Behind the Lens: Car Noir
The threat of inclement weather hung over Sydney from the early hours of the morning when I met up with Richard, a journalist for Wheels magazine, to shoot the cover feature for an upcoming issue.
I’d spent the day in the studio the day before in air-conditioned comfort to get the cover shot squared away. It was time for the on-road and location images. Ordinarily, the weather wouldn’t have been a big deal, but back in those days I travelled fairly extensively for work and I was only in Sydney for another day – I needed to get the shoot finished.
We tried waiting it out and refreshing the BOM app every few minutes and soon realised it had settled in. Road shots are okay in the rain as the water can add a dynamic element to the images, but not so much for the static and detail imagery required by the magazine.
Next, it became a mission to find a location within city limits that was accessible for two cars: dry, cheap (free) and also interesting and “feature worthy”.
We tried a few underground carparks, but found them either full or too hard to work a consistent feel for the shoot. After dealing with a couple of failed locations, Sydney traffic and a quick stop at Target for some dry clothes, we made the call to grab some dinner and wait until the car parks emptied out.
I love the aesthetic of this grungy multi-story carpark. The ramps and different levels offered a number of interesting composition options. This is one of my favourite images from the shoot because I inadvertently found the model of the car on the wall – Toyota 86 – and the car on the lower level looks a little malevolent.
I used an Elinchrom Ranger Rx portable light – which weighed an absolute tonne, but would last me all day on shoots like this.
To trigger the light, I used a couple of PocketWizards and set up an interval timer. Once I had the exposure right, I set off the timer and walked around the cars and lit each part individually. I use this technique a lot with cars as it helps build contrast and also defines body lines.
On the computer, a few toning adjustments in Lightroom and then I layered the lighting layers together in Photoshop and applied a final tonal adjustment and sharpening. Whenever you see shots like this, they may look easy – but with an 8am start and a 12am finish, I loved this shoot and hated it in equal measure!
About the author: Nathan Duff is a photographer, videographer and re-toucher working predominately in the automotive industry. Nathans work has appeared in numerous automotive magazines, including Top Gear, CAR, Wheels and MOTOR. When he is not out shooting or working on Retromotive magazine, Nathan likes to pretend that he’ll actually finish the series 3 Land Rover that sits in his garage gathering dust. See Nathans commercial work at www.nathanduffphotography.com.au or you can follow Nathan on Instagram @retromotive_magazine.