A Little Personal Project of Mine

· Reading Time: 15 minutes

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Here we are well into September and other than my latest Behind the Camera, there hasn’t been much activity out of me.  Well, that might not quite be accurate as I have been doing several things with the house in Winston-Salem and with the sunny days over the last week, I have been taking the opportunity to get out and do some things outside that have been needing to get done.  Part of that was getting the cars all cleaned up after what has felt like months of rainy weather.  I’ve then used some of those days to get out and enjoy some scouting drives through Wilkes County.  Part of what I have been looking for was suitable areas where I could do some automotive photography.  This has been something that I have been interested in delving into for quite some time, but just haven’t really gotten into it that deeply.  There were talks about doing a calendar for the Special Olympics this year but that fizzled out due to COVID-19.  It was going to be a big undertaking and with the move over the Summer I am not sure how that would have worked out, so I’m kind of glad that it got shelved.  However, it left me with an empty place where I had been considering just how I was going to go about photographing shiny cars and making the images all mine.

My style has been developed over the years to have a certain grungy quality since most of what I photograph outside of landscapes is decay subjects.  I have photographed a bunch of old cars over the past four years or so since decay became a big part of what I do.  Photographing rusty metal is not that difficult since there is very little in the way of reflections that you have to worry about, and the sun doesn’t really create too many highlights except in the chrome where I want it to be really bright.  I’ve gotten the edits on these images down to a fine science now and can produce a finished product in less than thirty minutes in most cases.  When it comes to shiny, painted cars things start to be quite different.  I have to be particularly careful with reflections (especially my own), the exposures will have a lot more range to them, and most importantly it becomes very hard to find the personality of a car that hasn’t aged.

I’ve had the subject for this experiment for about a month now and have been looking for a suitable venue for a photograph.  This is where things got really tough for me.  My mantra has always been to shoot it as I find it which works great for landscapes and rural scenes that I happen upon.  When it comes to photographing a subject which can be moved around and relocated that becomes a new type of game entirely.  There are a few rules when it comes to automotive photography which I tried to adhere to when looking for a location to shoot the car.  The first consideration was I needed to have a location that was older than the car.  That actually was pretty easy to do since the car is new.  Everything out there is older than the car so that opened up a lot of possibilities.  Next, I was needing something that would compliment the color of the car.  Since the car was painted a really multidimensional candy red, I needed something that was cool in color temperature to balance the car out.  That eliminated many of the building colors around here as they are mostly wood tones, or red brick.  In addition to cool tones, I was looking for something that provided just enough visual interest so that it wasn’t a simple backdrop to the car.

I spent a lot of time looking for an old gas station when would have been perfect for the car, but I wasn’t able to find anything at all that would work for what I had in mind.  I had spent several hours scoping out the surrounding area looking for some options of where to do this little photo shoot.  I hadn’t come up with anything at all.  In fact, I had decided that I would possibly try and get a few shots on the Blue Ridge Parkway so I went out looking for good locations there yesterday.  I drove between Blowing Rock and Virginia and wasn’t able to find anything that I liked enough to come back to.  It is so much easier to shoot it as I find it because it is either a good photograph or not.  If it isn’t, I move on.  Here I was looking for a good photograph after having picked out the subject and that photograph could be anywhere.  There were areas back in Winston that I could have used, but I really didn’t want to drive all the way out there just to get a picture or two of the car.  I needed to find my niche out here because if things worked out, I was going to be doing more of this as time went on and I needed to have a collection of local locations.  Why not start with this shoot?

When Tuesday morning rolled around, the weather was still holding steady with sunny skies until much later tonight.  Toni was headed into Winston for an appointment and I had to get a client print in the mail of one of my more recent images.  The weather wasn’t great for my normal photography, but I thought that I might be able to find something with good shadows for the car.  I loaded the camera bag and tripod into the trunk which was a bit more difficult than I thought.  It barely fit through the opening and then pretty much filled the trunk.  I had to lay the tripod across the bag, but it all did fit in there eventually.  I left with Toni and pulled off to the post office to get the print shipped.  From there, I was free to explore.  Since I was looking for something specific, I had an idea that I would be better able to find it in Wilkesboro rather than my normal rural side roads.  A nice barn would work, but I was going to need a good sky for that, and with nothing but blue up there that wasn’t an option.  I was needing something to fill the frame and give that visual interest taking the place of a dramatic sky.

I had figured that with the deep red paint on the car I would do better with either a dark blue, or even a lighter shade of purple.  Those could be accent colors as long as the wall was neutral.  Finding that in Wilkes County was not going to be easy though.  As I said, most of the buildings were natural brick, natural wood tones, or white.  But I was convinced that I was going to try today since I had the camera and the quality of the light was still good since it was well before noon.  I got into downtown Wilkesboro and saw a bunch of potential for future photography, but nothing for the car.  It wasn’t until I passed by the Farmer’s Market that I saw my first potential.  There was a beautiful wall that was painted in a mural with lots of colors.  There was even a section that was primarily cool colors.  I pulled in there and started to evaluate the scene and found that it checked a lot of the boxes that I wanted.  There were just two aspects that I didn’t like.  First, there were some people there under the shelter and I wasn’t really interested in having an audience for this.  Second, the mural was very blocky and angular which I didn’t really want.  With the colors, I was wanting something a bit more organic to the shapes.  It was  cool location, and I might come back for some abstract work later, and I might do some automotive shoots here, but today wasn’t the day.  I continued on with my hunt trying to find something that might work.

As I was driving, I remembered shortly after we moved into Purlear, that Toni needed to go to a CVS.  We found one by the hospital which was shall we say rather old.  We were both surprised that it was still in business.  The neighboring building had been a Rite Aid and it was closed.  There was another building behind it that I remembered saying might be a great subject for some of my decay photography.  I remembered that it was white and had a good bit of weathering on it.  I didn’t recall if there was any trim color on it though.  I figured that I might as well check it out since I was in the area at this point.  I pulled into the CVS and was just as impressed with the condition of all the buildings as I had been before.  This was my kind of subject when it came to decay.  Looking at it, I wasn’t really picking out any compositions that would work for decay photography, but that didn’t really bother me since my purpose in being here wasn’t to shoot the building alone.  I was looking for a backdrop for the car.

I quickly surveyed the building and found that there was a section on the front that just might work.  There were two windows with a pedestrian door to the right.  Beyond that was a blank wall.  There was no trim color, but the side of the building was a dingy white with the door having peeling paint and some warm tones showing through.  That door was a great element to add to the image I had in mind, but I needed to figure out the organization of it all.  My first thought was to go on the blank side and use the door to balance the image.  As I tried to figure out how to place the car I realized that there was going to be too much white in the image.  Thinking about the size of the car, I figured that it would fit beneath the two windows quite well depending on my shooting angle.  I parked the car to the left of the door, under those windows paying particular attention to the edge of the building which was to the left of the windows.  When I was pretty sure that I was positioned right, I got out and looked at the composition.  I had nailed the placement of the car according to my cell phone camera.  I just turned the steering wheel slightly to expose the front right wheel and I turned the car off.

Now for the fun part.  I popped the trunk and grabbed the tripod.  I opened it up and set it up behind the car.  I then opened up the camera bag and found that it was hard to open the panel because the straps were in the way and there was nowhere to stick the straps.  I groped around and fished out the 5D Mk3 body and my 24-70mm lens which I felt would be perfect for this shot based on the cell phone composition.  I knew that I was going to need a polarizer so I grabbed that and the filter holder as well.  I put it all on the tripod and closed the trunk.  I really missed the working area in the back of the 4Runner for this, but I was driving a much more interesting subject for a photograph.

Redhead“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 4 Image HDR blended in Lightroom

I got the camera placed approximately were I had been with the cell phone a few minutes earlier.  I started to frame up the shot that I wanted and took a test image.  The exposure looked to be ok even with the bright wall in the background, but I was worried about my shadow areas and the noise that would be introduced if I decided to bring up the shadows too much in the editing phase.  Since nothing was moving in the frame, I decided to play it safe and shoot an HDR series to make sure that I had plenty of detail in the highlights as well as the shadows to play with.  I changed up the composition a bit and backed up from the car while tightening the focal length of the lens.  My plan was to cut the windows and use the door as a framing element in the upper right.  I wanted the focus to be the car and not the building, but I had to make sure that the building had enough presence to make sense in the photograph.  It was the patina on the door that most interested me because it provided a great juxtaposition for the composition that included a very shiny car.

With the composition worked out, where there was separation between all of the elements and the building covered the entire background, I found the “correct” exposure and captured that single image just in case it worked out.  I then backed off about a stop and a half to get the wall near the middle gray exposure with the HDR series in mind.  That was my starting point and I started to make exposures with one stop difference between them.  In the end, I had four images from dark to well overexposed to capture the detail in the shadows.  The histogram showed that every value in the image could be placed in the midtones which was what I was after.

I was pretty happy with that composition, but I wanted to try something a little different so I moved to the left a little more to get more of the lines of the car.  It looked fine in the LCD even enough I had placed the car in front of the door at this point.  I shot the “correct” exposure and then did the same thing to get the HDR series.  I did another four images here where I removed the reflections from the side of the car with the polarizer.  I wasn’t sure how I would like it when I got it on the computer, but it was a nice trick to simplify the image.  I spent a little bit of time looking for other things that I could do with the car, but the lighting wasn’t good for doing isolations on it, and the more I was looking at it the more I realized that it needed to be washed to get the bugs off from the Parkway cruise the day before.

I decided to break the camera down and wedge it all back in the bag in the trunk before heading home . Sine the bugs were bothering the photographer in me, I did a quick wash on it before putting it away for the rainy days that were coming up for the rest of the week.  When I was done with that, I headed down to the office to check out what I had gotten from the morning.  I had a total of 12 images, eight of which represented the two HDR series so there really weren’t that many to choose from.  I did my initial culling and got it down to four that I thought had potential.  My first edit was the first HDR image that I had shot which had the strongest composition and the best lighting.  I pulled it into Lightroom and started to work on it.  I did a lot of work on the tonal values in the highlights and shadows until I had a nice spread that still looked natural.  It would have been so easy to go overboard with this HDR, but I have never liked “that look” in an image.  This still retained the base contrast that I liked and was very close to how my eyes saw the actual scene.  I did some different things with the tone curves which I don’t normally do as I added contrast to the brighter areas while I reduced the contrast in the darker areas while still retaining the deep blacks of the shadows.  I paid particular attention the headlights as I typically do, but this time it was not to brighten them.  Instead, I desaturated them and reduced the contrast to bring out the detail behind the lens.  While I was working on the headlights, I was seeing all of those bugs that I had been bothered by during the shoot.  They were just bad enough to detract from the image so, I started to clone them out which worked very well.  I hated to do it this way, but the image was actually coming together quite well, and I didn’t want it ruined by the bug carcasses from the Parkway.

Once I was happy with the car itself, I moved my attention to the door.  The tones in the wood were great companions to the tones in the car so I wanted to bring those out just a little bit more.  I was also able to do my normal editing techniques on that door to bring out the peeling paint like it was.  After a good hour or so, I had an image that I really liked of the car and felt that it was worth a print.  I don’t do a lot of metallic paper prints, but with the highly reflective surface of the car and the pearl color of the paint I thought that it would be a great candidate for a metallic print.  I loaded up the paper and printed the image out.  It looked amazing and it was just what I had been hoping for.

Even though I didn’t get the blue or purple background that I was thinking about, the white background pulled enough cool tones from the blue sky to work.  It kept the red of the car at bay which was so important in an image with this much red in it.  The door provided the right balance between the left and right sides.  The windows framed the upper part of the car well, and even the different bricks on the left provided another visual frame for the car.  With the 16:10 crop of the image, the rule of thirds was followed almost exactly with the placement of the car against the building.  The aged building contrasted beautifully with the new car and maintained my photographic style.  It is funny to me that this building that Toni and I spotted a month ago turned into the perfect location to capture this ND Miata.  I’m sure that there will be more pictures of this car in the future and I’m hoping that I get to do more like this with other cars.

I’ve got this image added into the Transportation Gallery as it is available for purchase.  Also, if you have a car that you want in front of my camera, feel free to contact me to get it scheduled.  I’m a car nut and I would love to give your ride the royal treatment.

Thanks for joining me on this slightly different trek.  I hope you enjoyed the narrative of the day as well as the photograph.  It was nice to step out of my comfort zone for a bit and do something a little different than I have in the past.

Until next time…


Edit: September 13, 2020

After a few days of sitting on the pictures from this little trek, I have decided to go ahead and run the second HDR series through Lightroom to see how it would turn out.  The two compositions are very similar, but have some key differences in the presence of the car.  It depends on what I am actually after with the image as to which one I like better.  I’m still partial to the first one that I have posted and still consider that the strongest composition of the two, but I do like how this second one captures some of the body lines and gives the car a little more importance in the frame.  I also played with the color temperatures more here to bring out some cooler tones in the wall of the building to contrast a bit more with the red of the car.

Mazda Presence“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 4 image HDR blended in Lightroom
Remember to use the code KISER10 to get 10% off your purchase