Gourmet food trucks are all rage in New York City and this past December Middlebury Magazine asked me to pay a visit to recent graduate David Belanich. David and his partners founded Joyride Trucks, rehabbing a former FedEx delivery van to bring frozen yogurt and Stumptown coffee to the streets of Manhattan.

The Joyride truck at Lex. and 52nd. Click to enlarge.

David armed with a fresh cup of joe. Click to enlarge.

Composite of three Canon 24 TSE II vertical frames. Click to enlarge.

Working the assignment:

The truck was parked on a busy midtown southeast corner which meant limited space, lots of people, and no direct light. Nice soft, diffuse light can work but there was great contrast between lit and unlit areas.

Additionally, the truck had to be exactly where it was to meet setback and parking regulations. So, I was stuck with the very large parking sign bisecting the truck.

The first order was to get some establishing shots featuring the truck, its logo, and the surrounding area. This was done with numerous lenses, varying the amount of blur visible in passing traffic, and experimenting with the tilt/shift lens to throw areas out of focus and guide the viewer to the truck.

Then came portraits of David interspersed with candids as customers arrived. Given the location, time of day, and masses of humanity I knew going into this that I would have to travel light. My battery powered Profotos would not be practical so this was a perfect job for my Canon Speedlites. I brought three with me, knowing that at a minimum I could use one on the street triggered by a second on the camera, and the third would be a backup or add some options if photos in the truck were feasible. Canon’s external 8-AA power packs were also brought along with a few small softboxes and two light stands.

The portrait above was the best of three different setups. It has the most color, interest, and sense of place. There are nice specular highlights from the truck’s LED lighting and the awning shadows David so that the effect of my light can be seen the best. He is lit with one Canon 580EX II, to camera left and almost perpendicular to his face, in an extra-small Chimera softbox with a fabric grid. The softbox is triggered by another 580EX II on camera and acting as a master flash only (it outputs no light during the exposure.)

When I’m shooting portraits I’m always watching the subject for clues – what angle do they look best from, how are they the most relaxed, what body posture do they fall into naturally. If they are nervous can I use that or should I have them do something to refresh their pose? David’s expression lit up and his body language had more energy when I asked him to look down the street and pretend that he saw someone he knew. Acting a bit silly about it helped to lighten the mood further.

The last image (reverse angle to the establishing shot) was a way to show more hustle and bustle, show some patrons, and give a sense of Manhattan via the buildings. I made many single shot images but also shot with the 24 TSE II, camera oriented vertically, and shifting horizontally so that final images could be composited afterward. This is more work in post but it has a different look than just going wider with a different lens. You can concentrate on action in different areas of the frame as you shoot and it has the feel of a larger format (you get a wider view with a longer lens.) I often shoot my personal work this way.

Middlebury Magazine: Coffee Brake.

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