Did Somebody Say Austin Powers?

· Reading Time: 18 minutes

Sunday, December 13, 2020

“Yeah baby…yeah!”

“This sort of thing ain’t my bag”

“Allow myself to introduce…myself”

When last we spoke, I was dealing with a day that had much less clouds in the sky than I preferred but I had gone out anyway.  I had somehow managed to get a single image that I liked from that experience.  Sunny days just aren’t really my cup of tea, but it was nice to get out and get some photography in at least.  Looking ahead, the weather wasn’t really doing me any favors over the next few days.  For instance, today was supposed to have clouds and some rain, but that apparently cleared out as the forecast showed nothing but clear skies through the entire day.  Monday was showing to be a washout with rain, and originally snow in the morning.  It was now just a rain event.  The following days had changed so much I just didn’t know what to think about the forecast.  In short, I just had no idea what days I would be able to go out and do anything or not.  Since I haven’t really gone out much recently, I was really wanting to go out and do something fun.  The question was what could I do with the bright sun?

The more I thought about it, the more I started to consider taking the Miata out for some pictures.  Hey, it was going to be in the mid 60’s for the high, and the early morning temperatures were looking like the 50’s.  Considering that this is mid December, that was looking like convertible weather all day long.  If nothing else, it would be a good day to go out and get the fluids flowing for a little bit, and I was hopeful that I could find some good venues for some pictures.

I started to think about some of the places that I had seen around home that could work for this car.  As with the last time I had taken it out for a photo shoot, I was looking for something with some nice colors to really make the Crystal Red paint pop.  That last time I had lucked up and found a nice building that worked as a backdrop as well as a nod to my decay photography.  Since that session, I had kind of figured out the way to photograph this car, and had been on the lookout for areas.  The first one that came to mind was an old gas station in N Wilkesboro which had been recently repainted white with blue trim.  There was still a “Gulf” logo on the side of the building in blue and I thought that would work out nicely.  I was also thinking about a restaurant and brewery near that location which was a very rustic looking building.  I had thought about it in the past for a photograph all by itself, but there were just too many signs in the parking lot that would distract from the image that I had in mind.  For a backdrop to a car though, it could work out.  The next place that I thought about was another location that I had visited and looked for an abstract type of image shortly after moving to the area.  It was the local Farmer’s Market which had some really nice murals on the back wall of the parking lot.  There were a lot of great colors and designs there that I thought could be used as a backdrop for the car.  The last place that I had in mind was the old drive-in which I had photographed a while back.  I had gotten a couple of images there that I liked and was happy with them, but I had been thinking that this might also be a good location for a photo shoot with a modern day car for the dichotomy that was present.

I had four places in mind, and I was looking at a sunny morning.  The key to this was going to be the timing as I wanted the areas to be in full sunlight, but I wanted the sun to be as low as possible to give me a little bit of diffused light to ease the shadows just a little bit.  My original plan was to leave at 8am, but that didn’t quite happen.  I was much too happy staying in the bed a little longer.  When I did get up, I started to get motivated to go out with Toni’s help.  The sun was nice and warm and the temperature was already 50 degrees which meant that I wouldn’t even need the heater in the car for the low speeds that I would be driving.  I grabbed my gear and slid the Lowepro Whistler backpack into the trunk.  This is not a really big bag until you try to fit it into the trunk of a Miata.  It just slides through the opening and then sits perfectly in the recessed bin at the bottom.  I could then lay my tripod on top of the bag going from one side to the other.  There was plenty of room, but I couldn’t have fit equipment much larger than that back there.  With everything loaded up, I was on the way out to North Wilkesboro.

My first stop was the restaurant which just happened to be the first location I passed.  I pulled in and looked at the scene critically and immediately saw that there were Christmas lights strung around the railings.  While festive and seasonal, this just didn’t fit the story of a red convertible at all, so that pretty much marked that location off of the list.  My next stop was the old Gulf station where I pulled in roughly where I thought the picture would be the best.  Now that I was here, I was feeling less happy about the composition choices, but I got out a looked to see how things would fit together.  There was one problem that I was really worried about and that was a Lincoln sitting in front of the bay doors which was for sale.  It was far enough off that I might be able to compose around it, but it was really in the way.  I looked at several different options and found that none of them fit for what I was wanting to show.

I was now 0 for 2 and not feeling good about the prospects for the rest of the morning.  I pulled out of the parking lot and made my way up to the Farmer’s Market fully expecting there to be something wrong there too.  It wasn’t but a short drive and when I got into the parking lot there were no other cars there.  The light was good on the wall that I was wanting to showcase and the whole scene was pretty much as I had hoped for.  I just needed to figure out exactly where to set the car to make the images work.  The part of the wall that really caught my eye just happened to be a section of nesting blue diamonds.  I figured that the cool tones here would play off of the red quite nicely.  I started to imagine the picture in my mind and drove the car into position.  I got out and looked at what I had put together and I liked it except that I had some of the yellow striping coming out from under the car.  To simplify the image, I decided to pull the car away from the wall a bit more to cover the striping.  With that little adjustment I had an image that I was pretty happy with.

As I was pulling out the camera from the trunk I started to see the different possibilities here and it felt a lot like the days of the hippies with the bright colors and designs.  Was this going to be an LSD inspired photo shoot?  Well, my answer came when I got home and finished the processing.  I had Toni come over and take a look at the images.  They weren’t really her style, but she looked at them.  She said it made her think of Austin Powers.  Hmmmm, you know…she was right about that.  I started playing the theme music in my head at that point and playing the opening kaleidoscope clips on loop.  Yeah, that was the flavor that I had created here.  Yeah Baby….Yeah!!!!

Ruby Among Diamonds“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

When I was starting with this set, I wasn’t really sure how it was all going to go as I just had a basic idea in my head.  I wanted to play with the diamonds and have them offset from the car to balance the image and give the car room to play around the front.  With the shine of the paint I didn’t want to get too close to the car, and I also wanted to avoid my shadow since the sun was behind me.  Since I wasn’t interested in doing anything off the wall with perspective, I opted to go with my telephoto lens which would allow me the distance I needed from the car and the compression would help me dial in the diamonds just right.  I found the perfect location to set up and got the tripod nice and low.  With the distance that I was shooting, eye level would have been boring.  By bringing the camera down, I was able to focus on the shape of the car more than anything else.  I made sure that there was separation between all of the different elements in the frame and I started to make exposures.  I was using my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, but the amount that I used it was very subtle.  I just wanted to control the reflections a little bit on the side so that there were less distractions along the flank of the car.

I kept making small adjustments to the composition as I saw things that I wanted to change, but overall I was really liking this simple composition.  There was even a crack in the pavement that was lined up nicely with the line of the diamonds and seemed to link the foreground to the car, to the background for a very unified image.  All of the angles on the wall seemed to play off of the angles of the car as well.  The color balance was my favorite part as it really drew the attention to the red paint which is one of my favorite parts of this car.

Not wanting to settle for just one basic concept for a composition, I decided to move around a little now that I had the first composition in the bag.  I moved around more to the front of the car and found another great composition, but there was a shadow in the background that really didn’t work for the image.  I shot a few of them just in case my mind was changed when I looked at the computer.  Spoiler alert…my mind didn’t change at all.  I didn’t care for the shadow in the corner at all.  It was just too heavy and distracting.  I did continue to move on to see what else I might be able to find to work with.  I was not really finding much at all focusing on the blue diamonds and I was pretty sure that I had the right image with those already.  There were a lot of other great colors on the wall to work with so I moved around to the back of the car to see what I could do there.

Roller Skate GT“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

The first thing that I noticed when I swung around to the back portion of the car was that the paint really came alive in the full sun at this angle.  I moved around until I found the perfect angle for the sun and then I looked to see what the background was looking like.  I had the edge of the blue diamonds which were now pointing to the car.  There were patterns of greens, blues, and beiges on the wall directly behind the car which was looking better than I had thought it would.  I started to frame up a composition but found that it was just too car centric.  I moved around and played with the focal lengths of the lens trying to get things aligned correctly.  The more I tried, the more frustrating things became.  I was starting to fight with the stairs to the left and the buildings overhead.  I needed to be able to get more distance from the car, but I was already backed up against a wall as it was so that wasn’t going to be possible.  No matter what I tried, I was getting extra clutter in the image, but then I had a thought.

I could actually incorporate the elements that I had found to be clutter and use an American Flag in the upper left to really establish a visual balance.

Groovy Baby….Groovy

As I started to frame this up, I was really liking my new take on the composition.  I now had the right light on the car to show off that beautiful red, and the angle allowed me to have my tag visible which is part of the personality of this car.  The blue diamonds were now pointing the eyes through the frame in the direction of the car.  The cool tones were mirrored on the opposite side, and the stairs seemed to point back into the frame.  The blue corner of sky matched well with the brick buildings which added a nice vertical element to the diagonal lines created by the perspective.  The flag made that whole corner make sense, even with the power lines.  The abstract colors in the middle of the frame really helped to keep the attention right on the car and the colors complemented it well.

I must admit, this car looked mighty shagadelic from this angle and the colors just brought it all together.  When I was setting this composition up, it felt more like an experiment rather than a well thought out image, but as I fine tuned things the final image turned into quite possibly my favorite of the day.  It was definitely my favorite from the shoot here at the Farmer’s Market.  It was artsy, but something about the whole package just made sense.  Maybe it was just that I had left without breakfast since Toni was making banana nut muffins to be ready when I got home.  I was hungry, but to my knowledge I wasn’t having any hallucinations that would have led to this kind of image.

The Roadster“, Canon 5DS R, 70-200mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, 3 image HDR blend in Lightroom

Before I left, I wanted to try something a little different as far as angles go.  Typically with lower cars, they are better to shoot from an elevated position.  It makes them look lower and cuts out the gap under the chassis.  I hadn’t shot any elevated images yet and figured that I might as well give it a try.  Since I was trying things out, I figured that I might as well give the camera a run at an HDR image to see how the computer would handle that blended file for post processing purposes.  I really didn’t need to shoot this one as an HDR, but with the highlights and shadows, it wasn’t going to hurt to give myself a little extra room in the exposure.

When I got the composition set up and established.  I dialed in the first exposure to make sure that the wall was properly exposed in the mid tones.  I then added a stop of light and shot one for the car itself, and the final image was yet another full stop of light which gave details to the wheels and interior.  This was the part that benefitted the most from the HDR blend as I was closer now than I had been and getting clean blacks was very important to me.  With those three images captured and in the bag, I made one more look around to see if there were any other compositions that came to mind.  It seemed as though I was done here.  I had about 34 frames captured from this one location without having to move the car any.  I knew that I was going to have at least one out of that to work on, and hopefully a couple.  I was surprised to find three images that I really liked from here and the one that I felt the least happy about in the field turned out to be my favorite one.

I wasn’t quite done though.  When I got back into the car, well, more accurately strapped the car on kind of like a roller skate, I started to think about one more place that I could go.  The sun was up fully now and the light was starting to get harsh which would make anything else a little difficult.  I still had one more place in mind to go and I thought that it might still be a good location.  The last time that I had gone to the drive-in I noticed that the sun didn’t really hit it until well into the morning.  I figured that the sun should be just about right at this point so I made the short trip over there.

When I arrived I found two workers standing by the nail salon that neighbored the set of curved roofs.  They gave me an odd look when I pulled in and I could only assume that they were wondering if I was smart enough to know that I was probably not going to get any service at this drive-in.  Of course, I knew that…it was Sunday and it was certainly closed for the day.  I’m smarter than I look sometimes!  I paused when I came in to wait on a waiter, just in case.  There wasn’t one, but I used that time to figure out just where the car should go.  I had been pondering this for quite some time now and I had a pretty good idea of the right placement.  I backed the car up at an angle under the first scallop in the roof and got out to see how it looked.  Surprisingly, I nailed the position and could see the right angles already with the support posts placed perfectly around the car.  I twisted the steering wheel just a little bit to get the BBS wheel towards the camera and turned the car off.  Now my audience was really interested in what I was doing as I went to the trunk.  I guess they thought I brought a picnic in case there was no service here.

Instant Classic“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer

The tripod came out first and then I brought out the camera with the 24-70mm lens attached.  After it was all built I moved out to the front of the car and started to find my composition.  My attention didn’t return to the guys by the salon while I was engrossed in this part of the process.  I needed to make sure that I had everything in place and positioned right for this shot.  There was a lot going on here and what I needed to have happen was the car being framed by the upright poles on either side.  The pair in the background ha to come in contact with the car in a flat place like the hood to keep it from looking crowded.  I wanted to have the camera at an altitude that showed the shape of the hood and allowed the curvature of the roof to follow the shape of the car.  This was getting to be really rough, but I did end up finding that sweet spot without having to move the car any.  It was a game of millimeters to get it all organized as my mind had wanted it.  I captured several frames along the way as I tried to get things sorted out in case that was the best that I could do.  In the end though, it was one of the last images that I shot that became my favorite.

I hate that by looking at this image you can’t see all of the work that went into the composition.  It really looks effortless to see, but this one really forced me to use a lot of tricks to get in the right position with the right focal length on the lens.  It turned out that the sweet spot on the lens here was 47mm which is very close to how the human eye sees.  It only makes sense looking back because when I got out of the car to look at the relationship, I was using only my eyes to do it.  What I was seeing was pretty much what I captured here but it wasn’t an easy journey to get to this point.

I loved the juxtaposition of the old and new here which was why I had wanted to come back here with the car since I had originally shot it in the beginning of November.  This is the standout from the group of images that I shot this morning because of that.  When Toni came to look at the images, this was the last one that she saw and said something to the effect of “this is my favorite, and the one that I actually really like.”  She wasn’t a fan of Austin Powers group of images I don’t think, but at least I got one here that she really liked.

Oh Behave….

With my composition finally coming together at the drive-in I started putting my camera back in the trunk and caught the two guys looking at me once again.  I waved, they waved, but that was it.  They were just really interested in what this crazy guy was doing I suppose.  With everything shoehorned back in the car I cranked it up and let the Borla come to life once again.  The sun was now too high up in the sky to do anything else and it was much later than I had planned on being out.  It was time to head home for breakfast.

On my way through North Wilkesboro there was another guy out walking along the sidewalk.  He spent a great deal of time looking at me as I worked my way down the street.  As I got close to him he yelled out “nice car!” which of course made me smile.  Car guys always appreciate recognition for their rides and this one seems to get comments every time I bring it out of the garage.

I do hope that you enjoyed this slightly different trek of mine.  I don’t imagine that anyone will be lining up to get prints of these images, but if you do happen to want a print, just let me know. I would love to get one shipped out to a new home.  More importantly though, this is something that I offer for those other car guys…and gals around the Foothills of NC.  I’m getting a collection of great little places that can be used as settings for your own personalized photo shoots.  If this is something that interests you, just shoot me an email at [email protected] and we can get started planning your session.  This is a type of photography that I really enjoy, but variety is the spice of life.  I’ll eventually get tired of photographing this car so I’m relying on you to give me some different subjects along the way.

Until next time….

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