Saturday, August 23, 2008

Too much annoyance

I think this is going to be the last post on this blog. Trying to do a decent layout has become time consuming and annoying, cutting into the time I could be out shooting photos. I don't know what they changed with this newest set-up, but it's impossible to rearrange photos after they're once set without playing with HTML, something I've avoided for the past five years. The result is an incredibly bad layout if you have more than a couple of shots.

Sorry about that. I had what I thought were some pretty good ideas for September.

A large part of keeping interest in a series of photos of a vehicle involves the shots of details, those close-up, but not macro, shots of such items as spindles, headlights, taillights, door handles and a host of other car parts. If you don't think a car, or motorcycle or pick-up, has any real detailing to show, you probably shouldn't be taking pictures of it.

Many of these shots need cropping in the camera; even then, more than half will need cropping in your post processing program. Other than that, your biggest challenge is keeping yourself and the camera out of the picture. The challenge varies with the part being shot: the emblem for a 440 engine, for instance, offers no problem, while the grill-headlight-fog light array of the 1934 Jaguar did. The need depends largely on the brightwork. If there's a lot, with some decent sized pieces, use a lens to get back far enough so any reflection of you and your gear is an unidentifiable speck. I shoot most detail with a Sigma 18-125mm lens, but not all. Often, a slight angle can be useful in removing your reflection from the surfaces. Note the shot of the '70 TA headlights. I was at an angle to that car when I shot that. There is no reflection. I was off at an angle, though slight, when I shot the '48 Buick Roadmaster's headlight and horn array, too.

Angle is all important. You have to become the camera's sensor to get a good shot here, at least in shape and size. As noted, cropping is often needed, but, as always, it's best to crop as little as possible. Pay attention to composition rules, but also try adding angles, as with the 440 emblem. As the other shots show, straight on can work well, too.

Note that the headlights are on in the shot of the Challenger. It was really too bright for car photography that day, but we tried, it worked, and this shot, I believe, helped. For headlights, you'll get the best appearance before the sun's all the way up, or when it's on its way down. A dim day can help, too.

As with all photography, practice is needed. Start looking at details, sorting them through your mind, deciding how they'd show up best. Then shoot. Look over the results and decide which you prefer, and why. Make a note or two at the beginning. Then, try to follow those notes and see what you get with different cars, in different light, at different angles. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Monster Monitor

Last night, I finally popped and ordered a 24" monitor. It's the Dell 2408FP, a monitor that has received excellent reviews for the past several editions. I'm wondering how the pictured 1924 Overland will look on that monitor.

Even though I caught it on sale (and with free shipping), it was a lot of money to put in a peripheral, when I could have bought a very good lens for a few bucks more. Still, my 19" Viewsonic G90fb CRT monitor is making me tired, though it seems likely to go on forever. I don't have enough room to work on self-publishing when I need good readability for more than a single page at a time. The resolution is shy of what I'd like for photo editing, too. The Dell monster will cure both of those problems.

Oh. Sorry. Today, those are "challenges," not problems. My foot. They're problems.

I expect to be covering a motorcycle road race next month, shortly after which the monitor will get its greatest workout, at least for the moment. I may be attending some other horse races before then, which could be as challenging for my skills (not a problem unless I don't meet the challenge). I'm also aiming at some air shows, though I'm not at all sure my lenses are long enough to do the job for those.

What does any of this have to do with photographing cars? Any skills developed on other targets tend to transfer well to automobiles, whether still or action skills. In other words, the best thing you can do for your automobile photography skills is get out and shoot, shoot a lot and shoot varied subjects, whether auto related or not. Remember to vary your angles and composition, and watch out for reflections when you're close to the object being photographed. Shoot raindrops rolling down a window, shoot dew caught in a spider web, shoot rusty barn door hinges, shoot cows horns, on and off the cow, and on.

Probably of greatest importance, though, is one recommendation: have fun doing it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kudos for Pentax's 55-300mm

I haven't gotten any auto shots with it yet, but the Pentax 55-300 served very nicely at a couple of late evening horse races over in Charles Town, WV. The lens handles nicely. It's light enough for easy use, but feels substantial enough for durability. I hope so.

With car races, you get several chances at catching the action as it goes by, but with horse races, it's over by the time you blink. A couple minutes and the whole story starts again, but when it's nearly dusk before the first race starts, getting in a couple of races is about all that's going to happen, especially if you work from a railbird's position. That is, from the rail because you don't have a press photographer's pass.

That can be all sorts of fun, trying to get around and over those using P&S cameras held out so far in front of them the camera is in front of your own camera.

Life's like that at times. I got some shots I liked and we lost very little money, while hearing some good Appalachian music, and popping many quarters into slot machines (fortunately, my wife walks among gods with Charles Town slots--she's won both times we've visted. Not much, but enough for a couple of meals).

The lens is sharp at all of the settings I used. It handles very easily, so following action is a simple matter.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Two Lens Job

You can easily shoot all of your car photos with a point and shoot camera, or so I'm told. Most give decent good light results. When you move into more complex cameras, digital single lens reflex (DSLR)types, you really remove the capability for using a single lens easily, because you start looking for a wider range of results, in larger finished photographs, whether on-line or printed.

It certainly can be done with a single lens. Some parts are easier with one lens than another, though. My preference is for an ultra-wide lens for interior photography, and a short to moderate zoom for other photography, with my current zoom an almost ideal length at its top end of 125mm.

The Pentax *istD in the photo has what I found to be one of the best lenses for general car photography, though on an APS-C sized camera, the resulting 36mm (24 x 11.5)wasn't wide enough. The lens is a Sigma 24-135mm that I sold, along with the camera, some time ago. I regret selling both.

I'm currently using a Sigma 18-125mm, which gives me a wider view, but still not as wide as I'd like. That's where the second lens comes in, but we'll look at wide angles next time around. The K10D in the photo has the Sigma 18-125mm mounted.

It is the telephoto end, though, that proved most important. My original lens for digital automobile shots was a 16-45mm Pentax, a good lens in every respect, except that I kept being visible in all the shiny surfaces of the vehicles I was shooting. I had to either shoot at an extreme angle, or forget about photographing some of the more interesting parts of the cars. That's not helpful.

So I got the first Sigma and, trying to do it all with one, didn't like the 24mm end. I thus got the 18-125mm and sold the other lens. Sigh. It still wasn't wide enough for what I wanted, but it was nearly perfect in every other way.

I could now get back far enough that reflection wasn't too much of a problem, getting shots such as this 1955 Chevy Nomad's fender while standing only slightly to one side. With shorter lenses, I found it necessary to get truly extreme angles for such shots.

With a DSLR, you cannot really do a professional job with a single lens (in my opinion). Figure on at least two. Because you can't really do a pro job with a P&S camera, because the limitations on wide angle for interior shooting, things are different. You have to shoot in smaller segments and may have to use panoramas to get a full dashboard in a single photo. Good shots are possible with the P&S as well, just more difficult to achieve. I'll get to that in a later post.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Ouch. More apologies.

Things continue hectic, not helped by my taking too many assignments too close to the finish of the book (my finish: it won't be out until the end of March, '09).

I've been spending time at Virginia International Raceway working on three articles. I'll see if I can attach a shot or two from there, both from this year and last year, as it is a fantastic place for car photography, still and moving. Most of mine are of movement.

That has to do for now. I'll work up more for a later post, but for now, it's back to the word processor.

Monday, April 14, 2008


The past month has been hectic to a degree that has kept me from posting. I'm in the finishing stages of writing a fairly comprehensive book; Signs of age creep in, as I can no longer work with the speed I once was able to muster. Thus, to any readers who might be out there, I apologize, both for that, and for what has to be the brevity of this post.

Composition is always a consideration with automobile photography (as with any photography), so always try to think of what you want to show, or hide, before you start clicking the shutter.

For example, if a vehicle is short and stubby, you may need to think about emphasizing that, letting it ride, or shooting at an angle that stretches the apparent length. Direct side angles tend to tell the truth about the size, while 3/4 shots, from front or rear, emphasize length. Shoot lower (flat on the back works) and get more length; Shoot higher and get less. I always carry at least a 6' stepladder with me. For extreme height, the ladder sits in the back of my small pick-up (Chevy S10) and get as high as I want to go without a bucket lift.

For a time, I shot most of my vehicles on the best looking surface I could find, often grass. That, it turns out, is not what most editors want to see for their features. Cars and trucks are used on pavement, so shoot them on pavement or gravel or dirt of some kind if possible. Trees make wonderful accents, but bad overall cover as the leaves reflect in the paint and trim and glass, mottling the effect an owner may have spent thousands of bucks to create. Compose the shots so white lines are not present, unless you're shooting a moving vehicle.

Composing a shot with the vehicle as the central object is the intent. The entire vehicle, though, need not be in the shot.

Thoughtful composition beats just blasting away. It also saves time when you have to upload and process the files.