It’s advice you’ll see over and over again, not just from photographers but from people in all walks of life: If you want to stand out from the crowd, do something different.
Now while I am not lauding this as the great photograph ever taken, but I like to think it’s a good example of “different”.
The “Paparazzi” Image
Michelle, owner of this particular drift project S14, was proud to have her car on a stand at Modified Nationals and asked me to take a photo. Unfortunately the car was indoors with no chance of moving it so I had to work with what I had.
The scene as it was – Photo courtesy of Steven ‘Jonesy’ Jones
At some point during the weekend, an image taken by David Hobby during the shoot out at last years Gulf Photo Plus popped into my head. The idea being to make the car look like a celebrity by surrounding it with ‘paparazzi’. Normally I work with manual flash and simple radio triggers but only having two with me meant I chose to use my 580EXII as an ETTL commander to trigger any available Canon flashes… of which I had only one! So the first challenge was to approach as many Canon toting photographers as possible, explain the idea, and get them in position. (Something I wouldn’t have done a year ago, but thanks to photography I’ve been gradually making my comfort zone larger.) There are even a few Nikonian friends in the final shot with flares from Canon flashes cloned over their non-firing strobes in post.
On the technical side, I had my 580EXII on camera running the show and providing fill flash at minus 1 stop. All the slave flashes we’re set as ETTL slaves in the same group and set to +1 flash exposure compensation to give a nice bright rim effect to separate the black car from the black curtain behind and to light the roof and bonnet.
What could I have done better? Looking back on the image now I can see I should have had more light on the nose and the door and a smaller aperture would have made better star bursts from the flashes and highlights. But all in all, as it was a spur of the moment shot, I’m pretty pleased, and I have learnt what to look out for if I ever do it again.
I’ve known Michelle Westby from the car show scene for quite a while now but it wasn’t until Autosport in January that we finally set a date to shoot together – part of my “Actions, not though” motto for 2011.
Unfortunately, the weather let us down a bit so a lot of our ideas were rained off but luckily I have a range of sheltered locations to call on. (In fact I can’t recommend building up a notebook/online list/map of local locations enough).
Michelle Westby – Lit from camera left with an Elinchrom Quadra in a 70cm Deep Octa
By the time we’d finished fitness themed set at the first location the drizzle had begun to fall so it was time to head underground. Fortunately, we had parked under a road bridge that made a nice grungy background for something a bit more of a fashion look.
Michelle does fashion! Lighting is pretty easy to work out here from the shadow.
With the rain still falling it was time to move on and shoot Michelle in something a bit sexier in a location she’d specifically requested. Those of you that have been here for a while may recognise this location from my shoot with Georgia Graham.
As well as modelling and doing promo work, Michelle is a keen drifter so she brought her Nissan 200SX S14 for a bit of light painintg. One pub lunch and a car wash later, it was time to shoot the S14. Chelle had seen the light painted test shot I did of my car and wanted the same for hers but as it was still too light to get the long shutter speeds needed we did a quick rig shot. Wolfrace Wheels have kindly donated the wheels for this car so I wanted to keep them prominent in the shot by turning them away from the camera. As the Nissan is set up to drift, it has had its differential welded making it nigh on impossible to push in a circle so the engine had to be kept on. This meant getting a sharp shot at the shutter speed needed to give enough blur was trick. The location wasn’t the most exciting either (a car park) but after a bit of Photoshoppry I am quite pleased with the result.
By now, the sun was fading fast so it was time to roll into the studio and set up the camera on a tripod. It’s widely stated that shooting a black car is harder than any other colour and I can definitely verify that! Using the same technique, I shot my white car with just 3 exposures and 3 simple layers in Photoshop.
This was a little trickier! 12 layers and 10 layer masks so I could paint in certain parts of each image to get the right reflections on the bodywork.
Masks and Layers
I (and thankfully Michelle too, after driving all way way from the South East) think the results are worth it.
I’m lucky enough to have access to what can loosely be called some studio space (a huge empty room, large enough to get a car in that gives me completely control of the ambient light) so last night I tried a little automotive light painting.
So armed with nothing more than a camera, tripod and an Elinchrom Quadra with the modelling light on although any constant light source would do though.
I’d like to say that was all done in camera but it’s not. There are 3 individual shots that have been composited to make that final shot. Firstly, because of their brightness relative to the Quadra’s LED modelling light, I shot the headlights.
Then it was time to light the car. After a few tests with various softboxes I found the most even coverage came from simply walking around the car with just the Quadra head and 18cm reflector. A 13 second exposure at f/8 gave me time to walk fairly slowly around the car. The first shot below is a lap with the light held fairly low to get light onto the doors and the second was as high as I could reach to bounce some light of the car roof.
For this pass (another 13 second exposure) the light was held higher to thrown light onto the roof of the car.
Once in Photoshop, I layered the 3 images in Lighten mode and did a little burning to darken down the walls in the background. I also added and masked a desaturation layer to remove the slight yellow tinge from the fog lights and remove a colour cast from the wheels and floor. The result:
For a first attempt a light painting a car I am pleased, although looking at the final image, I see a few things I’ll look out for next time.
Ash Manton’s Type R Civic has been part of the UK modified car scene for several seasons and keeps coming back with a fresh look each year. It’s current stripped out, carbon clad, airbrushed look has just won it the cover feature in Max Power.
As it’s had the Max photo shoot treatment, I wanted to try something different. Enter Georgia Graham, Ash’s girlfriend, showing that hell really does hath no fury like a woman scorned!
The plan here was to go for a dark and moody look so out came the Quadras again to enable me to stop down far enough at my max sync speed to take the daylight – f/9 at 1/200th did the job. One bare, CTO gelled strobe was positioned camera left adding a rim light to both Georgia and the car to separate them from the dark background and a second strobe, in a 70cm Deep Octa in “beauty dish mode”, as the main light.
Last week I finally pulled the trigger on some more powerful lighting.
Originally I was drawn to the Elinchrom Quadra’s but the price and the reported issues (poor battery clips and no protective caps for the heads while in transit) put me off. So I looked into alternatives like the Bowens TravelPak system and the Lencarta Safari but held off from making a purchase because both were far bulkier. Then Elinchrom released the Quadra RX – basically a Quadra with bug fixes!
So far I can’t praise these Quadra RX’s enough – solid build quality, power, speed and the ability to adjust power from camera.
The only slight downside are the included reflectors. They don’t focus or control the light at all, giving almost 180 of spill as you can see in the image below. I shall be ordering the 18cm ones today.
Stay tuned for some more sample images and opinions.