It’s been a little while since I’ve done one of these – partially because of respect for client embargos, partially because my recent assignments have been so hectic that I haven’t had time to pause for breath let alone b-roll; however, I’m hoping to rectify that today with a report from one of my larger recent shoots. In Malaysia, Nissan is phasing out the current 2013 Teana to make way for the all-new 2014 model. I was brought in originally with the intention of consulting on the 2014 campaign creative direction and shoot for the new car, however, at the last moment I got roped into the final campaign for the current car, too. And that shoot will be the subject of today’s post.
Setup for the front shot; naked speedlights provide main lighting and some directionality. The rear strip box forms a long continuous line defining the back of the car, which is jacked up so they can rotate the tyres into position with the Nissan logo facing upwards – attention to detail!
This is the first time I’ve photographed a car under studio conditions. Interestingly, I was hired precisely for that reason: the client wanted something different from the normal stuff; I was told to photograph it like I’d photograph a watch. Obviously, a very, very large diffuser cube is impractical, so we had to find ways to work around this. The size of the car and the perspectives dictated by the car’s proportions and lines meant that we were working with 85-100mm most of the time – for a car plus a little background, that’s nearly 20m of working distance x 7m for the width of the car itself; not forgetting ceiling height for the lighting installations. Finding a suitable space proved very challenging indeed; only at the 11th hour did we manage to secure an empty factory lot.
The brief was elegance and craftsmanship; I worked with the agency here to refine a 3-image concept that linked the car with a detail and some element of mastery. There were a few variations on this – I believe the client used three in the end; I haven’t seen the final artwork, but I believe they were put together in a logical order.
And then we had to hang an SB900 on a sync cord out of a window in order to trigger the other speedlights, since they were blocked by the diffusion material. Also, let’s just say that fitting the tripod (my usual Gitzo 5562 and Arca-Swiss Cube) in there was a bit of a challenge…
I initially wanted to do this shoot with the ‘Blad, CFV-39 and Profoto D1 heads; however, we ran into a small snag: no power on location, and a limited supply of Acute battery packs. In the end, I reverted to using the D800E plus a small pile of speedlights, which turned out to be a good choice for both easy adjustability and flexibility of layout; there’s no way we’d have been able to fit a couple of monoblocks and diffusers inside the car for one of the images.
Even so, there were some challenges – the ceiling was so high that we had to construct a flimsy scaffold out of autopoles and C-stands to hold the striplights; it wasn’t long enough to cover the whole car and get out of the way, so I shot it in halves and merged them afterwards in PS. Some chrome elements had to be lit separately and composited afterwards – there are obviously a lot of reflective surfaces on a car, and most of them don’t face in the same direction; there’s no way you can use a single source, and multiple simultaneous sources are challenging because you’ll inevitably get a reflection of something where you don’t want it.
Before going out and executing, I spent some time in the studio with a small model (1/43, providing some interesting size challenges of its own with light control, not dissimilar to photographing watches) and the speedlights to figure out the best lighting configuration for the car; it also meant client approval of angles was a lot more straightforward. The two main challenges were to highlight the car’s beltline fold and visually shorten the long front/ rear overhangs by breaking them up with a darker portion after the wheelarches; controlling directionality and spill of the speedlights was very important. I think you’ll agree that the final product looks quite a lot like the initial trials!
The second portion of the shoot – details and the talents at work – was fairly easy by comparison; we mostly ran with a simple setup of one main light and one catchlight to maintain the same mood. I also discovered that pottery was quite a lot of fun…
Would I do anything differently for the next time? Yes; I need more light control – not power (though you can never have too many watt-seconds) – another two or three strip boxes and speedlights would have let me do some interesting things. A completely dark location and more open brief gives me some ideas for light painting. And I’d like to push the creative experimentation even further…MT
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