Early am, on Thursday, June 4th, the truck sat at Fast Ashley’s Studios in Brooklyn. We had staged it there to prep and prop the empty, 20′ box truck as a studio on wheels. It was not without its challenges.
Given the narrow confines, I was worried about light contamination and bounce in there, so we lined the whole truck with duvetyne fabric.
We also shrouded the very back wall of the truck with a 6×6 Lastolite cloth, with speed clips that we were able to snag onto the actual truck walls. This became one studio.
Back there we put up a 3×3 Lastolite Skylite Rapid, on a c-stand, fitted with a tri-flash, bearing three SB-910 units. It became a soft, controllable source. If you notice above, there’s a foamcore drilled into the fabric. I thought initially that would be a good solution, to bounce the flashes off of that board to create soft portrait light for a bride’s profile. Not a good idea. But of course one that I didn’t abandon until after I had shot some brides, and found it wasn’t working that well. Adjusted on the fly to shooting through the 3×3. This proved more directional, and therefore controllable.
We knew the Speedlights would be tested, as would their batteries, so we used SD-9 external battery packs, and Maha chargers for the Powerex batteries I’ve been using for many years. Thank goodness for those quick chargers! We were shooting like mad, but always had fresh sets of batteries to switch in. (FYI, for a limited time, if you go to the Maha site and plug in the code JMP25 you get a 25% discount on their batteries and chargers.)
Having rigged what we could, at 5:30am we rolled into Manhattan, and staged on the grounds of the NYC Supreme Court building. (Again, thank you Captain Castellano!) That’s where we really started grappling with the lighting. I didn’t exactly know what I was getting into, but I knew it would be hectic and fun. We had people of all different sorts of skin tones, dressed in a wide variety of colors. We had just the couples, and of course I did some single portraits of brides. Then we had as many as 15 people in a wedding group, in the back of that truck! Thankfully they were family, and all loved each other, so posing, positioning, and closeness all got worked out in fine fashion.
There was nothing fancy about my lighting, that’s for sure. I put a Lastolite quad bracket into the biggest umbrella box I thought practical, which was a 60″ deal. I then ran that umbrella box through a 6×6 diffuser panel.
We did a mix of grip stuff (in a restaurant, would that be called a “grippa mista”?) of a mega boom to hold the umbrella, and c-stands to hold the other stuff, along with support clamping from Manfrotto super clamps, magic arms and Cardellini clamps. We also introduced two low bounces off a foamcore board we laid down for fill. That board got stiletto heeled to death over two days.
Also put two Speedlights behind the draped apple boxes we had for seating.
Not the best idea I’ve ever had, to be sure. A tad splashy, given the closeness to the drop, and of course, when we got a big group in there, they just got trampled. It was okay, though. I just shot through it, and letting the couples carry the day. We had rain and wind, and the backdrop ended up looking like a giant dishrag at the end of the two days, but it got us through.
In terms of control of light, I experimented with TTL, manual wireless for all the lights, and at one point, I switched for a bit to SU-4 mode, using the flash connected to the D750 with SC-29 cords as an overall trigger. That was my least successful approach, as it proved too time consuming and painful to constantly adjust the power at the various sources. The second day we had settled into more of groove, and wireless, manual directives to the flashes worked well. But it was hectic that first day! We figured it out on the fly, in the midst of shooting 27 wedding parties. (Which was good training, because the next day we shot 42.)
The camera lens combo I used both days, for every frame I made was the Nikon D750 fitted with the 24-120mm F4 zoom lens. Very good combo for a job like this. I was moving so fast that we kept the camera/lens setup constant, and then, each set had it’s own commander flash dictating the power levels of the flashes devoted to that area. I went back and forth to the gray drop and the black drop, just switching out commander flashes. I kept the second camera SD slot configured to backup, and then I would switch out one card to run to the digital tech area, and start another couple on a fresh card. That way, we could run a card shuttle quickly, but always have a master in the camera. The cards were all Lexar 64 gig, 1000x SD. No hitches in the transfers. Whew! Didn’t want to lose anybody’s wedding pix in the rush of it all.
I had some uneven stuff as we rolled into it, but then, as the couples kept coming and lining up, I found a groove. It wasn’t just the lighting, really, though that was up and down for the whole two days. It was really an emotional place I got to, where I just found more and more energy as the project progressed. It all came from the couples. That old saying, love conquers all, is inescapably true. It crosses boundaries, borders, races and religions. It is unstoppable, and formidable. It fears nothing and relentlessly gives back. It can even survive some stumbling at the camera, a dash of photographic ineptitude, some inconsistent lighting, clouds, chilly breezes and showers. And then, quite simply, bloom for a gloriously impromptu portrait in the back of a box truck.
As I said on the blog last week–fun, inspiring, giddy, hopeful.
Below, in no particular order, are some favorite frames.
Cheers to the confident future groom above. More tk…
Steve Mahaffee says
Some great results for a studio out of the back of a truck !
Joe’s next challenge, product photography inside a Honda Fit ??
thank`s for the post
What a great way to spend a few days.
Vanilla Gorilla says
We have a saying at work: ” I have been doing so much with so little for so long, I am completely qualified to do anything with next to nothing…forever” Mr. Joe, I really think you can make a studio out of a Honda Fit like the first commenter mentioned.
We married there on 9/2/80 and it still looks the same today. Brought back great memories, Joe,,
Great results for such a tight space
Kind regards from the UK
Thanks Joe, this was a great post to see how you work though all the setup steps to get such great results… More please!
Very cool project Joe, not to mention being able to provide these newly wed couples & their families with some fantastic timeless memories. I love the plan ahead but figure it out as you go aspect too.. sounds like half my days at the moment.
Amazing results from a back of a truck, beautiful images, looked like great fun. Thanks for sharing the story.
Bob Klein says
Could you tell us more about your workflow once the card left the camera? All I’ve seen was the couples got a “USB stick with toned and tweaked selects.” Thanks.
What a wonderful and challenging opportunity ! I love the photo’s and I am sure these newlyweds appreciate all of the beautiful photo’s!!
What an innovative, fun idea! Not only are these shots beautifully lit, everyone looks genuinely happy to be standing in your truck. A remarkable feat indeed! Thanks so much for sharing this experience. 🙂
Beautiful collection, Great I am also a wedding photographer in noida and i am big fan of your bog.
Stephen Sheoskie says
Nerve racking lighting setups from the start , different skin tones ,hordes of people wanting great moments captured, that is why you are Joe McNally , Nikon ambassidor and magician.great job under pressure I couldn’t imagine.