I’ve recently been working on a series of shoots for book publisher Dorling Kindersley. They are known for their stunning studio style books with complicated spreads out of white but whilst they used to actually photograph their subjects in a studio, digital technology now allows for the same high quality images to be taken on location. This demands creating studio lighting inside somewhere that isn’t a studio, in this case the Haynes International Motor museum in Somerset and was complicated by mixed daylight, spot and fluorescent lighting which all need to be balanced up with flash.
We had to shroud a BMW CSI in white sheets to kill reflections into the windscreen and bodywork from skylights above the car.The back sheet is there to aid the cut out process with white seen through the car’s rear window.The foreground is lit by flash with a white reflector sheet lifting the exposure in the tyres, grille and front bumper but to get the necessary depth of field it helps to use the available light and a long exposure.
One of the best ways to record the restoration of a classic car is to take photographs along the way. Not only will your pictures be a great part of the future history of the car but they may help you put it back together again afterwards of you can use restoration photography.
If you get the chance shoot some photos of the car before it is dismantled and don’t be shy about including people involved in the work in your images as it brings them to life.
Remember you are creating a record with your images so make sure you shoot all angles and try to catch as many of the processes as you can.Many workshops can be a bit dark so use a tripod , crank up the ASA and fill in the foreground with flash. Don’t get to close to any dangerous grinding or cutting and never look directly at any welding or you may damage your eyes.
Ask the craftsman to pause if he can so you can catch the image. Mix up your angles and lenses to keep your pictures interesting and don’t be afraid to go in close….if it is safe.
Don’t worry too much about your white balance, it is more important to get a set of accurate images as you document the project using restoration photography.
There are often situations when you can’t shoot a car in a studio due to budget but want the clean style that a studio shoot offers. That’s where the best option might be to build your own location car studio.I have a regular gig with F1 Racing magazine supplying them with a studio style feature each month.
I usually manage to get a car to the studio but when I can’t I build one on site. You can do this inside or outside. The advantage of shooting outside is that you can use a balance of daylight and flash to light the car and the sky as your studio ceiling. Ideally you want a bright overcast day with flat cloud cover as this will give you a smooth featureless reflection into the bodywork.
Here I was shooting the 1983 Tyrrell 012 Formula One car as driven by Michele Alboreto and Danny Sullivan amongst others and we were able to set up in the yard outside where the car is stored. You could surround the car with white cloth but I find black doesn’t show the dirt and keepLoc the reflections I don’t want to a minimum. I hung the backcloth from a rope strung between two fence posts and a couple of lighting stands I had spare and only lit the camera side of the car with my battery Elinchrom Ranger flash.
Back at home I copy the black cloth around the car and pump up the contrast to get to the finished image.
Another way to boost contrast in camera in an infinity cove studio shoot is to add black cloth or boards to reflect back into the car seen here in this very complicated Mazda RX7 shoot I did back in the days of large format film. The highlight in the side is created by black polyboards stood up between 1-3 metres back from the car creating a horizon line and forming the lowlight below and 2 or 3 lights focused onto the wall reflecting back into the side. The windscreen highlight is done by focusing a light onto the floating ceiling and then flagging it with hanging cloth on a pole or another board over the car.
White boards on the floor reflect back into the wheels where more black cloth has been used to fill in any gaps in the shadow down the side of the car and the black boards stapled to the back wall of the studio give a cut out line to the top edge of the car along the roof and bonnet.
I had an interesting problem via email from a photographer about an issue he has with his new studio he built at the back of his home. It’s an small white infinity cove studio where the floor meets the walls and the walls meet the ceiling in a smooth curve and he finished putting it in last year ,but solving photographic problems is what How to Photograph Cars is all about.
I’ve discussed studio lighting with him before and had advised to bounce his lighting, in this case flash, off the walls and ceiling. He’s having contrast issues with a very flat images coming out of the camera as well as losing the top line along the roof of the car.
This is a common problem in a studio with a low ceiling and can be solved by pointing the lights lower down the back wall or adding a line of double width black tape to the wall so that this reflects back into the roofline giving an edge .
The flatness of the image can easily be dealt with in post production by boosting the contrast in levels or curves and then whitening the background using the dodge tool set to highlights. Clone or use the healing tool to further clean up the turntable lines on the floor and, in a white cove, add about 10-15% increase in saturation to bring the colour back as it tends to get washed out.Hopefully it will help with solving photographic problems in the future.