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Photo of the Week: Contre-Jour

Photo of the Week: Contre-Jour

I love to shoot into the sun. Or to give it it’s grander name: contre-jour, French for ‘against the day’.

Typically, the rule of thumb is to keep the sun at your back so your subject is lit by it but I hope you have noticed by now, I don’t much care for typical. So why shoot into the sun? Let’s take this shot as an example.

Contre Jour

Firstly, not many people do it, so immediately that’s a box ticked. Then you get back lighting on the tyre smoke which amplifies it and with the trees in the background at Lydden Hill, you get shafts of light shining through it to add more interest. You also get the shadow of the car  in shot, giving it more weight and I really like to see highlights glinting on a car as I think it gives it more dimension.

So that’s the why, what about the how?

EXIF dataIt’s just a case of shooting as you normally would with some exposure compensation dialed in. So in this case I was in Shutter Priority mode as usual when I shoot motor sport. As this was one of the first images I took on the day, it was shot at 1/125th – a faster shutter speed than I generally use for panning but I get slower as a day goes on and I get into my groove. Being at  f11 doesn’t matter as the background and foreground are blurred nicely due to the motion so I’m not worried about not having a shallow depth of field and it makes sure the car is fully sharp.

What the EXIF doesn’t show is that I had one and a third stops of positive exposure compensation dialed in. Without this, the camera does it’s 18% grey thing and under exposes the whole scene. I’d be left with grey smoke and a very dark car.


Gymkhana Grid 2013 @ Silverstone

Gymkhana Grid 2013 @ Silverstone

Today’s post is Photo of the Week mixed with some of my favourite images from last weekends Gymkhana Grid at Silverstone.

I’ll start off with this shot of Baggsy putting on a smoke show for the crowds on Sunday. I was able to get this angle because I was sat in Brett Castle’s Team Japspeed Lexus drift car but it’s about the only shot I was able to get whilst being thrown around the arena! After seeing and hearing the amount of gravel and chunks of rubber being thrown off Baggsy’s rear wheels, it’s no wonder you see so many drift cars with cracked windscreens.

It’s not all tyre smoke and noise at Monster Energy events. The Monster Energy Girls are always on hand for a touch of glamour. This image was shot into the sun, with a boat load of positive exposure compensation to stop the girls being silhouetted against the bright sky. A lot of photos were taken of these four and I wanted something that wasn’t just another shot lit with on-camera fill flash.


This is my friend Jake on one of his practice runs. Normally when shooting motorsport I’ll be in Shutter Priority mode to capture some motion, but I’d noticed the smoke cascading off the front wheels of the Fast Japs AWD Subaru van and quickly switched to Aperture Priority to freeze the motion.


Luke Fink came over from Australia to drive for Low Brain Drifters and win the event by a mile. It’s just a pity a photograph can’t capture the earth-shaking noise this NASCAR-engined beast made! I was back in Shutter Priority for this one.


Luke was quite pleased with his Baggsy-shaped trophy too! Lots of exposure compensation dialed in again for this one as I was shooting into the sun. I really like the moment here, great expressions, the trophy in clear view and Buttsy Butler lurking mischievously in the background ready to shake up a can of Monster!


This is the ever shy and retiring Steve “Baggsy” Biagioni show boating while his ex-Japspeed teammate Paul “Smokey” Smith donuts around him. Shutter Priority again at a fairly slow shutter speed, braced against the arena concrete barrier to catch the movement of Paul’s car but still keep everything else sharp.


I think the expression on the face of Buttsy’s passenger makes this one. Slightly worried that his driver is half out of the car, driving around the arena waving at the crowd!


It’s as if the trophies for Gymkhana Grid were designed to be impossible to photograph. They are so highly polished that whatever is behind you is reflected, be it crowd barriers or a swathe of photographers in hi-vis vests. I’d had this idea in mind for most of the day and when I noticed the 1st place trophy at just the right angle on Luke’s wining car I made my move. After a bit (ok, quite a lot!) of explaining, the Monster Energy Girls were happy to line up and smile at my reflection in a shiny piece of metal!


And finally, a photo that had very little to do with me. This is Baggsy again, shot by my GoPro attached to the back of Buttsy Buttler‘s car. I put my Hero3 into time lapse mode and set it to take a shot every half second. Dotted between the 4000 images of smoke, wall and the crowd were a few gems.


Q&A: What portable lighting should I get?

Q&A: What portable lighting should I get?

I’ve been getting some question sent to me lately on the blog, Facebook and Twitter, which is brilliant. It means I can turn them into posts so everyone can hopefully benefit from the answers.

First up was Matt with a question about lighting:

Hi Simon

I found your site originally when I was looking into light painting, then I ended up here again when I was looking into different portable lighting systems. Impressive work all around! It’s definitely inspiring me more to give lighting a proper go too.I firstly ended up looking into Alien Bees or Einsteins, but once they’re imported to the UK the cheap price point quickly disappears.Anyway – I’m just curious, would you still recommend the Quadras you have? I’ve been looking into Profoto and Bowens too, it’s just tricky to decide between them all. I’ve found a couple companies that seem to be designing similar ones to Paul C Buffs lights, or at least at that price-point, but there’s practically no reviews for them and I don’t really fancy being the first to try them either.

There’s plenty of people aswell as yourself that love Quadras, so that’ll definitely make it easier to part with the cash in the future.

Cheers! Matt

Hi Matt

I know what you mean about the Paul C Buff stuff. I’d love a Vagabond Mini and a couple of Einsteins but you’re right, by the time you get them to the UK the price is far less attractive.

In answer to your question, yes, I still love my Quadras, there’s so much about them to like. They are small and light, pack a decent punch and the built-in Skyport radio triggers are very handy. The Profoto packs and a heads are gorgeous but I just couldn’t (and still can’t!) justify the cost. And to be honest they aren’t as compact and portable.

If you are just getting in to lighting though, I’d say start small. Buy some used hot shoe flashes and some cheap eBay wireless triggers and learn to use them in manual. Then, when you run out of power and find yourself limited, step up to something bigger.

Bear in mind you can use any constant light source to light paint with though. It’s a great chance to get all McGuyver with a torch!

Hope that helps, Simon

Photo of the Week – Jen & Sam

Photo of the Week – Jen & Sam

Sometimes my job sucks! I have to walk around Castle Combe taking photos of some incredible rally cars, chat with the drivers and owners, and stand trackside and shoot them in action from any angle I like. Then, to just to make matters worse, I am cajoled into photographing Jen and Sam. It’s a terrible job, but someones got to do it!

If you have read anything else on my blog before, you’ve likely heard me talking about needing to be different to stand out and when shooting the same subject as virtually everyone else with a camera at Rallyday, that becomes even more important.

Jen & Sam - The Final Image

I came up with the idea for this shot whilst walking around the paddock. I noticed people passing a trade stand promoting super-bright LED arrays were being given a nice rim light… I later noticed the same lights on the MML EvoX… parked right next to the Pace Ward / Mitsubishi Lancer Register stand for which Sam and Jen were working. That’s too much serendipity to ignore.

exifSo, with an idea in mind, I  had a chat with the MML team and they were more than happy to fire up the lights on their car. While the girls sheltered from the drizzle, I took a few test shots and dialled my settings in.

I’m at f2.8 to blur the background as much as possible and minimize distractions. ISO 500 because that’s what I had been at for most of the day and a shutter speed of 1/1000th to keep the lights on the car under control.

I was using a wink of fill flash to make sure the image didn’t totally wash out because of the backlight and to put a catchlight in the girl’s eyes. Even though the flash was in high speed sync, the fairly high ISO meant it didn’t have to push out too much light and recycled almost instantly.

Here’s what I got in camera. It’s sound enough but not what I was in my head when I thought about using the car as a rim light. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a strong a light as I wanted from the car so the plan was always to round-trip it out of Lightroom in to Photoshop for a few tweaks. Obviously I have boosted the brightness of the lights (with nothing more than the brush tool and a low flow setting) applied some colour grading and a little dodging and burning but there are a couple of other edits in there. Let me know in the comments if you spot them.

Jen & Sam - Straight out of camera

Some recent work

Some recent work

It struck me recently that between my Tuesday Photo of the Week and Friday opinions and how-to posts I’m not sharing as much new work as I should be here on my blog. So, to correct this, here are some of the images I shot last weekend.

I was lucky enough to be working with Aatomotion and Performance Direct at both the Forge Motorsport Action Day at  Castle Combe and Players Show at North Weald airfield.

First up are the shots from Castle Combe. The Forge Day is very much about “go” whereas Players is more about the “show” side of things. Almost every car you see in the paddock gets thrown around the track at some point during the day and there’s always a good show put on by the drift lads.



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Then came Players on Sunday. Despite it being a long trek for me with a dodgy weather forecast at the far end, it was well worth it. Some stunning cars on show and a great location made it fun for me as a photographer and a petrol head.
















Photo of the Week – 500 Abarth

Photo of the Week – 500 Abarth

Earlier in the summer I shot this tidy little Fiat 500 Abarth down on the banks of the river Severn facing towards the setting sun. I wanted to make the image a little different so I decided to capture the car from 2 angles in the same shot.

Final image
To capture the colour and detail in the sky I had to underexpose by about 2 stops which left the car itself very dark.

Without flash
So out came the Quadra! This time in a Maxispot – basically a big metal bowl reflector that creates a tight beam of light and throws it a good distance without much loss. This meant I could position to the light on the other side of the road and not inconvenience passing traffic – although it did get a few quizzical looks at the roadside.

As I was planning to combine 2 images, I was locked down on a tripod for this shot and framed widely enough to fit ‘both’ cars in.

Right car
You can’t see it in the images, but I a placed a lens cap on the kerb to mark exactly where to park for the second angle.

Left car
In post production it was simply a matter of layering the two images, masking out the areas I didn’t want and then applying a few contrast, colour balance and exposure tweaks. Here’s the final image again.

Final image

If you have only just found my blog, you can catch up on previous Photos of the Week here.