Shooting at McLaren F1 HQ

I’ve just come back from a great shoot at McLaren’s incredible futuristic Tech’ centre where they build the F1 cars and develop the road cars.Like many large organisations McLaren are very particular about who they let through their doors so it’s always exciting to visit and there are a special set of challenges to work there. Once through the security luck was on my side as I was able to park right outside the area where the 1968 M7C was located. They had moved it into a broad side passage off their boulevard where it is usually on display and I set up my ‘studio’ blocking off one end.

McLaren M7C-
McLaren M7C-

The magazine require a studio style portfolio of images for consistency and I have developed a way of shooting using black cloth to surround car and lighting with flash. It’s not ideal as flash is hard to control and requires quite a bit of post production work to smooth out the background but the result works well. The issue here were the high wings that meant I had to build a wall higher than the taller rear aerofoil. I balanced powerful mains Bowens monolights at the rear shining forward with soft boxes saving the less powerful battery powered Elinchrom Ranger lights for the foreground with daylight, this gives depth to the images with bright highlights drawing the eye into the picture. With only 3 hours allocated to my full shoot there was no time to waste and I finished just in time to clear the area and pack everything back into my estate car.

McLaren M7C-head on-
McLaren M7C-head on-

Dealing with nasty reflections on location

I had a reasonably typical experience the other day on an auction catalogue shoot with a stunning Aston Martin DB2/4 that was just out of MOT. We had planned to run the car to nice location to shoot it but short on time we had to compromise by photographing it in a fairly scruffy  garage back yard. All was not lost as the space had bamboo screening and it was a nice day and the shoot was going well until we had to turn the car for the nose left front 3/4 view an saw nasty reflections.

Aston Martin DB2/4 with nasty reflection in the side
Aston Martin DB2/4 with nasty reflection in the side

This projected a horrible reflection of the brightly lit yard into the shaded side of the car but looking around we found a sheet of white painted ply which we used to shield the background with the added effect that it bounced the light back into the car lighting the side.

Aston Martin DB2/4 showing board
Aston Martin DB2/4 showing board

The result was pretty good…….

Aston Martin DB2/4
Aston Martin DB2/4

Tracking photography with the BMW i8

Had a great day recently at the Longcross test track in Surrey, just outside London, photographing a friends new BMW i8.It’s an awesome piece of kit with a hybrid power-train of electric motors driving the front wheels and 1.5litre turbocharged petrol engine the rear wheels delivering 0-60 in just over 4 seconds.

BMWi8 car to car
BMW i8 car to car 50mm f11 1/30th second

One of the advantages of photographing at a test track is that you don’t have to worry about other traffic making it great place to shoot car to car or tracking images where the camera car and feature car have to run along together.The idea of tracking is to show the car moving through its environment with the background and wheels blurring to give the sense of motion whilst keeping the car crisp in the foreground. Success is all about variables, a slower shutter speed will give more blur but it’s harder to hold the camera still on a moving platform. A faster shutter speed will freeze the car but offer less blur, so a balance is needed.

BMW i8 tracking
BMW i8 tracking 17-40mm f8 1/60th second

Hatchbacks make the best tracking cars and ideally a powerful estate where you can put the seats flat to allow you to lie down if needed. If you don’t have a harness wrap the rear seat belts around your waste and position yourself near to the open tailgate. It’s good idea to use walkie-talkies or mobile phones to communicate with the feature car but some simple hand signals will suffice. You’ll need good drivers in both cars who are capable of driving in close formation without panicking.Best speed to track a car for stills is about 40 mph.Faster and you may find the tailgate will close, although you can prop it open, slower and you won’t get the sense of speed necessary.

BMWi8 low angle tracking shot
BMWi8 low angle tracking shot

Start out with a wide angle lens or zoom and direct the car into the frame changing your angle to move the car within the viewfinder to include more or less moving roadway.Start with a faster shutter speed of about 1/125th second slowing down through 1/60th to 1/30th as you become more proficient and confident.

As with all action photography safety is paramount and your responsibility so don’t forget to hold on and don’t drop your camera.!


Creating a studio set up inside

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.

Studio style lighting in a museum
Photographing in mixed lighting conditions needs to be controlled to get a consistent studio style result

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.

70-200mm lens F16 1/2 second

Documenting a restoration

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.

Porsche 356 restoration
Porsche 356 restoration

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.

Porsche 356 restoration-2
Porsche 356 restoration-2- 1/8th second f8

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.

Porsche 356 restoration-3
Porsche 356 restoration-3- 1/30th second f5.6

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.

Porsche 356 restoration-4
Porsche 356 restoration-4-1/15th second f8

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.

Location car studio

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.

Tyrrell 12-4w

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.

Tyrrell 12-profile5w-

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Top 5 tips for photographing at a car show

  1. Get to the car show early or on press day when it is quiet
  2. Use a tripod , higher ASA and longer exposures for greater depth of field and fill in the foreground with flash
  3. Shoot a mixture of single cars and whole stands so your images don’t look too similar
  4. Photograph the info’ board so you can remember what the car is
  5. Ask to remove barriers, stop turntables if necessary to improve the shotToyota 94 CV on C & SC st'-wToyota 94 C-V  Le Mans car at the Autosport Show : 17-40mm f8 1 second
  6. HSCC st with Lola and Gurney Eagle-wHSCC stand Lola and Gurney Eagle :17-40mm f8 1/2 secondJaguar C-X75-2wJaguar C -X75 : 17-40mm f5.6 1/5th second

Adding contrast in an infinity cove

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.

unedited studio image showing a large format sheet of film with Mazda RX7
unedited studio image showing a large format sheet of film with Mazda RX7

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.

Solving contrast problems in an infinity cove

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.

HTPC BMWHow To Photo header for web-w