Car Photography Cumbria MX5
Automotive work is one of my favourite areas to work within. Whilst I get to photograph some unusual or rare vehicles, I also enjoy photographing your everyday runabout. And to be honest, it doesn’t matter if it’s a moped or an eighteen wheel lorry, I enjoy each of their individual challenges.
The above is the edited final image. However, let me take you through the process of getting there.
I’m using a Fujifilm GFX50s with a Fujinon 32-64mm f4 lens on a tripod. Lighting wise, I’m making use of two Elinchrom ELB500 packs, each with a single head attached and firing through 45° high intensity reflectors. The high intensity reflectors effectively give you 2.5x the output, although due to the weather (standard Cumbrian day!), we aren’t really going to need a shedload of light, as you will see. I have since noticed the availability of the Elinchrom 26cm high intensity reflectors, which provide 3x the output, and are now sat here, ready for my next outing!
I placed one light frame left, at the front of the car, and pretty much on axis to the bonnet (or hood, if you’re from across the pond). The head was at a height of around eight feet and angled down towards the bonnet. The second light was placed frame right, and at a height of around eight feet. It was also angled down towards the car, with the light path being almost 45° to the side of the car. I had taken my time to look at the shape of the car, paying attention to any possible reflections in the panels. From the camera position I look to see if I can see a reflection of the head and lightstand in the bodywork. If I can see it, the camera will certainly see the flare of the light during the exposure. As light travels in straight lines, it’s quite straightforward to anticipate any issues before making the first exposure. Having the lights quite high tends to help negate most issues.
Both lights were initially set to an output of 4.0 (Equivalent to 100Ws), but needed upping to 4.5 (150Ws) after the initial light test.
The camera was placed on a low tripod, and the initial setting of 1/125th sec, f8 and ISO200 gave me a “correct” exposure, as indicated by the camera. So that gives me a starting point for a “Meh!” image. My preference is to drop the ambient by about a stop, and bring the subject up with the lights. This creates a nice pop to the subject that draws the eye.
The GFX50s has a maximum shutter sync of 1/125th sec, which is pretty miserly, TBH. However, the curtain shadow appears at the top of the frame, rather than the bottom of the frame, as it does on most cameras. Because my lit subject (the MX5) is in the lower half of the frame, I can push the shutter speed a little, to 1/160th sec, without any impact from the shutter curtain shadow. The shadow is only visible when it impacts on a lit area of the frame, and in this instance, it would be over the ambient sky and trees etc.
Besides dropping the ambient by a stop, I also prefer to bracket my exposures to increase the dynamic range I have available to work with. I couldn’t bracket using traditional shutter speed settings, as it would have only affected the recorded ambient light. I would also have issues with any shutter speed much higher than the sync speed. I couldn’t bracket using the aperture settings because it would have affected the depth of field between each exposure, making it a pretty funky final image blend. Bracketing the images using the ISO affects the whole exposure, and allows the images to be combined in post. This gives greater detail in the shadows and the highlights, and when processed with a conservative eye, can produce appealing images for the client. I used to prefer to manually blend my images, because…. well, I’m a masochist! However, Lightroom does produce quite a pleasing blend, and I’ve found myself only needing to manually blend the most difficult images.
There are two points most often raised when discussing blended images, which is colour shift and noise. I’ve rarely seen any kind of colour shift, and it has only been where the image has been lightened and therefore changed the perceived colour. The colour quite often affected is red. You can sometimes get a shift towards pink, exactly the same as when you over expose a frame. In this instance, if the rest of the frame is pretty much as I want it, I will manually blend in from a frame that carries the “correct” colour. And yeah, red is a real PITA!
Noise? Well, it ain’t the issue you might think it is. The blending procedure actually removes a lot of the noise anyway. I used to use this technique with the Olympus E-M1 mkII without any noise issues at all, although I could only stretch to three frames for blending with the Oly. The GFX50s is pretty much noise free anyway, and it’s something I’ve never given any thought to, to be honest.
So I’ve established my base exposure as being 1/160th sec f11 at ISO200. This gives me slightly more than a 1 stop drop in ambient, and the car correctly exposed.
This is the single frame, shot at the above settings. It’s been put it through Lightroom with no “fiddling” or “fettling”, and just vanilla exported. The car is very, very slightly lighter in colour in this image, and I would normally bring the exposure down ever so slightly in Lightroom to compensate. Other than that, I would say it was fine.
I take five exposures, starting with the “midpoint”, or correct exposure at ISO200, followed by ISO50, 100, 400 and finally 800. To avoid any movement of the camera, I make the changes to the camera settings remotely, using the Fujifilm app.
This is the Lightroom merged image of the five exposures mentioned above. As you can see, it creates greater colour depth and contrast. I’ve simply merged the images and exported it without any further adjustments, so you can see the difference. You have a lot more dynamic range to play with, as you can see in the clouds, stones and car.
Okay, I’ve mentioned merging the images in Lightroom. Still in Lightroom, I adjust for any further contrast needed, or tweak the exposure a little if required. I then export as a jpeg. The above two images had no adjustments at all, so as to show the difference between the single and merged images.
The image is then taken into Photoshop, and any anomalies are removed, using various tools. (Healing brush, clone stamp or content aware fill etc. My choice depends on my mood, time of day, and which way the wind is blowing!).
Once I’m happy with the image, I then target specific areas for increased contrast. The clouds, stones, wall, tree and bushes in this particular area. I tend to use Nik Tools from On1 for this. Once done, I check for any noise that may have been introduced with the increased contrast. If there is any evidence of it, I go through the standard noise reduction routine. Sometimes it may be Camera Raw on a duplicated layer, which is then masked and brushed through as required. Sometimes it would be a proprietary noise reduction action or plugin, creating a new layer, which again would be masked and brushed through where required.
Finally, a subtle vignette to add a little more contrast to the nearer stones, and draw the eye to the vehicle.
And that’s your lot.
My Elinchrom kit came from The Flash Centre.