Sitting in bed one recent Sunday morning, I noticed a local news item. In the town next to where I live there was going to be an American car and bike show. The weather was good so I furtively suggested to the family we go and visit. All but my youngest agreed, her response was “I hate cars”. Anyway we decided to go despite her very vocal protest.
Now I was excited about going for two reasons. Firstly I really like cars of all types but more to the point of this post, I have always been really really crap at taking pictures of cars so was looking forward to the practice to try and improve. This post is about my experience and thoughts of the day. I will also go off on a couple of tangents in here but this to give an insight my views on wider photography thoughts on which you may or may not agree.
Thus aside from the normal getting stuff together for a day out, I needed to decide on what camera(s) and what film. Although October, the weather forecast was good for the day and was going to be dry and bright.
Camera choice was easy. My Holga is taking a little trip and besides, it’s not allowed in the house anyway. My Olympus OM1n had been sent away for repair and service so I was left the Nikon F6 thus the choice was made. I only have two lenses for the Nikon so packed both, a 50mm f/1.4 AF-D and a 28mm, as I did not know which I will need.
Film was a harder choice. I didn’t want black & white, there were going to be cars of all eras and custom cars too so I knew I wanted colour. I was not taking a tripod (busy place, walking with family, so too long to set up) thus a slower film like Velvia 50 would be a risk especially as it can cloud over quickly here in the UK. I had some Porta 400VC which I was tempted with, I had good old Agfa Vista but I felt I wanted something ‘more special’ for the day.
Tangent 1: Agfa Vista, Fuji Superia, Kodak Gold etc. – the so-called consumer colour films – are all very good films and do a great job. I seem to concentrate on so called ‘pro’ films Provia, Ektar, Velvia, Portra etc. I am not a pro and this is probably pure snobbery on my part. For the most part if someone put a scan up of a 35mm pro film versus a 35mm consumer film I would probably struggle to see the difference. I need to get over this snobbery.
I was thus left with two options from the stock I had: Fujifilm Provia 100F or Kodak Ektar 100. I opted for the Ektar. I didn’t want to have to think too hard about metering for slide, so truth be told I was a little nervous taking slide film as I didn’t know when I would get an opportunity like this again and didn’t want to F it up. The other deciding factor was a gentleman called Bill McCarroll. I have always admired his auto photographs from Cruising Grand and his colour ones on Ektar are great. Thus, 3 rolls of Ektar were packed plus a roll of the Portra 400VC in case the weather turned.
I had fitted my 28mm lens to start with. In my head I had visualised taking these wide shots of the cars featuring the front grills, then sweeping down the side of the car in the one image. When I got there I realised pretty quickly this was not going to happen. The cars were parked either close together or on the street in amongst street food stalls etc. The dream shots were thus shattered in my first few minutes there and I duly attached the 50mm for the rest of the day. I also realised I was going to need to be much more creative and thoughtful about my shots.
The next thing I realised, after a few shots admittedly, these cars were covered in chrome and the custom paint jobs were highly reflective thus I or the crowds would end up reflected in every shot. The bright sun was also casting shadows of people or myself on the cars. Thus where I positioned myself for a shot became quite crucial. However this was not the biggest challenge. Everyone was trying to get pictures of the cars, there were people everywhere and getting a clear shot was a real lesson in patience and creativity.
Tangent 2: There were obviously lots of professional photographers there, as well as keen amateurs like myself. Most are respectful of each other, but a few really do not seem to care. They will walk in front of you (or families taking pictures of their kids) whilst you are ready to take a shot, they will stand for ages blocking most people’s view while they take 30 or so pictures of the same scene. Basically don’t be that photographer, allow others to take their shot as well, be aware of your surroundings and where you are standing and we will all be able to get our pictures.
So the challenge was set: how could I get something interesting that didn’t have me reflected in it, or was full of people in the way? I realised I needed to look for details in the cars or scenes that were slightly different.
The picture above of the red car with the lady in the red shoes is an example. I spotted her standing there next to the car and instinctively knew I needed to get that shot with the red next to the red. Lucky I was in the right place, right time and that she was there, right?
Tangent 3: I am probably going to sound a bit arrogant now, but I now understand this has very little to do with luck and I would suggest a few of you give yourself some credit when you get shots like this. Let me explain. The chance/luck part of this shot is there was a person in red shoes standing next to the red car. I still had to notice this, I still had to think that would make a good image, I still had to get the composition right despite the fact she was moving and there were people everywhere, I still had to get it in one shot as otherwise the opportunity would have gone and do all of this in under 30 seconds. So next time you get a ‘lucky’ shot remember not to give all the credit to Lady Luck, you did it.
So returning to the rest of the shots, as mentioned, I really tried to concentrate on details that gave the viewer a sense of the car and details that made it special.
In all I finished three rolls of 36 exposure Ektar on the day, so how was my keeper rate? I would say one roll was complete crap. These were mainly of the bikes in the show, but the roll is not wasted as I am able to review what I think I got wrong so hopefully next time I get a chance to photograph bikes I can do better.
Of the other two rolls there are the shots you see in this post plus more I really like, so for me this has been a successful trip and again it has helped me review and learn how to do better next time.
Did I make the right film choice? I believe so, Ektar is lovely, all of these were shot at box speed and lab developed and scanned. Some have been tweaked in Snapseed to get them exactly how I want them. The only other film I wish I had taken with me would have been Kodak E100VS (see Matt Stoffel’s EMULSIVE interview as to why) but for some reason I am finding it difficult to shoot this film right.
The day was a fun family day out, I was able to practice photographing cars so I can learn to photograph them better and although reading this it may seem I was walking around being very serious, I really wasn’t. I was doing the thing I started photography for in the first place, having fun.
~ Sandeep Sumal
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