Back in June 2008, we posted an article titled "Car Photography for Dummies." Thanks to a mention by Frank Filipponio on Autoblog.com, it remains one of the most widely read features on AutomotiveTraveler.com. With our new presentation format, I thought it was time to revisit the topic.
The subject for my 2008 feature was a great-looking 1968 Ford Mustang California Special, a limited-production Pony sold only in the western states. About 4,000 were built. The car I photographed was one of the most accurate restorations I've seen of that unique Mustang.
For this updated feature, I selected a 1940 Chevy truck that has been in the same family since it was new. And, as with my previous article, I'll walk you through the steps that comprise a complete magazine-level photo shoot. With proper planning, the process can be compressed into a two- to three-hour period.
Let's start with a basic rule: For what the pros like to call the "money shots," wait until the sun gets lower, so you can take advantage of late afternoon's golden light. Never--and I do mean never--shoot at midday when the sun is high. You'll almost always get unsatisfactory results, with way too much contrast wiping out many of the details you're trying to capture.
Schedule your photo session by working back three hours from sunset. Check SunriseSunset.com to determine the time in your area, or Google "sunset times" plus your city for a variety of sites to help identify exactly when the sun sets in your region on a given day.
I photographed this 1940 Chevy truck on an August day in Southern California with sunset just before 8:00 p.m. I met the owner, John McCallister, at 5:00 p.m. at his shop, knowing that would give us ample time to get in all the necessary shots without rushing ourselves.
If you're an early bird, you can also shoot at sunrise. (I generally avoid sunrise sessions since they usually involve a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call.)
Great automotive photographs require a plan. Once you've scheduled your day and time, draw up a shot list to guide you. While I might take up to 150 individual photos in a single session, I'll submit a fraction of that total to my editor. And of those photos, a dozen at most will end up in the final layout.
A typical shot list for a standard six-page magazine feature would include:
> A selection of full-vehicle, static-exterior shots (front three-quarter, side profile, rear three-quarter, direct front, direct rear)
> A selection of exterior detail shots, such as the Art Deco-style grille, the door handles, and the bed
> A selection of photos of the full engine compartment, as well as close-ups of any unusual details (such as a period-correct battery)
> A selection of interior shots, both a full view and dash details and switches
> A selection of car-to-car tracking shots, as detailed below
For this project, we got the car-to-car shots in the can first. A car-to-car photograph is the one that many enthusiasts think separates the pros from the amateurs.
In reality, taking such photographs is fairly simple. The biggest problem is that if you're doing it on a public road, you run the risk of being cited for a moving violation if you're not belted in. If you're trying car-to-car
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