I talk a lot about technique here on the blog. It’s only a very small part of photography as a whole but it’s not until actually using the camera becomes second nature that you can start really thinking about all the other stuff.
Seeing a different angle or composition, for example, is far harder to do when you’re still trying to figure out what your shutter speed needs to be.
This weeks’ photo was taken when I was standing on Brooklands corner at Silverstone. I just happened to look behind me to see a car rounding Woodcote, just visible above the barriers. I found something to stand on to get myself a little higher and saw there was a shot to be had.
The settings are pretty standard for this type of shot (1/160th at f/8 in Shutter Priority mode) but I had them already dialed in so I didn’t have to think about them. All I had to do was pre-focus on where I knew the cars would be and flick my 70-200mm into manual focus. Because of the number of barriers, signs and fence posts along my panning path, my auto focus would have had very little time to lock on to the car one it came out into the open.
The real takeaway here is that because I wasn’t chimping the back of my camera, or fiddling with dials and buttons, I was free to look around me and spot this different image opportunity. So spend some quality time with your camera – get to know it even better.
Tuesday’s Photo of the Week involved adding a skyline as a finishing touch. For this image, the Skyline was the centre of attention.
This is The Sextons Skyline, aka SKY101, aka The Heff’s car and if you have spent any time at car shows around the UK, you will have seen it before. I’ve known Chris, the owner, for a few years and when he called me and told me about a location he had in mind I was heading south the next weekend.
With a car this aggressive looking and a location so dramatic, it would have been wrong not to go all out and make the shoot quite theatrical. Because of the location I was working with as little kit as possible so this whole shot was lit with a single strobe and even though my SkyPort radio triggers worked flawlessly, if I raised my Elinchrom Quadra any higher than 2.5 metres, it started to flash uncontrollably. A little scary! Considering the substation typically handles 400,000 volts of electricity, I was impressed I didn’t have to fall back to the old flash sync cable I’d packed just in case.
Despite the huge amounts of electricity involved, the substation handles it in a very understated way. You can hear the crackle and feel it in the air but photographically speaking, there not much to see, so I hammed things up a little. OK… a lot!
Because I was working with just one strobe, I had the camera locked in position on a tripod as I walked around the car lighting each panel individually with a fairly tight beam of light from a Maxi Spot reflector. The plan was always to shot lots of individual images and then layer them in Photoshop afterwards. To save me walking back and forth between the camera and the light I was using a wireless shutter release to speed things along.
As for camera settings, if you look at the selection of images below you can see I was under exposing the ambient light by about 3 stops and letting the flash do its work. I also shot an exposure just for the headlights and another one with more ambient light in case I needed some fill for the deeper shadows. Then finally I lit the background, gelled purple from the left and blue from the right to give a little theatre.
Once I knew I had all everything I could possible need in the camera, off to Photoshop I went. I painted in the lit areas of of the using layer masks and then went to town on a Frankenstein style background. Here’s a screen capture of the final build up.
Last weekend saw 100’s of beautiful cars descend on The Downs School just outside Bristol to raise money for the neighbouring Children’s Hospice. Find out more about the charity and the cars here and check out my photos below.
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.