If you are going to absorb a piece of photography advice from someone you could do a lot worse than Ansel Adams’ often quoted “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”. With that in mind I teamed up with good friend and talented photographer Darren Skidmore to fake a desert drag race… in Peterborough!
From the outset we knew the photograph itself was never going to the the final product so care needed to be taken to light it correctly. As the final composite was going to be set in the desert sun, we needed to fill in the shadows with some flash.
This was the set up:
There is an Elinchrom Quadra pack about 10 feet behind each car at half power pumping light into the shadows to give that high noon look, resulting in this image. The double shadows are something that need to be addressed in post production.
When shooting at a car show held on an agricultural showground you are never going to have a clean background to work with. Cutting the straight edges of the cars out in Photoshop wouldn’t pose much of a problem so we concentrated on timing the shots so there we no people intersecting with Hayley.
With that, it’s over to Photoshop. Admittedly there are a few layers here but they can be easy broken down into 4 groups covering the road and background, the cars, the shadows and the tyre smoke. Most are just masked layers to drop in elements from various source photographs with a few curves adjustment layers to balance colours.
Big thanks go to Darren for taking the shot, Hayley for getting our idea, Performance Direct for their support and hospitality all weekend and of course Pip Hitchcock and Lee Freeman for building such awesome cars.
Enough talk, here’s the final image. We’d love to hear what you think.
I was confined to an exhibition hall because a monsoon had descended on Peterborough Arena and the rest of the show I was at was rained off. Not exactly conducive to photography but hey, I like a challenge and that challenge came from ‘Maxxis babe’ Sarah. Something like “Go on then, come up with an idea!” “Give me an hour” was my reply.
I walked the hall but came up with nothing interesting. The place was rammed as a some of the outside parts of Modified National had squeezed inside. The atmosphere was great with everyone trying to make the best of it but there was barely room to move.
The only real option for a location was the Maxxis VW van but just shooting the girls with it in front of the Maxxis truck under the orange hall lighting wasn’t going to cut it. So I came up with the concept of the girls traveling the UK with this as their tour bus in a sixties, Summer Holiday style.
So here’s the original image. Everything but the bus is underexposed almost making it look like a composite already. Ideally I’d have preferred the bus on a plain or at least a simpler background but I had to work with what I had.
Obviously there was going to be a fair bit of compositing involved but the first job was to get the lighting right. The only light in the hall was coming from the high ceiling lights so the inside of the bus was dark and gloomy. If I dropped that onto a bright sunny background it was going to look very wrong. So, with the idea explained to the girls, out came the flashes.
The first is tucked away in the glovebox in front of Amy, camera right. It was set to a wide angle and feathered over towards Sarah on the left to even out the exposure. It’s not perfect but it’s close enough to pull back in post production.
Lana, Nickie and Danni in the back (seriously rocking the 60’s vibe by the way!) were lit with the second flash. It’s sat on the floor firing up towards the panel behind the front seats to make a nice big light source. Being a heavily modified van, this panel was covered in orange audio amplifiers so there was a MacGuver moment when some of the sticker sheets the girls were giving out we’re used to cover the amps and make a white reflector. Without this, the colour cast would have been very strong, especially with the amount of orange Lycra in the shot!
After a few test shots I knew I had the interior lit just right but the front of the bus was far too dark so a third flash is sat on the floor facing upwards hitting the front with just a wink of fill.
After using almost every Photoshop selection technique I know I had a finished layer mask.
Applying that to the original shot gave me a nicely lit, floating bus, ready to drop onto a suitably sunny background found on a stock library.
A quick Google for an Austin Powers font and a touch of the Warp tool and the image was done.
Yes, it’s ridiculous, cheesy and hammy but it shows the sun can still shine in an exhibition hall in rainy Peterborough.
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.
Last weekend saw Modified Nationals at Peterborough Showground roll around again and with it, a chance to see how far my photography had progressed since last year. It was a similar situation to last time – a case of shoot when you can where you can, make the best of the gale-force wind and hopefully come away with something that stands out.
This is time our glamourous location was the back of the Exec building with its sandy coloured walls bouncing the intermittent sunshine around making the scene pretty even and flat.
Just out of the frame in that image is a sky full of bright cloud that I wanted to keep some detail in for wider compositions and that meant that at my sync speed of 1/200th I had to stop down to around f/11. Too much for my speedlights to act as main lights so out came the Elinchrom Quadras – one lighting the front of the car, the other hitting it broadside. The speedlights were cranked up to full power, zoomed to 70mm and pressed into action as rim lights to stop the black and blue car blending into the blue and black background and to add a little sculpting to the girls.
A few test shots later (and a little post production for this image) I had the lights dialed in and giving results like this:
Time to bring on the girls… and “camera shy” Chris the owner. For these shots the flash that was lighting the front of the car is now being fired through a shoot through umbrella.
And a wider composition to show the position of the rim lights.
By this time then Quadras were flagging and had put themselves into slow recycle mode to preserve what little battery life they had left so for the next set up I scaled down and went ETTL for the first time! Shooting a bike this time meant I didn’t need to light such a large area and my on camera 580EXII, and working in ETTL meant I could keep my aperture down to f/4 and bump my shutter speed up to 1/640th. I had my 580 dialed down to -1 2/3 stop of flash exposure compensation acting as on axis full while two 430EXII’s set at +1 stop provided rim light again.