An enormous amount of visual material needs to be generated before any new car launch; both stills and motion. The first part of this article will look at something I am very familiar with – normal studio photography.
As ever, creation of images in a project this large is a collaborative process between photographer, client and agency; ultimately the client has the final say, so even if we may believe that some angles are better than others…unfortunately, they may not always be used. However, that’s where the liberty of the director’s cut comes in; the final product images I’ve used here are the ones I personally like, some of which were used in unaltered form, some of which were integrated into other graphics by the agency, and others which will never see the light of day except for here.
New car, new challenge. Some of you will recall an earlier On Assignment post where I shot this car’s predecessor; this time the client wanted to push the visuals a bit further than the last car but still maintain some degree of stylistic coherence. I saw much stronger lines running the length of the car, which would mean we need a much longer light source to create the reflections necessary to accentuate those lines; lighting an object this big is all about constructing reflections A light strip on a dark background is the only way to go, otherwise you land up with strange black lines reflected in the car; in the end, we landed up constructing a studio inside a warehouse.
A framework of poles and girders went up, which was then draped in blackout cloth with two openings for white translucent cloth; fluro and white metal halide lamps were aimed at the cloth to create the highlight. I think we used close to 100 fluro tubes and 10 halide lamps in all – enough for a 1/60s exposure at f5.6. The number and type of lamps were calculated to get us as close to daylight as possible, which would balance with the flashes I’d use inside the tent to sculpt the sides of the car.
The tent was made large enough to a) move the car around and keep the roof light source static; b) let me shoot the front and rear angles with 135mm, which is just as well as the client asked for a compressed 90/10 head on and rear on angle at the last minute. Moral of the story: always build a bit of contingency capability into the budget and the rest of the shoot.
One of the biggest challenges on this shoot was the car itself: the original plan was to shoot a dark blue car, but there being only a couple of cars in the country at the time and needed for other purposes, the specific vehicle we were given was not exactly in the best of condition – it’d already been through the QC and training wars, and bore battle scars (read: paint swirls) to match. In the end, my assistant and I landed up spending many many hours polishing the thing with pretty much every compound known to man; the problem with dark colours is the minute you hit them with a flash, every single paint swirl and defect is visible. They are also both dust magnets and dust highlighters. This is fine on a fresh/ new car, but it can also potentially be a disaster. In the end, though we did shoot a few key angles on blue (and I nearly got strangled by my retoucher because every panel had to be effectively ‘repainted’), most of the visuals were done with a silver car.
On the equipment front, life stayed pretty much the same as last time (and every other studio setup I’ve done): a pair of D800Es, one for backup, a bag full of speedlights, stands, modifiers and clamps, enough batteries to cause a small environmental disaster if they leaked (don’t worry, they’re rechargeable Eneloops – amazingly, I’m still using some of the original ones I bought four or five years ago) and lenses geared at maximum image quality: this meant all Zeiss primes (2/21 Distagon for interiors, 2/28 Distagon, 1.4/55 Otus APO Distagon, 2/135 APO Sonnar) and Nikon PCE lenses. My subjects don’t move and I have the luxury of being able to use live view and optimal apertures, so why not? Needless to say, a tripod is part of the equation – my usual Gitzo 5562 LTS and Arca-Swiss Cube.
There was also an iPhone involved for quick behind-the-scenes grabs – if you’re wondering why I didn’t use the GR, I am now, too: I’m pretty sure it’s because my mind was more focused on the final product than the b-roll. I admit that I did consider using the Hasselblad 501CM and CFV-39; however, I didn’t need the 1/500s sync (balancing with continuous sources, remember), I would have to go wider than the 35mm-e I have for the interior images, and personally, I didn’t fancy running hundreds of feet of sync cables around the place, either. The Pentax 645Z might have been an option except it wasn’t available at the time (April – and if you’re wondering why there’s such a lag between the shoots and the On Assignment posts, it’s usually because of embargoes or time limitations on my part). Would I do the same again? Sure. The only time I ran into a resolution issue on this job was when the agency wanted to use an extremely small crop (>0.5MP) to enlarge to wall size – even if I’d had 80MP, that would still be physically impossible. And I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to encourage this kind of ‘planning’.
In any case, I think it’s time to let the final result speak for itself. The images on a gradient grey background are delivered with the understanding they’ll be comped into something else later; I’ve just put them on the gradient here because they look less jarring and odd than a plain-color background.
In the end, this proved to be one of the most challenging shoots I’ve done: firstly, time pressure due to a combination of budget, deadlines, the extra car prep required, and additional angle requests that keep popping up during the shoot – this is generally normal, to some degree. Secondly, because I find that once you get thrown out of the zone, it can sometimes take you a while to get back into it: there’s only so much perturbation you can take before the external factors (such as car cleaning) take your mind away from the creative portion of the work. Overall though, I’m very satisfied with the outcome (if not so much what the agency did with them afterwards). There’s a good mix of well-executed standard angles, and some more sexy stuff that both shows off the lines of the car, as well as some elegant lighting. This is only the second car I’ve shot properly – I don’t count my own – and of course I’m very grateful for the opportunity. Now, time for me to start figuring out what to do with next year’s model…MT
The full gallery of behind the scenes images and final output can be found here on flickr. The next article will take a look behind the scenes of the making of the TV commercial…
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