challenge yourself to find as many different angles as possible. Photograph features of rigs that are custom to those rigs, such as special paint schemes and company logos. You can decide if you want photos of apparatus standing alone or operating in front of the fire building. Try to fill the frame as much as possible but leave yourself some room around the edges. By moving your arms an inch one way or another, you can unknowingly cut off the front bumper or back step and ruin the photo.
Photographing apparatus at night can be difficult. Natural light photos of apparatus at night are nice but you need a steady hand or a mono or tripod. If you are unable to use a steady platform to take a natural light shot, then you will need to use a flash. Two problems may arise when using a flash for apparatus photography. First, if the flash is not powerful enough, the only thing that will show up will be the reflective striping. This is easily overcome by using a powerful flash that illuminates the entire area. The second problem you may run into is an unusual bright spot will appear on the apparatus, right in front of where you were standing. This spot is a reflection of the flash firing and will ruin a photo. When looking at photos, our eyes are drawn to the brightest area of the photo. If the photo is of a stand alone piece of apparatus with a dark background, we will immediately be drawn to that spot. This reflection can be avoided by standing at an angle to the rig.
Apparatus photography is very popular, firefighters and buffs are always interested in apparatus photos. The next article will discuss digital photography and imaging so that you will be able to send photos of your apparatus and fireground shots to Firehouse.com.