On Assignment: Above and Beyond – a collaboration with Koenigsegg

Above and Beyond: Ming Thein x Hasselblad x Koenigsegg from Ming Thein on Vimeo.

This one has been some time in the making – planning started at the beginning of the year, with the shoot in May to balance weather and sunset/sunrise times, for release only now – today’s video and post is a taste of what goes into a production of this size. Please click the link above to watch it in full 4K glory.

In a nutshell, the concept is pretty simple – but as far as I can tell, unique to date – long exposures, cars, aerial perspective, twilight, Swedish locations for a Swedish car and camera, high speed sync flash to freeze. It is a way of visually describing the journey: the light trails are the past, the history, and the future; they’re not smooth because there are bumps in the road and and paths can diverge significantly due to small changes in causality*. The clearly frozen car is the here and now, and the moment we should be enjoying: it’s the immediate manifestation of the present, with viscerally clear details. The past and the context fade and blur away, dtails blurred by the biased lens of memory. After a little discussion with Christian von Koenigsegg and his team – they bit, and we were in business. Since we were going for the best of the best all around – the only choice was to use the flagship H6D-100c and DJI M600, of course.

*Physics reference.

The shoot turned out to be quite a bit more complex than planned. Firstly, the window of opportunity at which daylight would balance perfectly with flash for a long exposure with several sets of trails – the car was driven back and forth repeatedly (you’ll see us testing exposure duration in one of the clips in the video) – was very small, and basically allowed only two of this kind of shot per day; one at sunrise, and one at sunset. We would have to work fast as there would be no chance for do overs; the setup was complete much earlier than required, and we were on standby for the moment the light looked right. The biggest complexity was one of a very small exposure window: too long, and ambient would be too bright; however, apertures were restricted both because of depth of field (yes, even at 20-50m subject distance, with 100/150mm and 100MP, you need to be very careful) and power of the lights and diffraction – and even so, we had to use the big P45 reflectors to get sufficient light throw. Too late into the night and we would not be able to compose because it would be simply too dark to see anything. The flash was triggered manually by me at the end of the exposure, using the test function on the Bron RFS remotes. Finally, the car had to be driven slowly – but consistently – in forward and reverse, to maximise the density of the light trails.

To make the most of the opportunities, I also planned several images without the drone, from a ground perspective – including a mixture of the same long exposure setup (an opportunity presented when clouds rolled in by the sea and we could break out the ND filters). Even so – there’s only a total of nine images for three days of shooting. We used several locations around the southern part of Sweden and the Koenigsegg test track at Angelholm airport, necessitating in quite a bit of packing and unpacking; the cars were trailered between locations as they weren’t fully complete and road-ready. In Sweden you need a permit to fly any kind of drone anywhere, and this was complicated by working on a commercial airfield – one of our team was in contact with the tower at all times, and we had small windows of just a few minutes at times to work in between arrivals and departures. Fortunately, the airport wasn’t so busy and most operations were completed by 9pm or so – which was good, because sunset in Sweden in May is closer to 10pm.

We actually had three drones on the shoot – I flew the Mavic Pro as a scouting bird to fix locations precisely before we set everything up; this proved to be a great benefit since it was both fast and allowed us to lock down framing in advance. The H6D-100c flew on a Ronin gimbal attached to a Matrice 600; this is the largest photographic drone that DJI makes. Though you could theoretically shoot and fly, the M600 has the ability to separate aircraft and gimbal/camera operators, which is important as the pilot can focus on flying the aircraft, and I could focus on precise composition and timing of the flashes. Lastly – we also had an Inspire 2 on set for the aerial behind the scenes footage. And what you don’t see are literally crates of batteries for all of the aircraft (Mavic: 1 batt = 25min; Inspire: 2 batts = 20min; M600: 6 batts = 15min) – there was simply no chance to recharge everything between shots, and it was faster to leave the aircraft in the air when making small position changes to the car or lights. Daylight tests showed that taking off and landing again would result in small but annoying composition shifts. Though the aircraft are all equipped with position hold GPS, heavy wind gusts required experienced pilot intervention at times.

The final part of the shoot involved some time at the factory, to document the behind the scenes process of making a car. I think of this style as ‘augmented photojournalism’ – a little different to the usual corporate documentary I do in that lighting was partially controlled this time. I had a single Bron Siros 800L held by an assistant, set to expose correctly but with ambient dialled 1-2 stops under – much faster and more fluid than a light stand, especially in an unscripted environment. This proved necessary as the factory has bright but very even lighting (understandable from a production/work standpoint, but not so good for creating interesting images) and was quite spatially tight, resulting in cluttered and contrasty backgrounds with little opportunities for separation.

At this point I have to apologise for the lack of behind the scenes images – the video covers that, I think – simply because I was much too focused on shooting in the narrow windows of opportunity we had, and the crew was busy prepping and supporting the aircraft. Finished results will be shown over the next few days in a pair of photoessays. In the meantime – enjoy the video! MT

Video produced by Superstudio; shot by MAWE Films; aerial work by Aircam SE. With huge thanks to Koenigsegg Automotive AB and Angelholm Airport.

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Comments

  1. Spectacular work!!!

  2. Just caught this video. Magnificent work, Ming. I’m sure both Koenigsegg and Hasselblad were happy with both the shoot and the bts video. And probably Sweden itself. 😉

  3. Stunning work. Congratulations Ming 🙂

  4. Perfect, perfect, perfect and amazing. The little thing I would miss is the visual link with Sweden or perhaps swedish cultural and industrial heritage that made that country world known. Of course beside Hasselblad 🙂

  5. Nolan Haynes says:

    Absolutely amazing. Showing not only the finished masterpieces but part of what went into making it all happen. Still picking out the faithfully captured and rendered details.

  6. I kept seeing the names Hasselblad and Koenigsegg but was thinking “this is totally Ming Thein.”

  7. I really like the cover image of the video with the light trails and the blurred out runway. Was this achieved in a single shot or is it multiple exposures?

    • Nice job Ming! The 22-X shot is my favorite one too! My guess about how it was done is that a drone was trying to stay still while taking a long exposure (hence the light trails and the shaky images of the ground markings). A pair of strobes triggered (by hand or laser or something else?) when the car went by giving you the sharp image of the car superimposed on top of the ICM (intentional camera movement) long exposure.

    • Lots of driving back and forth 😉

  8. Inspiring work! You are living the dream!

  9. Bravo. Beautiful images. Looking like high-end car photography is more and more your thing now, eh?

  10. Junaid Rahim says:

    You should use this as an application to Top Gear – they need a refreshed and updated approach 😉

  11. Great work! Nice to see DJI and Hasselblad working together. I am hoping for an exiting and successful future. The ingredients seems to be there.

  12. Gregory Overcashier says:

    Thanks for sharing your journey Ming.
    Peace
    Greg

  13. Coisas EM'adeira says:

    WOW!!! Outstanding work!

  14. How long this project take?

  15. Very nice Ming, and clearly your project management skills are getting a good work out :-). Thanks for sharing the video and the behind the scenes commentary. It was an enjoyable watch and read.

  16. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Private use of photographic drones will be generally allowed in Sweden from August 1.
    Commercial use will still need permission, as well as use out of sight or in certain areas, as e.g. close to airports.

    http://www.transportstyrelsen.se/dronare

    ( The english pdf here on drones is not very informative.)

    • We had ATC on the radio the whole time because their test track is on the old Angelholm Airport, which borders the (functioning) new one. Tricky with timing, but those guys were great.

      As for lifting the drone ban – my team might have had something to do with it via DJI… 😉

  17. Why didn’t you use composite images for the light worm shots, one for the worm and one for the action? High speed snyc the car action and overlay the long exposure and worm.

    • Precision of positioning of the aircraft/camera for overlay, plus masking nightmares…and I personally believe in doing a single take wherever possible.

  18. Gibran Hashim says:

    Wow, this is so cool! Did you manage to blag a short drive? 😉

  19. That looks like a planning nightmare! But the results are surely worth it.

    When you started working as a photographer, did you ever envision doing this kind of thing? I bet a lot of photographers would give their eye teeth to work on that kind of project…

    • Yes, logistics were…complex. Did I envision this kind of project? Honestly, no; I don’t think my understanding of light or photographic imagination was that advanced yet.

  20. Simply masterful! Congratulations!

Trackbacks

  1. […] *The eagle-eyed will have spotted it at various points in the behind the scenes video for the Koenigsegg shoot. […]

  2. […] photoessay contains the stills from the video of the shoot – there are also high resolution versions available for your pixel peeping pleasure at […]

  3. […] wrote about the experience here and shared some very interesting details. The shoot was very complex, requiring careful use of […]

  4. […] juni kom Ming Thein och hans team från Hasselblad för att  filma och fotografera Koenigsegg. Bilderna får vi se […]

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