I had my first assignment in a hazardous waste transfer station in early November. Considering I live in New Jersey, the state with the most Superfund sites, one may wonder why that took so long. The assignment, for an IBM custom magazine, was to photograph two women who work on the IT side of things.
The facility was incredibly neat and clean and in many ways looked like countless other mixed-use office parks I’ve photographed in. It had a two-story shallow front populated with cubicles and a large single floor two-to-three-story tall back end where everything takes place. These places are always a challenge. You want to tell the story but stay away from desks, cubicles, and in this case the photo editor prefers not to have the client’s products in the shots. The exterior fronts of these buildings rarely present a nice background, they come off as more of an architectural afterthought than anything else.
One difference with this locale is that upon arrival you are given a small foldout safety card just like the one you get on an airplane. The receptionist then outlines escape routes should any alarms go off. I was not aware of any drop down oxygen masks nor anything that could be used as a flotation device.
A walk-through quickly nixed the idea of shooting in the actual transfer area. It was dark, much smaller than you’d expect, and setting up lights or locking down a setup was problematic. What immediately caught my eye was the interim space between the offices and the transfer area. It was a large open warehouse where supplies are kept and some training facilities are on site. Off to one side was an array of color coded barrels, some stacked three high and all were empty, awaiting future use. Perfect! The barrels made the connection to the company’s business, having some colors to choose from was icing on the cake, and “empty” translates into “easy to move.”
There already was a natural channel between some blue barrels and a wall of cardboard containers. I took that as a lead, we then had to move a couple of dozen barrels to fill things out and create a channel one row over to place a back light. The final touch for the setup was to bring in a large yellow drum for the second person to sit on. We knew that the two subjects had a significant height difference so the yellow drum would even that out and provide a nice contrast to the wall of blue barrels.
The subjects were each lit with their own grid spot and a beauty dish + grid provided the back light. To get the back light high enough we commandeered an industrial utility cart, placed the light stand on top of it, so that the light could easily clear the wall of barrels.