As a motorsport photographer I enjoy taking pictures of fast cars. As well as shooting cars on a race track, I work with manufacturers, drivers and sponsors photographing cars out on public roads. Working on public roads means you need to be more aware of safety considerations, for yourself, your clients and other road users.
I recently worked with Scottish race driver Christie Doran and one of her partners, the Leven Car Company in Edinburgh, who provided a Zenos E10S sports car for the photoshoot. Christie works for Leven Car Company on track days at Knockhill Race Circuit and other circuits in the UK and one of the cars she drives is the Zenos. The Zenos E10S is a road legal track car, built in Norfolk and with performance to put a huge smile on the driver’s face.
We took the Zenos out into the Scottish Borders for a day shooting in the countryside and here are my tips for anyone wanting to get into car photography.
You need to plan your shoot meticulously and have a backup plan in case you need to change locations for any reason, such as a change in the weather or a motorhome parked up in the area you had planned to use – both of which happened to me on this particular shoot!
Preparing a shoot list is important so that all parties know what you are planning to do and where you are planning on doing it. I divide my shoots into two areas – static shots and moving shots. For this photo shoot I was also shooting video, so I needed to build this into my plan.
I always recce the location a few days in advance and look at the various areas that I have chosen to shoot the car in. I also choose more locations than I will need just in case I need to switch to a different spot.
For the moving shots you need to plan where you are going to turn the car around. There is no point choosing a nice road if it means the car is going to have to travel a long distance before there is a spot to turn around and come back. You also need to consider other road users when shooting the moving sequences. How busy is the road at the time you plan to shoot the sequences?
Also look out for other obstacles. The road we were using was in the countryside and there were sheep wandering on the road. Although I planned to shoot the moving sequences away from the sheep, you need to be aware of animals and wildlife when shooting.
This is a really important aspect of car photography on the public roads. First thing is sticking to the speed limits. Not only is this a legal requirement but also from a safety point of view for you, your clients and other road users.
The second thing is the tracking shots. On a race track we shoot car to car from the back of a road car, strapping the photographer into the vehicle with a safety harness. On a public road this is not advisable and is actually illegal.
If you are on private land it is OK and if you have access to a private area then you can get some great shots, but be safe and make sure you are secure. On a public road I use a remote camera on the back of the leading car and shoot with that.
An essential part of any car photographer’s kit is a bucket, cloths, water, chamois leather or blade, glass cleaner and bug remover spray. The car needs to be spotless when shooting it and cleaning the car before you shoot will save you loads of time in Photoshop later.
Also check around the car for litter, again it will save you lots of time in post-production if you remove that discarded cigarette or drinks can before you take the picture.
The FUJIFILM X-H1 and X-T2 are the backbone of my kit. Lenses with fast apertures are the best to give a really shallow depth of field. I use the three FUJINON zooms for flexibility – XF50-140mm f2.8, XF16-55mm f2.8 and XF10-24mm f4 – and also the XF90mm f2 and XF16mm f1.4 primes. I also use a Samyang 8mmF2.8 fisheye lens for when I need to get into some tight spots; shooting from the passenger seat for example.
Filters are also a permanent part of my car photography kit with a polariser, to cut through reflections in the glass and the paintwork, and ND grads, to balance the exposure.
The last piece of kit I take is an EF-X500 flash gun with a remote lead to provide fill in light if I need it. I prefer to use available light for my car photography but it is always useful to be able to put in a little fill flash with a diffuser if I need to lift a deep shadow.
Taking the Images
I divide my shoot into three parts; statics, moving and tracking.
Most of the time I have a car for at least 24 hours or longer but sometimes I have to get everything done in a few hours and this is why you need to have a detailed plan.
1. Static shots
Because I had the Zenos for 24 hours I did most of the static images the evening before I was joined by Christie and the others.
The whole car needs to be shot from the front, rear, front three quarters and rear three quarters. Then I concentrate on the detail shots. Badges, lights, switch gear, engine bay and anything else that catches my eye.
As cars are shiny objects, you need to be very careful with reflections. For the overall shots I tend to shoot with either the 50-140mm zoom or 90mm prime to ensure I am far enough away I won’t be seen in any of the bodywork. With the detail shots you need to be closer to the car so keep an eye on reflections, especially at the edge of the shot.
I usually do the static shots three times, at different locations, to make sure I have a variety of images to choose from. You need to choose locations that have a clean background and remember to check for litter.
2. Moving shots
This is almost exclusively shot on the 50-140mmF2.8, sometimes with the 1.4x converter fitted if I need to stand further away from the road side. For cornering shots I try to find a road that dips down so the car comes over a crest in the road and has a clean background. Remember to take front and rear shots at each location.
I like to shoot cars through trees or grass verges with a slow shutter speed to give that sense of speed. Remember to lock the focus on the car if shooting through trees. With the X-H1 and X-T2 the ‘ignore obstacles’ AF custom function works really well at keeping the focus locked on the car.
Also remember to vary the angles as well. I like to get above the road and shoot down, especially on an open top car like the Zenos.
I also jumped into the passenger seat and took some pictures of Christie driving the car. The Fujifilm 10-24mm is great for this but I prefer to use my Samyang 8mm fisheye as the 180 degree field of view really allows me to get a lot of detail into the shot.
3. Tracking shots
On a public road there is only one way to shoot a tracking shot and that is with a remote camera. The traditional way is to shoot from the back of a car in front of the subject but on a public road this is not allowed. So unless you are doing your photoshoot on private land a remote camera is the only way.
I use the X-H1 fitted to a Manfrotto 241V suction clamp, which I attach to the car’s rear windscreen. The clamp is rock solid but as a precaution I also put a safety strap on it as well, which, in this case, is a Peak Design slide strap put through into the car.
Using the Fujifilm Camera Remote app to control the camera from the passenger seat of the car, I direct Christie to follow us closely for a few hundred meters at just 40mph. With a shutter speed of 1/30 to 1/60s the results look like the Zenos is travelling a lot faster.
On bumpy country roads there are going to be a lot of ‘misses’ when shooting at a relatively slow shutter speed as the cars move about, so I took plenty of shots to make sure I got one that worked.
Shooting cars on public roads is great fun and the results can be spectacular. Remember to stay safe and stick to the speed limits!
More Information on Zenos Cars.
MORE FROM JEFF CARTER