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

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

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

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-

How To Photo header for web-w

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.

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