With curved and straight reflective painted surfaces vehicles are difficult to photograph – especially darker colours and metallic finishes. Thrown into the mix are chrome, glass, leather, carbon fibre and different textured plastics: Everything interacting with light in different ways and all influenced by the locational environment.

SUPER SIZE Product Photography 

As Tim Salix specialises in product photography his years of experience is applicable to automobiles

If a photographer is doing a photo shoot indoors they will be having to utilise the ambient lighting that is present, which will be an irregular mix of different types of on-site electrical lighting and natural light. They can get variable results in the photos, in particular, colour casts and reflections will show up on paintwork.

However, bringing in their own studio gear the problems of photographing large reflective objects has issues. Generally, the majority of photographers do not have enough power. Even a 1200 watt studio light can be too weak to adequately give consistent coverage to the side of car. So in order to try to get the coverage, the equipment needs to be moved closer to vehicles where it reflects onto the bodywork, which of course shows up in the images. On highly reflective surfaces conventional enclosed softboxes create ugly white hot-spots on the paintwork and glass.

With outdoor photography (putting aside the inconvenience of rain and in Auckland the frequency of) public enemy number one is sunlight causing reflections and high-contrast images, with the potential for deep shadow and overexposed areas. Closely followed by the ground, surroundings and clouds reflecting back onto vehicles and appearing in the photos.

Large Scale Studio Lighting Equipment

The difference Tim Salix makes is to have specialist studio equipment capable of photographing sizeable reflective surface areas in large open spaces. On a vehicle shoot in a photographic studio and depending on a client’s specific requirements he can install anywhere from 10 to 15 studio lights. With other indoor locations and when specified by quote the side of each vehicle will have two Swiss-made Elinchrom studio lights, rated at 2,400 watts, attached to silver-lined 2-metre wide open reflectors firing backwards. Or 4,800 watts are available when running through optional double power packs. And the front and then the rear of each vehicle will have another 2-metre wide reflector to further assist in achieving consistent lighting. Four of the aforementioned reflectors can be installed to photograph the sides of truck/trailer units or even large buses.

For non-studio interior photo shoots an large open space to place vehicles well away from walls and other surroundings, to prevent reflection back onto paintwork, is the preferred location. A good source of natural light is also required, but automobiles should not be near direct sources of lighting such as from doors, windows and skylights. Especially important is turning off existing on-site electrical lighting as these are the primary source of overhead reflections. The studio equipment is best suited for indoor or sheltered outdoor locations and a full days shoot is necessary to justify the setup/pack-down time. Otherwise, smaller assignments will utilise natural lighting. Unless stated differently by quote, any imagery is supplied as taken in-camera with no post -production retouching.