Photography workshop for journalists

Last week I led a car photography workshop for the Guild of Motoring Writers at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu.

GOMW group
GOMW group

It was designed to cater for journalists who are asked to shoot their own photos on car launches and for magazine shoots. As much as photographers might not like this it’s a fact of life that budgets are being squeezed and we are all being asked to do more for less.

We had a great mix of young and old, classic and modern car writers who learnt everything from the rule of thirds, choosing sympathetic locations, featuring our two vehicles, a Peugeot 3008 and MGB as well as brushing up on their panning and cornering image skills.

The afternoon was spent in the museum dealing with mixed and low light situations and planning a portfolio of images suitable for a magazine to include establishing shots , informative photos and details as well as the star cars on display.

GOMW group
GOMW group in the museum

Porsche 911 cornering

I was recently on a magazine shoot with this stunning restored 1973 Porsche 911 Targa in the home counties around London.It’s often difficult to find decent driving roads to shoot the necessary action shots required for a full feature shoot in the South East so it was a great to find this open corner on a common just a few miles from the owner’s home.

This sequence shows how the car progresses through the corner.I use my Canon EOS 5DSR set to high speed motor-drive mode for cornering but only shoot in short bursts of 4-6 frames as the files are large and buffering occurs. The shot above shows the approach to the corner which was a full 90 degree bend.

The idea of a cornering shot if to show the handling capabilities of the car and the critical point where this is best demonstrated is when the car changes direction from coming towards you in the frame to crossing the viewfinder. The frame above with this head on view is not quite there.

Without panning you’ll need a shutter speed of 1/500th second or more to freeze the car.The faster the speed of the car the faster you’ll need to set your shutter speed, up to about 1/1250th second when the car will be frozen and look like it’s parked on the corner if you are not careful.This was a fairly slow corner so I shot it at 1/640th second which at 200ASA on a cloudy day gave me an aperture of F5.6 on my 70-300mm lens. The frame above here is nearly there.

You will need a good driver to get the best out of a cornering shot. We didn’t want tail hanging out …loss of grip doesn’t show handling and the road wasn’t suitable here. Ideally you’ll want to get a low perspective and be able to see all four wheels. The shot above is usable but improving…..

Porsche corner-1
Porsche corner final

…to this frame which shows the front inner wheel almost lifting and a 3/4 view of the car pin sharp with with the tyres blurred.

Setting up a studio in a museum

Studio museum

I’ve just come back from shooting for a  couple of days at the fantastic Donington Grand Prix collection. I have a regular double page studio spread in F1 Racing magazine and have built up a large archive of F1 cars photographed in the studio style but need to keep adding to it all the time.

Thinwall Special -2w
Thinwall Special -2w

I had 4 cars on my shooting list in my museum studio and fortunately 3 of them were together in one hall so I set up my black background cloths and trusty Bowens monolites and got to work. I use a wireless Elinchrom Ranger flash system to trigger the other flash heads and a strong back light usually made up of a pair of soft boxes to give depth and add highlights to show shape.

Cars on the list were: 1950 Thinwall Ferrari Special, 1954 Vanwall VW2, 1955 BRM V16 Mk2 P30,1983 Williams FW08C

BRM V16-1-w
BRM V16-1-w-un-retouched image

The first 3 cars were green or dark green which, without careful lighting can lose their colour and end up looking black. The way around this is to use the flash heads with only spill kills on them and point the lights straight at the car. Be aware of where the reflection of the light, or pings, as I call them , appear on the body work.You can’t avoid these but make sure they reflect into a panel that can be easily retouched and don’t spread onto any detail that might be lost. The BRM was darker than the others so I set up a white sheet and banged a flash head through it to give a broader highlight along the bonnet.

Vanwall VW-2-w
Vanwall VW-2-w

Comping two images together

One of the images I try to shoot if there is time is a locked off shot of the whole car with the bonnet on and off comping these together to give a shadowing effect of the engine through the bonnet. It’s critical that you don’t move either car or camera between images to maintain the size and angle for the post production final image to be a success.

Thinwall Special comp-w
Thinwall Special comp-w

Setting up an archive to market your images

I had a contact from an old friend now retired,who worked as a top level car photographer for the magazines in the 1980’s and 1990’s and has 1000’s of un-archived images,mostly transparencies in his attic office.

I’ve been banging on about him sorting his  archive for years so it was good to hear he was making a start. He asked for some advice on how to go about it .

Goodwood Revival start with Stirling Moss
Goodwood Revival start with Stirling Moss 1998

Here is what I said to him .

Most important thing to add value to you archive is to catalogue it….ie do a searchable low res’ spreadsheet that you can email to potential clients…i.e. mags,publishers,picture libraries etc with make,model,year, colour,specific history ,search for software that may be worth investing in to do this where you can embed thumbnails of a few images for each car.I need to find good software for  this too so if you find it let me know…!

Try to think what might sell as well as what you like……don’t scan everything ,prioritise a couple of examples of each shoot ,with themes…I do F1 Cars,Le Mans Car,Super Cars etc….those you do scan need to cleaned up and scanned to at least 60MB.jpeg is best to be sent via wetransfer or Tiff for long term storage.

Ford Edsel in a junk yard
Ford Edsel in a junk yard

If you have Photoshop or similar photo managing software , add the metadata into the image info’ files under the images drop down top menu.As well as copyrighting your images you can add a few details here.There is a pre-formatted schedule that you can fill in with your contact info’ so you don’t have to write it out each time.

Buy a couple of external hard drives…these Western Digital drives are good value and don’t need their own power.

You can now buy up to 3TB but I go for the 2TB and double up with 1 kept away from home. Also these are cheap enough to replace every 5-8 years before they fail which you will have to do. You could consider getting a more expensive but stable solid state hard drive 1TB =£300.

Mercedes stand at Essen car show
Mercedes stand at Essen car show 2014

As well as thinking about finding an agent….look at lodging images with Alamy or other online image library…..I have images with them and they can do well. Most important thing with any online archive are the tags you add so that folk can find your work….follow their guidelines and look at other peoples work.Otherwise try the large picture agencies,Rex,Getty,LAT etc.Any agency will take at least 50% of any earnings so be prepared for this.

Finally…..If you get any good tips on where to sell work I’d like to hear about them.I could spend 23hrs a day archiving my work and probably will do when I retire …it’s addictive  !

Top 5 quick Photoshop tools to improve your images

I was out on a winter’s day shoot up on Dartmoor the other day with a fantastic 1934 MG K3, one of only 33 cars made.Built for racing it features a straight six 1087cc supercharged engine and as I followed it to the location I realised why it was so successful at first in the Mille Miglia with Capt George Eyston ,in the Ulster TT with no less than Tazio Nuvolari at the wheel with an incredible average of 78mph and at Le Mans where a K3 finished in 4th place in 1934.

1934 MG K3
1934 MG K3 tracking at 1/60th second with 17-40mm at f8

It was an overcast freezing cold day and very windy but I needed the open country to offer clean reflections and as much light as was available to fill the British racing green body panels. We shot the statics in the top car park near Hay Tor which, unsurprisingly, was fairly empty at this time of year. On long lens I found I needed to up my shutter speed to 1//125th second and raise the ASA to 400 due to the buffeting by the wind, even using a tripod only 1 in 3 or my images was sharp .Upping the ASA isn’t a big problem on the Canon 5DSR as the 50 megapixel chip is so big that it remains sharp right up to over 1000ASA.

Cornering K3
Cornering -pan-K3 70-300 f5.6 1/125th second

On my return home I set about editing the images. In winter or in low light your hit rate, or successful outcomes reduces and I found that only 1 in 8 of my action images were sharp .In this situation I always shoot more frames knowing that I’ll need the extras to assure a good selection for the client. The statics too had suffered from the tricky weather on the long lens (Canon f4:5.6L EF 70-300mm) but again I’d made sure I took enough to have sharp options.

1934 MG K3-2
1934 MG K3-2 with post and people

On occasion I’d had to shoot angles that meant I couldn’t exclude posts and people in the background but knew I could take them out later in post production.

So here are my top 5 quick Photoshop tools tips for improving your images taken on a dull day.

  1. Boost the saturation by up to 15% to give a more natural look to the colour
  2. Tweak the levels using the histogram or curves to adjust the contrast
  3. If needed lighten dark areas of the car using the dodge tool set to mid tone
  4. If the sky is flat and featureless darken it using the burn tool set to highlight creating a gradient bottom to top…don’t overdo it
  5. Remove unwanted distractions, in the above image, the people and post, using the clone or healing tools magnifying for the detail
1934 MG K3-3
1934 MG K3-3


New edition of ‘How to Photograph Cars ‘ arrives

How to Photograph Cars
How to Photograph Cars

After a long gestation James is happy to announce the long awaited arrival of the perfectly formed sibling to the first edition in the form of the brand new edition of ‘How to Photograph Cars’.

The first edition ,published by Motorbooks International was the best seller in its field guiding a generation of aspiring car photography students into careers across the automobile industry as well as helping those who just wanted to improve their skills as a hobby.

Over 144 pages and with more than 200 images many specially taken for the new edition James explains everything you’ll need to know about equipment choices from camera phone to the top end professional kit, advanced techniques for composing your image and how to find the best locations. Chapters set out how to photograph at a show or in a car museum, high-speed action at the track or out on the road, as well as how to shoot a magazine feature. The secret world of the car studio is exposed with pro’ lighting tips and behind the scenes images and in a brand new chapter, James looks at manipulating digital images and re-touching pictures to make them perfect for sharing on the internet, car club magazine or business.
You can buy the book from this website or on from launch date 9/11/16.

How to photograph cars back cover
How to photograph cars back cover

Changing career to be a car photographer

I recently had a contact from a photographer in Brazil who doesn’t work in the industry but is considering giving up his current career to have a go at making his living from car photography.

Corvette C1-sand-pit
Corvette C1-sand-pit

Here’s the advice I offered :It’s a tough career to make a living from…there are many people wanting to do it and this drives the fees down…I earn about the same as I did in 2000.

Immerse yourself in the car world…go to race meetings, club meets, car events and shows….these will be good for contacts as well as subjects for your photography to build a portfolio of images.

Consider assisting an established photographer, even if you are older, you may have to do this for nothing to start with until they see your value.But you will get a good idea of what the business is like and whether it is right for you.

Porsche 911 small-rig
Porsche 911 small-rig

Once you are a proficient photographer with a good grasp of the technology and a great portfolio, you will need to find market’s for your photography…this could be magazine or newspaper editorial, car dealers, auction houses, book or website publishing or advertising.

Find out who does this where you live and either go and see them to show your work or develop a website that highlights your skill and do mail outs followed by personal phone calls.

Club event
Club event

One of the best ways to get started is to set up a online blog to highlight your images…remember…turning your hobby into a career can be the quickest way to kill your passion.

If you are determined to go into the car photography business don’t give up…it is the sort of job you can do part time whilst holding down another more solid career starting with small commissions here and there.

…and keep taking lots of pictures.

The brand new edition of James Mann’s book ‘How to Photograph Cars ‘ will be out soon.

How to Photograph Cars
How to Photograph Cars book out soon


Top 10 places to shoot action at Goodwood Circuit

The hugely enjoyable Goodwood Circuit Revival and Members meetings have become some of the best classic motorsport events in the world. At the Revival meeting I met a photographer who had never been to the circuit before and was faced with the daunting prospect of not wanting to miss anything by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ideally it’s a good idea to walk the circuit to spot the best places to shoot from before the event but if you don’t have time here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

There are many great ways to cover the track at Goodwood but I’m going to pick out by top 10 places to shoot action if you are an accredited photographer. We’ll start at the very beginning, as they say it’s a very good place to start, with 5 places to shoot the start.

GW start-1
GW start-1 70-200mm f5.6 1/500th second

This view of the start on the pit straight is hard to get anymore as the Motorsport Association who govern the safety at race meetings have deemed it a ‘Red’ area but you can still shoot it from over the fence .

GW start-2
GW start-2-70-200mm f8 1/250th second

This view looking across to the clock tower is another option from the same place as the first.

Goodwood-start-70-200mm f11 1/125th second

Looking the other way towards the control tower panning the camera as the flag drops.

Goodwood-start-w 70-300mm f5.6 1/640th second

From the roof of the Race Control building, the one with the clock on it, this long lens image flattens the perspective drawing the elements together.

Goodwood start turn 1
Goodwood start turn 1 -70-300mm f5.6 1/640th second

Looking back down the start straight from the beginning of turn 1, Madgwick, is a dramatic place to shoot the first few laps .A fast shutter speed is essential with the cars coming towards you at over 100mph and jostling for position.

Cleaning the bugs from a windscreen after the shoot

I recently had a gorgeous and historic Aston Martin DB3 S to shoot at Goodwood for a magazine feature and, tight on time, and with rain threatening, had to shoot the statics quickly straight after the track test.

Aston Martin DB3S-3
Aston Martin DB3S-3

This isn’t ideal as the car can collect a myriad of bugs on the windscreen and I only noticed when I got back home and was back in front of my Mac editing the images. Glass or lightweight perspex in this case is always tricky to retouch as the light is often graduated from light to darker across the panel and great care must be taken with the clone tool or healing brush to avoid making a mess of it.

Aston Martin DB3S-1
Aston Martin DB3S-1

A quick solution is to start out with the clone tool set to a low opacity of 60-80% and copy over each bug mark from a point immediately adjacent to it on a high magnification and then go over it again at 15-25% with larger brush from the cloning tool palette to smooth any marks…

Aston Martin DB3S-2w
Aston Martin DB3S-2w

One thing you learn the more shoots you do is what to worry about on the day and what you can leave until later.With the benefit of hindsight there are many things you might have done differently at the time but the important point is to recognise priorities so you can get on with the main part of your day…photographing the car. This is useful to remember both on location and in the studio where it’s easy to spend valuable minutes fretting over a small highlight that could be removed in seconds during post production.

Shooting in different studios

Infinity cove studios are getting rarer and rarer these days and costs rising so it’s important to choose the right one to suit your shoot. Too big and you won’t be able to focus your lighting properly, too small and you won’t achieve the angles you want. The concept of the cove is to remove all distractions in the background allowing you to paint the car with your lighting. First rule if you working with constant movie style lighting is to point the lights away from the car into the walls and ceiling ,not towards the car.

Alfa Guilietta SS
Alfa Guilietta SS( photo Rupert Cobb)

There are a number of different types of cove:-The Alfa Romeo Gulietta SS is being photographed in a 3/4 cove called Gun Hill Studio in Sussex with a fixed floating ceiling that can only be raised and lowered not moved in and out of the cove.

The Citroen DS below was for a book shoot in a cove built within a private collection called Studio 434 north of London in Pottars Bar .With just 2 walls and a floating ceiling we needed to fill in the missing third wall with large poly boards which is not ideal…as it is difficult to get a good reflection. It would be OK if you are using large soft boxes with flash however but here we have constant tungsten lighting.

Citron DS studio
Citroen DS

One of my favourite coves is Plough studios in South London,below.It’s been a haunt of car and fashion snappers for nearly 50 years and the great Richard Avedon loved it so much he block booked it every year during his working summers in the city.Ideal for one car it’s a small cove but good and deep with one long wall so although they have now removed the floating ceiling it still works well.Here’s the MGB Roadster I photographed for the British Auto Legends stamps for the Royal Mail.

MGB Roadster
MGB Roadster

A large full cove like Junction Eleven in Banbury, below, will have have three even walls and a solid ceiling .There is a floating ceiling that can be moved in and out and angled as in the image below of the super cool Jaguar XKSS. It is also painted mid grey in colour which reduces contrast and allows more subtle lighting rather than the white of the other featured coves.

Jaguar XKSS
Jaguar XKSS
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