Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Photographically Challenged: Opposite Problem, Same Solution

In case you missed it: Check out my entry in Nicole B's Scavenger Hunt!

In his recent post J is for Judgement, David McMahon -- one of my favorite photobloggers -- recounted one of those "Decisions, decisions" moments we all face. The decision was whether to push on to a bi-annual air show on Friday evening in uncertain weather and fading light or wait until Saturday morning when the time crunch would be gone and he'd have plenty of daylight to work with. You can go read the post (and you should!) to hear all of the factors that went into his decision to press on and go Friday evening, but for our purposes here those aren't important. What is important is that David elected to go on Friday despite the rapidly deteriorating light, but knew he'd have to adjust his technique to suit the circumstances. He opted for tight shots of parts of aircraft rather than wide, sweeping shots that could encompass entire planes. There are a lot of good reasons for doing this, but in his case, it was necessary because the planes were poorly lit and blending into the background.

As I was reading, I realized that this past Saturday I had encountered the exact opposite problem, but employed the exact same solution. Only in my case there was no choice of waiting for better light. The classic car show I was planning to shoot only lasted from noon to 4:00 pm, which -- photographically -- is typically one of the worst times of day for outdoor work. the problem at David's air show was not enough light. The problem at my car show was too much of it, and in entirely the wrong place. But my options were more limited. The only choice I could make was whether to wait until the later part of the afternoon when I could at least hope for a tiny bit of shadow and contrast. But had this taken place in mid-summer, the schedule they kept wouldn't have even given me that much.

"1957 Chevy Bel Air Coupe - Wide view"
Raleigh, NC - March 2009 (Click to embiggen)

This first shot is what I could expect if I went with wide shots of the cars as a whole. There are two problems here. First is that the sun is still very high in the sky and almost pure, blindingly white light. It's harsh, and glaring and robs the features of the car of any kind of depth owing to lack of shadow (which not even a polarizing filter can create for you). The second problem is one that David would have encountered with his airplanes too. Cars, planes and the like are relatively long and low in aspect, so by the time you've gotten the whole subject into the frame you've (a) lost the detail in the subject and (b) included a lot of background that you may or may not really want. And as you can see, the background for my car show wasn't the most aesthetically appealing. Even shooting at a diagonal to keep as much of the frame as possible on the target I still would have a good deal of background clutter to contend with. If I were the owner of this car (yeah,right) and I were trying to sell it (yeah, even more right!), this might be okay. The potential buyer wants to see the car, the whole car, and probably doesn't care about nothin' but the car... regardless of what's behind it. But it's not my car and I'm not shooting for a classified ad. I'm trying to make art here people, and this isn't cutting it.

"1957 Chevy Bel Air Coupe - Rear Quarter Panel"
Raleigh, NC - March 2009 (Click to embiggen)

So rather than try to fight with the sun and the background, I played the hand that was dealt and got close-up detail shots instead. (This is the "same solution" part of the story.) This way I had a least a little control over the lighting and could minimize or even eliminate the industrial decay of the backdrop.

"1957 Chevy Bel Air Coupe - Headlight Detail"
Raleigh, NC - March 2009 (Click to embiggen)

There's also the element of the dramatic in a tight shot from a slightly unusual angle. Taken at a wide view, my 1957 Bel Air looks straight out of Grease or American Grafitti. Shot from a low angle with only one eye visible, she looks more straight out of Christine (even though Chris was -- as I recall -- a Chrysler).

So whether I achieved what I was after or not I suppose depends largely on the viewer. But I was happy with it.
Violence Unsilenced
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ROSIDAH said...

Thank you so much for sharing, Mojo :). I love to learn more about photography and this witty post here explains new aspects to me. Great!

dianne - bunny trails said...

While it's nice to grab just one shot of the entire vehicle (or subject), I LOVE the details and angles available when the shot narrows in on just one area. Definitely a good solution. Nicely done!

Make it a rag top and you have one of my dad's old cars. :D

BNS said...

Quite a machine, and you photographed it very well. When I was in high school I dated a guy who actually owned a '57 Chevy Bel Air. (Yeah, I'm old.)

Bobbie @ The Right Blue

SandyCarlson said...

Phew. And a few expletives expressing relief. I went to a car show once in the dead of summer and had a miserable time with the camera. Too much light. It was insane. I thought I was the only photographer facing a struggle. But now I know.

And I know great shots are possible. Your work proves it.

Shadow said...

aaah yes, the close-ups are muuuuch better!

Robin said...

I'd say it worked very well - silk purse from sow's ear and all that.

I really enjoyed the thoughts behind the shots as well, it's fun to get a peak into another photographer's mind.

magiceye said...

brilliant choice!
thanks for telling us the reasons at arriving at this judgment..

Eaton Bennett said...

Very nice shots. I really like the third one. There is nothing like chrome, glossy paint work and a vintage vehicle. Cars have their own particular kind of opulence.
And the explanation of the why's and hows of chosing to shoot a certain way is invaluable to me...thank you.

Anonymous said...

Amazing photos of the Bel Air, loved seeing them!

lisaschaos said...

I think you worked with your challenges. My fav is probably the last one, probably because it does make me think of those movies. Christine was a Plymouth. :) One of my favorite movies.

Gypsy at heart said...

Interesting post. Thanks for the info and I love the shots. I am always trying to get something different out of my TR3A.

Sarah Laurence said...

Interesting post to read along with David's. Your close ups were much more successful. Nice job adapting.

If you are stuck with full flat light and glare again, try screwing a polarizing filter to your lens. It's like sunglasses for your camera. Nice to connect with another interested in photography's gory details.

Daryl said...

did you try taking the settings down a notch or two .. or a polarizing filter would help

Anonymous said...

You found my dream car. I have yearned for a black '57 Chevy since I was in junior high school. Now if I could only find some way to afford one. Great shots, by the way. I really enjoyed the detail shots, especially.

Lew said...

Nicely done! The 57 Chevy was one of my favorite cars, even though I never owned one.