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Portland Car Photography Experience #2

Sometimes The Photo Happens In Front Of You

Technical: This is the photography experience #2 from the Portland Car Photography series, and as mentioned in experience #1, I was photographing six models at Gordon Jones’ photography studio in Oregon, including Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough, featured in this photo.  The difference between the two car photography experiences, besides the model, the camera equipment and the lighting used, is how we came up with the idea of the final photo, found in the lower part of this article under “The Story Behind the Image,” for now, we’ll focus on the technical.

Model, Corvette Car Photography Photo

Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough recreates a pose while sitting in Gordon Jones 2003 Corvette converted to a 1953 Corvette.

I used a Hensel Integra 500 Pro monolight fitted with a 7-inch metal reflector and two-grids (a 10-degree in front of a 20-degree grid).  I then placed the rectangular, metal lens hood from my Leica 19mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R lens in the center of the grid, and secured it with gaffer’s tape. The area around the 10-degree grid I masked off with Rosco Cinefoil. The light striking Holley’s face was still too large, so I then blocked the light, using more Rosco Cinefoil, but this time in front of the lens hood until we had only a tiny, rectangular slit opening, less than 4-inches wide by ¼-inch tall.  It was that tiny opening that illuminated Holley’s face.

We also used a Hensel Integra 500 Pro monolight fitted with a white, Hensel, 22-inch beauty dish pointed toward the car to give an overall “ambient” light feeling to the car and to help fill Holley’s face with soft light.  Understanding the “angle of incidence  is equal to the angle of reflection” photography rule, we adjusted the lights to avoid any reflections on this highly reflective Corvette and it’s windshield. 

Photographer’s Toolbox
Camera: Leica R-9 w/Leica Digital Modul back
Lens: Leica Vario-Elmarit-R 100mm
Effective Focal Length: 137mm
Shutter Speed: 1/125
Aperture: F/8.0
ISO: 100
White Balance: 6000K
 Because white reflects 90-percent of the light that hits it, and black absorbs light, we placed a small black card, out of camera frame, but close and above the side-view mirror, reducing the brightness of the white encased mirror. Knowing that the human eye naturally goes to the lightest part of an image, the idea was to subdue the side-view mirror.  There were two other Hensel Integra 500 Pro monolights with 7-inch reflectors, fitted with 20-degree grids, one on the passenger side of the car aimed at illuminating the car seats and the other on the driver’s side of the car, behind Holley, to accentuate her hair.

I needed a high shooting angle, so I shot from a ladder that was on the driver’s side, facing Holley.  As mentioned in the car photography experience #1, my normal shooting style is to “keep it simple,” usually using a one-light technique for most of my photography.  On this occasion, it required multiple studio flash heads as the shot was tight and the main light for Holley was so small in order to recreate the light as though it was coming from the sun-visor, so obviously more than one light was needed.  I used a total of four lights for this photography set.

The Story Behind The Image: Just like the first Portland car photography experience, it still was another cold weather day in Oregon with the outside temperatures barely 30-degrees Fahrenheit. The studio was about twenty degrees warmer, so working fast was imperative, though Holley was a real trooper.  Holley’s Playboy issue was almost two months away from hitting the newsstands, but she was proud of her new Playboy Playmate diamond necklace—this would be the first professional photos of her wearing that necklace.

Photography Lighting Diagram

Lighting diagram for featured photo.

As we chatted about her upcoming issue, I took a handful of photos, then received that camera warning we all learn to hate as a photography shoot progresses—card is full!  So I told Holley, “Relax, I have to come down from the ladder and get me another digital card, this one is full.”  I began to walk around the car, as my camera bag was on the other side where we had all our gear out of camera frame, I noticed Holley pulled down the sun-visor to check her hair and make-up.  Then it hit me, that’s the shot!

Like most photography studios, it was dark with only the studio flash head modeling lights turned on—professional photographers do this so we can see where our light is landing on our scene and subjects.  This low-ambient light condition made it easy for me to see the light striking Holley’s face from the sun-visor when she pulled it down.  Seeing that light hit her face was the shot—it told the story—a beautiful, young lady, checking her hair and make-up in a sports car, so after I loaded my new digital card in my camera, I said to Holley, “Relax, I’m going to recreate what I just saw and I need to shape a light form to replicate the light from the sun-visor.

She watched as I took a Hensel Integra 500 Pro monolight, mounted a metal 7-inch reflector on it, then placed a 20-degree grid inside of it.  Since I knew the light was small and specular, the rule of lighting in photography states that the smaller the light source, the harsher the light, so I began thinking the best approach to take the edge off the harshness.  So I added another grid, this time a 10-degree grid, on top of the 20-degree grid.  The Hensel metal reflectors have a recess that will hold two grids, back-to-back, securely.  The idea was to slice and dice the light through the honeycomb structure of the grid to hopefully dumb down the harshness a bit.  While it’s minute, I’ve used it before and it works.  I used a 10-degree grid over the 20-degree grid as I need the light focused and as small as possible.

Since I needed to replicate the shape of the light from the sun-visor, I then placed the rectangular, metal lens hood from my Leica 19mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R lens dead center on the 10-degree grid and secured it with gaffer’s tape. The area around the 10-degree grid I masked off with Rosco Cinefoil. The light striking Holley’s face was still too large, so I then blocked the light off by placing a small strip of Rosco Cinefoil, but this time over the lens hood until there was a tiny slit opening, less than 4-inches wide by ¼-inch tall.  It was that tiny opening through the Rosco Cinefoil that lit Holley’s face.  For fill, I used a Hensel Integra 500 Plus monolight fitted with a white, Hensel 22-inch, beauty dish.  This provided an ambient touch of light for the front and side of the white Corvette while helping fill Holley’s face with soft light.

We did a few light checks, then took a few shots until I captured this featured photo.  Between that, the cold, and Holley’s patience as Gordon Jones and I rigged the face light, I basically felt I had the photo I needed and told Holley we were done.  I was excited about the photo and told her, “Thanks for giving me the idea.”  Quite honestly, if it wasn’t for her checking her hair and make-up, I don’t think I’d ever thought of the concept.  In photography, even though you’re not shooting, always observe what is going on around you and your surroundings, you just might see the shot before your eyes, though the real trick is recreating it and I feel we did just that in this photo, regardless how cold we were that day.

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