The local car clubs put together an annual show and shine event in the city core called Hot Nite in the City. It sometimes rains, but usually the sun comes out and it’s really quite hot! Not too surprising, because that’s what August is around here – stinkin’ hot! I participated a few years back, but found that the stress of sitting in the sun near your car, watching baby strollers, purses and belt buckles come dangerously close to your car was just too much to bear. So now I attempt to get down for an hour or two to see what I can find, photographically.
So the intent of this post is to contemplate the challenges associated with shooting a car show, outside, with people crowding around.
First, let me say that the name of the show is ‘Hot Nite in the City’. You would think, based on the name, that it would be held in the evening…. but you would be wrong. When the event was started, it was held on a Saturday night in the downtown core, after the stores had closed for the day. A block or two was shut down so cars could angle park on each side of the street and pedestrians could walk about freely in the temporary pedestrian mall. In the beginning, I suppose that there were big concerns about lost business caused by closing the street and frankly, it probably wasn’t that big of an event, so it happened after business hours. However, it’s bigger now – I think they registered over 400 vehicles this year – so it has become a full day event and the merchants just put up with it. I don’t know how it impacts business, but I know I don’t even look at the storefronts as I walk down the street – it’s about the cars, not shopping opportunities!
So I think most red-blooded males like to see cars of all types and vintages… but how to shoot them? When this particular show first came about, it was held in the evening and the light was a little more interesting. The photo below was from one of those earlier events, shot on Velvia (remember ‘film’?) and has a bit more warmth and longer shadows to it than you’d expect at high noon!
And as you’d expect, crowds weren’t as big an issue for the first year or two either. But now, it’s elbow to elbow people and the sun is high. Not the best combination for successful photography!
What to do? I certainly don’t profess to have all the answers to that question, but I will describe how I went about solving this problem for myself.
A few things to consider before selecting what gear to take along…
- what sort of photos do you anticipate taking? Given the expectation of close quarters and plenty of people, do you think you’re going to get images of an entire vehicle without plenty of distractions and people behind… and probably even in front of the car? Is that the sort of image you’d want, if you could get it?
- what will the light be like? Is there much of a chance of getting some nice lighting to model the curves of the car, or light up the interior?
- how much fun will it be to control reflections?
- how will the car owners feel about a heavy bag and perhaps a tripod swinging near their prized ride?
I asked myself essentially these questions, or perhaps subliminally answered them as I packed my bag. My answers were along the lines of the following:
- detail shots will be the most likely sort of image to go after. Get in close and prevent distracting backgrounds. I don’t think I’d want a complete vehicle in the frame unless I was shooting for Ferrari in the studio… you’ll never achieve anything close to artistic in a crowd on the street under full sun! So consider a wide angle zoom, and perhaps a mild telephoto macro. So I packed my 12-24 and my 105 micro Nikkor (love that lens!). Perhaps people? I’m not often pushy enough to shoot a stranger, but it’s been known to happen. The 105 would probably do reasonably well for that purpose too.
- light will be tough, no doubt about it. If you happen to find something to shoot that’s actually sitting in the shade, chances are it will come out looking flat. And Murphy says, the background will be in the sun and look ‘hot’ in the final image. The full sun will cause uncontrollable highlights on chrome and even paint.
- plenty of glass, chrome and shiny paint. A polarizer is an absolute necessity!
- no space to move, don’t even think about trying to set up a tripod! Of course a tripod would make for sharper images, with better composition, but imagine if it was bumped and fell against a custom paint job… I’ve seen how big some of those guys are!
So I packed a sling bag with my D300 body, 12-24, 105 and polarizers to fit. Then I tossed in my 24-120, because I felt there was bound to be an occasion that required something a little more general – it’s my current walking-around lens of choice.
And after all that, what did I use? The 24-120 and polarizer! Didn’t change anything along the way. In hindsight, there were a few times when the 12-24 would have done a better job of things, but it was hot, I had people waiting for me and it was crowded. If the show was on again tomorrow and I was heading down armed with the knowledge of yesterday, I’d take the 24-120 and the 12-24 and leave the 105 at home. The macro abilities of the 105 realistically require the use of a tripod. And I can get people pictures with the 24-120, albeit without the wonderful shallow depth of field and bokeh I can count on from the 105 at f2.8. I might also have dropped my Lensbaby in the bag too, because that would have allowed me to more tightly control what falls in and out of focus.
It’s All in the Details…
As I noted above, it was hot and crowded and time was somewhat limited, so I did one quick lap and called it done. I tried to be aware of details and visualize what I wanted to do in post-production before composing and shooting the image. It’s all well and good to try that, but I still kick myself when I return home and see too late what the real image was and how it should have been composed! I will share a few images that I think are good examples of what I did right and what I did wrong in a future post, but for now want to share one image I captured from a few years ago at this same event….
This image from 2005 is important to me because it really opened my eyes to the importance of seeing past the raw image and being able to recognize what it could actually become. In my mind, the ability to do this is what separates enthusiastic photographers from artistic photographers. I want to believe I fall into the latter group… but if I’m honest with myself I must admit I’m in the former. I’m working towards seeing with a more artistic eye though!
The raw image:
I liked the composition and the potentially striking subject material, but I struggled with the visualization. It sat on my computer for the better part of a year and I made some feeble attempts to do it justice. Eventually Robert Lawrence, who has been known to frequent this site from time to time, offered some suggestions and after several iterations and comments from Robert I eventually came up with this:
Robert made the critical suggestion of masking the human component from the mechanical and converting the engine to a monochrome image. That solved the big problem of the blue colour cast caused by the shaded location and allowed me to pump up the prominence of the tattoo. My goal is to identify these sorts of possibilities myself!
In the next post, I will show a few images from yesterday, with my preliminary attempts at post-production. No award winners in the mix, but I think there may be a few that offer some examples of what might (or might not!) make them better.