Improving in automotive photography -- equipment questions

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by firecrow, May 6, 2008.

  1. firecrow

    firecrow TPF Noob!

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    The main three things in my own work I would like to improve are

    1. Reducing stray reflections and glare on the body of the car. Most of what I take is still at shows where there are other cars, people and objects around and there is only so much of that a person can negotiate. Should I look into getting a polarizer, do they really help with reflections off of metal? If so what kind? or what other solutions do people have?

    2. Decreasing the amount of light variation (mainly shadow) over the car. Only so much can be done in photoshop and often raising the shadow levels in parts introduces unacceptable noise. I suppose I should use some kind of flash -- in my other kind of work I never use flash and lighting overall is something I know next to nothing about. What I am wondering is if the built in flash on my camera (Nikon D70) is adequate or should I get some kind of external flash and if so what is a good place to start? I could try stuff but I'd like to know where the ceiling is, whether it's me or my equipment. I am obsessed with quality and getting things right, and am really inexperienced with lighting.

    3. Having more control over the orientation of the plane of focus (I would like to remain with a more "straight" kind of photography). I guess the only solution here is a "perspective control" (tilt/shift) lens?

    Thanks for any advice!
     
  2. CanonSnob

    CanonSnob TPF Noob!

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    1. If you start lighting your subjects with off camera flash you going to run into this issue 10Xs more than you are now. You need to flag your lights so that they don't catch the lens, but still light your subject. If you look at car photography in ads and what not, there is a lot of post process that goes on to get rid of all of this extra glare and hot spots.

    2. Anything can be done in photoshop anymore. It's a matter of skill level. I wish I had the capacity of skills that the pros do. But just take your time and learn as you go. To kill the noise you should be shooting raw. Anything darker past that that still causes noise means you need to be lighting your subjects when shooting. No the onboard flash will not be sufficient to get the results it sounds like your looking for. I run pocket wizards with 580EXIIs. Also When I have more set up time and freedom I will run two photogenic 500w and a 1000w strobes with PWs. Most will suggest the PW and 580s or SBs out of price range. But to be honest I paid no more than $200 more for my professional studio strobe kit (with built in PWs) than I did after getting all the parts, stands, umbrellas, cords and other little nuances for the "Strobist" set-up

    3. If your shooting interiors or architecture photography that would be a good purchase. But for automotive I would think not. If you are concerned with having the straight look, then avoid wide angle lenses and shoot from further back with teles and mid range lenses. Also post process can eliminate a lot, if not all with enough time invested, of the ill perspective caused by wide angle lenses.
     
  3. Village Idiot

    Village Idiot No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Easy. Start shooting the vehicles in controlled environments.

    There was a picture of a setup with some one shooting a 350Z. It had a black backdrop with a large sheet of some type of foam board that spanned the length of the car and was mounted up above the side of the car and tilted down. Two strobes were fired off the foam board and provided a nice clean even light to light up the car without stray reflections.

    You just really got to learn that when you're photographing a car, you're not taking a picture of the paint, you're taking a picture of everything that's reflecting in the surface of the car. That's why it's not reccomended to fire strobes straight at a car's surface, you'll just be getting the reflection of the car and not a nice wide diffused reflection that you would be with a "proper" setup.

    Oh...and practice. Buy a model or two with very shiny and reflective paint. Take some time to learn exactly what you get when you're photographing the model in different ways...maybe even use something like a cheap used Sunpak 383. Most everything you do with your scaled down car will translate to a real car and larger lights.

    Personally, I think it's better to get everything right with the photo and spend less time using Photo Shop to clean up the imperfections.

    Check out this guy's work. He won the Strobist Photo of the Year competition:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7211625@N06/sets/72157594572725836/

    One of his shots I really like, with lighting info:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/7211625@N06/447992523/in/set-72157594572725836/
     
  4. Atropine

    Atropine TPF Noob!

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    1. Using a circular polarizer will definitely help you control unwanted elements in the reflections. You will also get deeper colours of the cars and the sky. Just don't overdo it. I've seen a lot of car photos where the polarizer has been set to remove virtually all reflections and it looks just weird.

    2. Using a tripod and a low iso setting is always a good start. If you do that, there will be very small amounts of noise in the shadows and you will eventually be able to crank up the darker areas with good result.

    3. TS lens might be a little bit of an overkill for car shots. Shooting cars at f8,0 (and using a tripod of course) should be enough to get the whole car more or less sharp.
     
  5. schuylercat

    schuylercat TPF Noob!

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    VI's got the keys: control the environment, and practice on models. The curved surfaces should indeed make perfect practice.

    I did a small number of car shoots - got to shoot a Vette, Viper, Prowler, others. At the time I read in Smithsonian magazine (of all places) there are 3 ways to handle light for a car to manage reflections:

    1 - Just be outdoors, in sun. Check the car mags. Almost everything is either outdoor in lots of sun or outdoor in darkness and reeeeeeealy slow shutter and massive light control (see next), or with a clamp/suction rig. Regardless, put the car where you want it, put reflectors or gadgets where you want them, put the camera where you want it. Control all of it. Watch...for...reflections...of...yourself...in...the...chrome. It's a mantra. Repeat as needed :lol:.

    2 - MASSIVE lighting, indoors. I saw a studio that did cars, but didn't see the shoot. Massive white cyclorama. 8' square diffusers. Everything was massive. You set the car, set the lights, set the camera wherever you want, you have total control. Dunno that you have to have massive light sources, but you'll need massive light modifiers and controls. Never did find out how they handled tire marks on the floor.

    3 - Biiiiiig wall! If I can find it, I'll scan my shot of the Vette. I parked it next to a 2 story beige stucco wall. The world's biggest reflector, and it was free. Had to wait for the sun, but it made for a lovely shot.

    4 - Do NOT try to do dry burnout shots. I mean it. I found out (later, after smoking the clutch of an Audi) that the car magazines slather corn oil (like Wesson) on the tires, THEN they do a burnout. lotsa smoke, no tire damage, no fried clutch. Duh. I mean, duh.

    I like the T/S idea...never owned a lens, but that's an interesting thought. Cars aren't that big...T/S make a difference? Macro, maybe? Hmm...
     
  6. firecrow

    firecrow TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for all the replies! Definitely a lot of things to try here, and I'm glad to know that polarizers can help.

    Regarding shadows and general dynamic range issues, I don't know if I want to completely give up on using lighting tricks to have more control before going to PS. I have been shooting for a long time only at ISO 200, RAW, and exposing to the right as is, so there doesn't seem much more I can do except alter the lighting.

    Anyway, suppose for argument's sake I had an external strobe, aren't there some ways using special papers you can put around a strobe to make the light more diffuse (or point it backwards at some kind of partially absorbent parabolic mirror?), and are these methods effective in sunlight? Are there setups for this kind of thing that wouldn't be too expensive (not many thousands of dollars) or unwieldy to lug around during a meet? I guess I need some kind of primer or a good resource on lighting in general, with a specific emphasis on outdoor settings.

    I guess I have a more general question about strobes, in terms of making the illumination more diffuse in outdoor settings.

    ------
    http://www.flickriver.com/photos/55539347@N00/sets/72157604661526097/
     
  7. Village Idiot

    Village Idiot No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    That's a huge question.

    Yes is the most vague answer.

    You can control everything, it's just a matter of learning how to do it. With the right equipment you can take a picture in the desert at noon and make it look like midnight.

    You can light cars with a strobe and umbrellas or small softboxes, but you have to be aware of what you're doing. Shooting a strobe through an umbrella will create a big diffused light. Shooting it straight at a car's surface will get you a nice pretty umbrella reflection.

    Check these out.

    Finished product:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrbend/938636117/in/photostream/

    Setup:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrbend/938636737/

    If you look, the flashes are pointing away and bouncing off of the white thing it's in. I'm not saying your shots have to be this complicated, just that you have to learn how light works before you just go firing it off.
     
  8. jcolman

    jcolman TPF Noob!

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    Here's a couple of shots I did that used different techniques.

    Slow shutter with camera attached to car rig (rig later PS'd out)

    [​IMG]

    Static shot with three strobes off camera. No modifiers on strobes.

    [​IMG]
     
  9. Village Idiot

    Village Idiot No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    This is what I was talking about. You can see where the strobes hit the car and their reflection. That's all you're getting really. The rest of the light on the car is coming from the ambient. It's not very flattering. It's like there's another car sitting infront of the 350 with it's headlights on.
     
  10. jcolman

    jcolman TPF Noob!

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    I wouldn't go quite that far but your point is valid.

    To achieve "ideal" car shots, shoot in a studio with a huge softbox hung above the car or shoot at dusk and use the sky as a large soft light source.

    My shot was an example of a different type of shot where you use smaller lights to create hot spots.
     
  11. Socrates

    Socrates TPF Noob!

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    Polarizers don't help with reflections from metal but your reflections are not off metal - they're off paint!

    There are two types of polarizers, linear and circular. Both will do the job for you BUT the linear will mess up your camera's exposure and focusing mechanisms. That's the reason why circular exists. Other than cost, there is no downside to circular.

    Forget the polarizer if you use flash. There's simply no way to control the reflections.
     
  12. Village Idiot

    Village Idiot No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Setting the lights up to get the desired reflections and specular highlights is indeed controlling them.
     

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