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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hot Rods

Bloviation Warning. This could go on a while.

We had a hot rod show in Waukesha yesterday. Actually, the last three days—but I went yesterday. The weather was perfect.

I don't know much about hot rods—well, apart from having seen American Graffitti a number of years ago (a nice film by a man who went on to spoil his career doing silly movies about space)—but even so, I have my doubts as to whether it is possible to take an original picture at one of these events. The cars are the stars, and everywhere you look there is gleaming paint and glistening chrome. The photographer's role, though rather limited, seems very clear...

...Car bits. The obvious strategy is the detail shot. Unless you're happy with crowds of heavy people in bad T-shirts (they're very friendly people, don't get me wrong), the thing to try seems to be concentrate on a car-part detail here or there. I lost my appetite for this sort of thing quickly; to not do so, I suppose, would require an interest not so much in the detail pictures but in the details themselves. Apart from liking white sidewalls (I do like them, though I'd never for a instant consider them for myself—they're sort of like spats in that way), I have no idea if this is the sort of wheel and tire that would appeal to an actual car person or not. What can I say, that I liked the pretty colors?

But speaking of colors, bet I know why this particular woman was attracted to this particular car.

It's funny—as a photographer, I think I've climbed the "pro" mountain and then slithered halfway down the further side. If I had been covering the event for somebody, I know just what I would have done. I spotted a pretty (if faintly weathered) blonde I would have asked to pose for me reflected in a certain windshield; I saw a man in a wonderful Hawaiian shirt I would have asked to stand in one car window so I could take a picture of a particular car's interior—and his shirt—through the other. But since nobody's paying me, why bother?

If the shot above were to appear in a newspaper, for example, I would have had to take the fellow's name—he seemed to be the car's owner—as well as all the specifics about what kind of car it was. On the bright side, I don't have to send him a print. (Well, except on the off chance that he sees this blog.) I don't even know if my local paper uses stringers.

And because I wasn't covering anything—that is, not really working—I had my finger on slow-speed advance, and didn't shoot enough. This little fellow presented me with a common editing dilemma: I have two shots of him, this one with a good expression, and another one in which he's in focus and tack sharp but doesn't have as good an expression. The purpose of shooting a lot is not to shoot a lot, it's to shoot enough to make sure you get the shot you want in the can. Sorry, outdated expression.

I lay flat on the asphalt to get this shot, though. I probably drew a few looks, but I didn't notice. Worth the trouble, don't you think? I didn't meet Joe.

Which reminds me, I suffered one disappointment. Being 6'2" and 250 lbs. has intermittent advantages, for instance when I want something off a high shelf or when I want to pretend (to people who don't know me, it would have to be) that I'm someone intimidating. But there is no way I could shoehorn my excessively-sized self into a '32 Ford Coupe. Those things must have been made for people about the size of Danny DeVito. (Hmm, being his size has some other advantages, too.)

Back to car bits. I don't know from car engines, but some of the engines on those cars looked cleaner and shinier than my kitchen.

All in all I had a nice time at the hot-rod show. Talked to some nice people and saw a lot of fuzzy dice. The camera let me down decisively several times, though. I was surprised by the number of times it mis-focused or decided spontaneously to expose one or two pictures way off base—I lost one shot I really wanted to see, boo-hoo. But maybe it can be put down to an ailing battery; halfway through the card, the battery gave up the ghost. I knew I should have grabbed another one from the charger on the way out of the house. You know what they say: Oh well.

Arrrr! Last shot.



Blogger Peterbkk said...

We talk about art at this blog.
Well Hot Rods, those a real work of art.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Adrian Malloch said...

Small town newspaper photography can really be like Groundhog day. Year after year the same event, same people even. I'm not doing that gig anymore but your world weary comments re: jaded photographic clichés still rings true.
The outstanding (no pun intended) picture for me is purplecar/woman. I love going to events like this simply to see and photograph the relationships between people and their obsessions. No dog-show picture essay would be complete without the weird and wonderful portraits of the owners (Best of Show!) with and without their little darlings.

12:37 AM  
Blogger Doug Plummer said...

Your dilemma about how much to "cover" a situation when there isn't an external motivation is an important one. Professionally, I am in situations where I need to come back with the goods, and that is one way of photographing an event. When I'm on my own nickel, the challenge is to find out what is compelling about a situation, and milk that to some satisfactory conclusion that might not even be about the photograph. The salient meaning is generally about connection, and relationship, for which the cmera is the intermediary. It is exercising those personal motivations that I then bring to professional situations that keeps my career vibrant and engaging.

12:59 AM  
Blogger tienvijftien said...

Mike, I do what you mean.
Svereal weeks ago, we had an "All American Day" in the town where my wife lives (Netherlands). I was eager to get some shiny and hot metal on digital film, since it is an "easy" subject.
The problem was - indeed - the backgrounds. The event took place allover the town, which does not really provides nice backdrops for multicolore cars with lots of chrome and flames.
Solution was to go detailed, and to find themes: "Hood-ornaments" and "Gills". The results can be seen here: or in the original Flickr sets:
I ran up against the same idiocraties as you did, but in the end filled the afternoon (and the CF card) with not-so-original but fun shots, that I was fairly OK with.
Sometimes you just need to make the most of it :-)

2:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Agree that these car shows can be difficult with the cars tightly parked together and people everywhere. Last time I went I chose to do people shots instead. There's a certain kind of people that go to these things, not to mention those who own these cars, spending half their life in a garage... Liked that low angle shot, but my favourite was the number two shot (from the top). Lovely symetry!

3:37 AM  
Blogger Dave New said...

In a nearby town, during the summer, they block off a street and fill it with cars of this sort, one evening a month. It so happened that one of my local computer clubs was meeting the same evenings, in a pub on that street. So, I made a point of bringing my camera about 40 minutes early, and just practicing taking car/people shots.

None of those shots have ever really seen the light of day, but I learned from those photos, by studying which compositions I liked/disliked, which ones had strange glare/exposure problems, etc., etc.

Likewise, I made the rounds at my day job's Wild Wheels at Work, and our department's annual picnic. When folks ask me if I'm doing this for 'real', I just say, "I'm practicing" (which is the honest truth, since I'm not a pro), and everyone just relaxes and goes back to whatever they were doing.

Maybe I don't have a stated purpose for 'coverage' (or reportage), but using events like these for keeping my photography muscles limbered up seems fairly well worth it to me.

Sometimes, of course, it turns into more than that. At the department picnic, I was approached by the picnic coordinator and told, "I'm so glad that someone with a camera showed up [of course, everyone there had a digicam on them, but my DSLR stuck out like a sore thumb]. Can we have some shots for the newsletter/bulletin board/whathaveyou?". Suddenly, it was important to get those required shots of the department head, and his various direct reports, etc., etc.

I guess the point of all this is, enjoy being 'off the clock' at events like this. It's good for the soul, and it increases your exposure (no pun intended) for further picture-taking opportunities.

3:13 PM  
Blogger BWJones said...

Ah, I just got back from Speed Week where hot rods and rat rods were present in abundance.

Images are here for your perusal.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Adam Richardson said...

I went to the Concours d'Elegance at Moneterey a couple of years ago and took the same detail-shot approach. As you say, it was really hard to get nice clear shots of the cars with all the people. These aren't hot rods, but you might like them anyway:

(Shot, by the way, with my little Minolta XT, just 3MP with the folding lens, before I had my DSLR)

1:26 AM  
Blogger Spontanik said...

By Chance there was a similar car show near were i live last WE. I saw the most wonderful cars but did not take one single picture... i did not know how to take the pictures and what exactly I should take :)

6:57 AM  
Blogger NESOHU said...

i have particular interest on the shot where the boy is looking at the car. If you take a closer look, you can see a reflection of a bigger person (most probably the owner or the boy's guardian).

That's something you caught accidentally, can go back to the originals and have a closer look

11:02 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"you can see a reflection of a bigger person"

Right, it's the kid's dad. He looked better in the other shot too.


11:19 AM  
Blogger DanPonjican said...

Very cool pictures. Automotive photography can be pretty tricky. Personally, I like a lot of low, horizontal light. Check out some of my shots from my detailing blog,

7:18 PM  

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