Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Details, details

How many times have you gear heads visited a car show and come home with a collection of relatively wide angle shots, taken from head level, of single, entire cars.  If your purpose in taking the shot was to document that you were in close proximity of a shiny car... fine.  Mission accomplished.  But will that really bring back fond memories of the event years from now?

What was it about that classy machine that you found so intriguing?  Was it the spotless details on the engine?  The way the chrome wheels reflected their surroundings?  The quality hand stitching on the upholstery?  The vintage faces on the dash board gauges?  These are the things you should capture if you want a viewer to share your experience without having been there themselves.  Save your wide angle shots for taking in the grand scope of the crowd that gathered.  Use your telephoto and/or macro lens to really show off the cool stuff.

I'm a lens junkie.  I own somewhere north of two dozen lenses.  I've got a choice of lenses to cover pretty much any reasonable focal length.  Given that versatility, what do I take with me when I visit car shows?  I take my Canon 10-22mm ultrawide lens and my Tamron 90mm telephoto/macro lens.  I use these lenses on an APS-C (1.6x) crop sensor, where a 30mm lens replicates the human eye's standard field of view (as a 50mm would on an old 35mm film camera).

Hence, the 10-22mm goes from "somewhat wide" at 22mm to "crazy wide" at 10mm.  This can produce some great effects when you want to accentuate a certain feature while showing it the context of the rest of the car.  At 10mm (where the Stingray at right was shot), the background doesn't have to be very far behind the main subject before it gets a whole lot smaller.  It's great for hood ornaments, chrome logos, etc.  At 22mm, it can even get the standard, one-car documentation shots that so many people already take.

However, the lens that gets the biggest workout is my 90mm macro.  It's long enough that I can capture people having fun while standing at a safe distance, and more importantly, I can zone in on those great details without getting dangerously close to scratching those impeccable paint jobs with my belt buckle.

The artist in me is typically drawn to lines and patterns wherever I go, and car shows are no exception.  Pin striping, logos, and the sculpted lines of a well-designed body panel are all abstract details that get my attention.  Most of the shots decorating this post illustrate this concept, taken from our church's annual car show that attracts about 100 entries every May.

One tip:  wear a plain, grey shirt to minimize how much you stand out when reflected in a shiny surface like chrome.  If you're wearing a red jacket (as a Husker fan, most of my light jackets are red), you'll stand out like a sore thumb when reflected in chrome, or blue, or pretty much any polished finish other than red.

One last piece of advice:  if you're taking only detail shots, you may find yourself wondering a week later just what kind of car that bumper belonged to.  It's not a bad idea to take a quick snap of either the entire car or just the registration form (showing the exact year, model, and owner's name) before moving on to those great details.  It'll help you stay organized later, especially if you've agreed to send copies of your gorgeous photos to the owners of those fine machines.

Got any other tips you'd like to share?  I'd love to hear them in the comment section below!

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