Neato Burrito – DIY Photograph Your Ride Like a Pro
In last week’s West Coast Report 18 I expanded a little on how to get your ride into a magazine, and promised a follow-up on how to photograph your ride like a pro. Oh, and by expanded I didn’t mean I was experiencing a bad reaction to cabbage burritos. Although I have to warn you guys never request extra cucumber slices on a cabbage and anchovies burrito… it’ll create the mother of all gut bombs. Oh, and never ever forget the “always carry an extra pair of shorts and Levis” rule.
‘Nuff said, onto the photography tips. First thing be glad the days of film are gone. Not that film was bad because it wasn’t, but because the digital age has revolutionized photography in the same way Eastwood welders have enabled DIY guys to weld like the professionals. Whether its point and weld, welders, or point and shoot cameras, the quality that can be obtained with modern technology is amazing. The new technologies take an absolute minimum of understanding to produce pro results. Settings that once required the operator’s hands-on knowledge are now handled by the equipment. Light settings, F-stops, white balance, ISO (film speed). The thing to accomplish with analog (film) shooting at night or in low light. That’s pretty much history with digital.
Here’s the most important step to photographing your ride. You need to look up into the sky and see where the sun is at. You want it at your back with the light hitting exactly where you want it. For example if you’re a taking a front ¾ view which most times is the lead shot for a magazine feature, you want the entire grille lit, and the entire side of the vehicle lit as well. This isn’t always possible if you’re working with a sketchy background. You guys out in the middle of nowhere are lucky when it comes to finding a good background. We’ll get to picking out the right background.
The time of day is important too. As a magazine editor covering an event, plus trying to shoot as many car, truck, or bike features I rarely had the luxury of perfect light. There are times of the day when you flat shouldn’t shoot (take photos). The absolute worst time of the day is 12 ‘O-clock noon on a sunny day. The sun is directly above making the worst shadows imaginable, and the light is way too hot. “Hot” is a photography term meaning bright.
Now if the day isn’t sunny with a complete cloud cover the overcast skies can work to your benefit. That’s in varying degrees though. For example if there’s sunlight breaking through the clouds there’ll be light and shadows to contend with. The front can be perfectly lit, and the shadows can overtake the rear.
Here’s examples of what sunlight and shadows can do to ruin a photograph.
Using the camera’s built-in flash can help to some degree to fill in the shadows.
A good accessory add-on flash can handle shadows even better, blasting stronger light. Sometimes these shadows can’t be avoided if its not your car, and you can’t move to a better spot.
If the color of this truck was lighter the sunlight wouldn’t be too hot. This was taken at 9:30AM and already much too bright out for a dark color.
Digital camera focused on the Donuts sign at 5:00AM. The meter reads the sign and ignores the rest.
Refocusing on the car without a flash, the camera does a much better job overall. But notice the sign is now a dingy white because of using the camera’s auto-white balance. This can be correct with White Balance settings in the camera.
This was taken only a few minutes later after adjusting the camera settings. I bumped the F-stops up which is real easy on a digital. You don’t even have to know what it means. Twist the dial up or down and watch the screen afterwards to see how it effected your photo. Bumping up increases light, and bumping down from Zero decreases light. The white balance is still on Auto.
Here’s a second later with the F-stops bumped another notch up.
Here’s finding a location. In Orange County, CA. good clean backgrounds (locations) are hard to find.
Keep an eye out for ugly distractions especially like other cars in the background. Dark fresh asphalt is like finding gold. In fact here’s a hard fast rule; never have other vehicles visible in the background, period!
Same location only I moved to the right to lose the red car and white truck in the background.
Here’s a vertical like I’d shoot for a cover. Notice the sky and tree make for a more interesting photo. There was a naked girl next to the car, but I’m not allowed to show that kind of stuff.
This was a cover for Biker magazine… uh, sans the scantily clad girl. This was inside a bar in Costa Mesa, CA. with a minimum amount of light. There’s one spotlight to the left of camera. Move a spotlight as you would want the sun to hit the main subject.
Again only one spotlight. Notice the lightest colored parts (Pan motor) soak up light. I used three spots to get the desired lighting. Neutral balance is the best type of electric light. You can adjust White Balance to compensate.
This photo is acceptable and was published, but it could have used a little light thrown under the carb on the pushrods, etc.
Here’s a what a good flash can do for blasting out shadows. Try using a using a fill-flash on every photo you take, and then see if you can’t notice an improvement in your photography.
Multi-colored floors with tons of reflection are a real killer. Not to mention the composition of this photo is bad.
Back to shooting in the sun using natural light. Notice the difference where you stand and how the light hits affects the photo? Shooting from the left exposes a major shadow down the right inside of the bed.
Moving to the right hides the shadow and focuses on the better lit left side of the bed.
The best interior photography is done out of direct sunlight. This shot of the cab was taken in direct light without a flash. Notice where it’s out of the sun on the driver side its dark.
Same exact conditions a second later only with a flash. The sunlight had been subdued and now the driver side door and floor are clearly visible.
What’s wrong with this picture? Trucks approaching in the background, the grille is improperly lit, big ugly shadow all around underneath, and worst of all there’s a giant pile of horse manure mixed in with pig poop visible… pig poop, I tell you.
Alright same exact Syracuse, NY. location, but now the truck has been moved into the sun where the grille, and driver side are perfectly lit. And no, that isn’t a pile of giraffe turds behind the truck.
Liverpool, NY. Slight cloud cover allows shooting the passenger side with sunlight coming from my right shoulder illuminating the grille, and hood. Notice the truck’s color.
Here the Klondike Gold ’59 has been repositioned to the perfect ¾ angle with the sun coming over my shoulder. Also note how the direct sunlight illuminates the paint bringing out its true Klondike Gold goodness.
Perfect light. Proper angle into the sun. Look at the right side and across the tailgate
Bad light. improper angle into the sun. Inside the cab is dark and worse yet, the tailgate is completely in the dark.
A former Street Rodder Road Tour car. This photo is a tossup whether one likes how the overhead lights accentuate the curvature of the hood.
Shooting into the sun with electric light from behind.
This floor is just too busy for a feature shot, but sure is cool. Can you imagine taping out 8,000 square-feet worth of checkers?
ROAD & TRACK Almost Goes To Hell
Road & Track magazine isn’t long gone as in kaput, out of print, or finis, but rather gone from its longtime Costa Mesa, California home. Here’s some shots of the old The R&T offices overlooking Newport Beach, and the Pacific Ocean.
Boy, those must have been the days checking a Jag XKE, or some kind of V-12 Colombo powered Ferrari out of the press fleet and blasting down PCH trying to find something about the car they could complain about in print.
I drive past the old R&T offices every time I do work for Newport Classic Cars just a little ways down Monrovia street. Strangely enough I was driving the Hot Rod To Hell when I jumped out and blasted these photos of R&T’s old digs. OK, so that doesn’t sound all that strange, but get this Road & Track’s new digs are only 19.4 miles from Hell, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Speaking of the Hot Rod to Hell, the polished stainless steel Shotgun style headers arrived from Speedway Motors, so I have some update shots of the exhaust mocked up, plus the front shock brackets and chrome shocks from Speedway that I’m using to convert from friction to tubular shocks. So as you can see, I’ll be going to Hell in style.
Battery Tray Survival Tips
The number one area for any classic vehicle to have rust troubles brewing is the battery tray. Be it truck, or car the odds are real good lifting out the battery will reveal anything from rust starting to big rust holes that have already occurred. Sandblasting, paint, welding… tying a vehicle up for a week, or so: A guy could get carried away, and start tearing things apart, but for a quick 15-minute fix that will last a long time, and keep a daily-driver on the job here’s the fast track to make it happen.
I grabbed a box of baking soda, and sprinkled it onto the battery tray. Then hosed tap water onto the tray and scrubbed the bubbling baking soda briskly as it dissolved the battery acid. Battery acid is the main cause of damage.
Using compressed-air I dried the battery tray, and the surrounding wheel well. Eastwood Rust Converter worked great for sealing the area after stripping the battery acid.
Rust Converter goes right over rust and provides a polymeric coating that’s ready to paint without sanding.
Afterward I placed a battery mat over the dried black rust converter, and installed the battery. Did I mention the job took only 15-minutes to do?
— John Gilbert