How I Got That Shot: Peter Leverman’s Fire Truck Lighting

July 12, 2011

© Peter Leverman

For this shot, of a volunteer fire crew chatting with local kids after a fire call, Leverman set up his camera on top of a platform on the back of a flatbed truck so he could shoot the street from a high vantage point.

Client: Enbridge

Agency: The Wax Partnership; Monique Gamache, art director

The energy company Enbridge was eager to show the other facets of the company, such as solar power, wind power, support for the arts, environmental stewardship and help for local communities. Photographer Peter Leverman says, “This was an unusual project in that the agency gave me general topics for a series of ads, and asked me what my idea would be, and then asked me to draw them.” One ad highlighted Enbridge’s support for volunteer fire departments in small communities. Leverman created a scenario of a volunteer fire crew chatting with kids after a fire call. “My concept was to have a small-town scenario that felt believable,” Leverman says. 

The ad agency suggested some towns and, working with producer Nicole Waring, Leverman used Google live view to scout locations before he chose a main street in a Manitoba village. “This one appealed to me because it seemed like it could be 2010 but it hasn’t changed that much in a long time,” he says.

Leverman continues to shoot more executions for the campaign.

Logistics: Inspired by old westerns and movies set in small towns, Leverman wanted to shoot the street from a high vantage point. “I set up the camera on top of a platform on the back of a flatbed truck. We worked out our talent and equipment positions while the sun was still up.” After the dinner break, Leverman and the crew began waiting for the sky to darken.

“Kids can have short attention spans so I tried not to wear them out by shooting too much early on, then shouted lots of encouragement once the light got really good,” the photographer recalls.

Lighting: “I could have brought in lots of lights and a big crew, but I felt strongly that using balanced ambient and available light was the way to go.”  The fire chief was  an important collaborator, turning on and off lights on the truck to light the scene. Says Leverman, “I had less control of the street lights and shop windows but was able to achieve a good balance well after sundown. 

“The boys are lit with the headlights of our rental SUV,” says Leverman. “I thought if I put strobe light or tungsten in front of them, it wouldn’t look as believable as it would if it looked like a car was pulling up to pass them. I find if you introduce strobe into natural light situations, you have to be careful, it can look fake.” 

As the sky darkened at dusk, the lighting looked better. “It looked good earlier, but everything is much more interesting and moody and mysterious and colorful at dusk. When the light was very dark to the eye, we would think we were about to finish, but I would keep looking at the image and could see it would get better.” 

Camera: Nikon D3x with the AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G VR lens

Exposure: f/4 at 1/25 of a second, 1000 ISO, focal length set to 17mm

Post production: Leverman worked with retoucher Mark Tyler in Toronto. In addition to some color correction on the headlight beams, Leverman says, “We both work on the images, with Mark doing the compositing and trickier stuff and me doing the creative look and treatment. The final image is all from one frame with the exception of the firefighter with the ladder.”

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