Documentary shoot: Elk Creek Fire Department, Colorado.

Here’s something I dug out of the archives and was one of my favorite experiences as a photographer.  My brother-in-law, Leo Meli, was going through firefighter training.  He was an engineer involved in rocket design for Boeing but hated his job; he’d always wanted to be a firefighter.  Jobs were scarce, though, so he worked hard and trained with volunteer companies and anywhere else he could.

When we drove up that summer for our annual visit he told me he had to go train for a day.  An old house up in the Rockies was going to be torn down and they got permission to use it for some training exercises.  They used a smoke machine to fill the house, then used an infrared sensor to find “victims” and drag them out.  My favorite part was when they set a fire in an upstairs bedroom.  I got to stand on the porch roof and shoot the action from 10 feet away, careful not to take a step backwards.  That was nerve-wracking!!

I travelled light on this shoot and regretted not bringing more gear.  I only had one camera, a wide lens and zoom along with only 1 speedlight instead of my usual 8.  I made the most of what I had, though, and the speedlight came in very handy on a few shots.  I used available light most of the time because I often had to move quickly but, if you know me, I usually find natural light to be ‘meh’ because anybody can take decent photos in shade and I want something that looks different.  I’ll show you the difference in the following shots where I had a few extra minutes to think ahead:
Using remote flash here, off camera right about 10 ft from the firefighter.  I’m about 40ft away shooting through this little “window” of branches.
See how it brings out more texture?  Having the light coming from the right actually creates those little shadows in their coats. which adds depth.  If I just used shade then everything would look flat.  The only time you get this with natural light is with low sun in the “golden hour.” who has time to wait all day for that?  I like to create my own “golden hour.”
Flash also gives way more ‘pop’ in the colors and I’m intentionally creating more contrast.  No photoshop needed.
remote flash here, too.
by comparison this is open shade, not nearly as vivid
shade here, too; see the difference? It’s good but it’s not GREAT.  Sure, you can photoshop anything but my approach has always been to create the image in-camera, not fix it in post.  

This was a once-in-a-lifetime shoot and I’m so thrilled to have been there.  A couple years later Leo got hired by the Boulder Fire Department; he landed his dream job and I can say “I remember him when he was a rocket nerd…”

Here are the rest of the images from that day:

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