All posts by Russ Campbell

What’s with the Muzak?

It may just be the nascent curmudgeon in me, but I really can’t bear this trend where many photographers feel compelled to greet you with music when you arrive on their website. If that’s not bad enough, the music is almost always either some kind of schmaltzy guitar/piano rambling (mostly the women photogs) OR endlessly looped techno/electronica/industrial glop (the men).

Whatever happened to just letting a photograph “speak” for itself? I understand that websites are an integral part of of a marketing program but is music really necessary?

Car Portrait: Mercedes Benz 450 SL

My friend, Dean, is putting his vintage Benz up for sale and asked if I could take some photos for him. Well, not content to just make him snapshots, I figured I’d make some images a bit more memorable. After all, he’s owned the car for quite a while and sunk a fair amount of money into it.


We scheduled the shoot to occur about an hour before the official sunset time so that we could easily get the shots he needed to actually put the car up for sale. Once we got the pro forma shots out of the way, the sky started to look pretty interesting so we shifted into high gear, so to speak.

I had Dean position the car so that the sky would reflect off the side of it a bit and I had him cut the wheel to his left so that we could see the alloy wheel nicely. I took a few shots of just the sky to determine what the best exposure would be for nice, saturated colors. I locked that in by changing my exposure mode to manual and matching what I got on aperture priority. After some experimentation, I ended up with one Quantum Qflash at camera left at 1/2 power, shooting through a white umbrella and triggered by a Pocket Wizard II. I positioned this strobe to not only illumnate that side of the car, but to skim across the front right wheel, giving it some relief.

With the car facing almost directly away from the sun, I needed to light the grill, so I added a 580EX at full power, also through a white umbrella and triggered by a PWII then positioned it to the right of the camera. I mounted a 70-200 2.8L to my 40D, lay on my belly and started squeezing off a few frames.


Of course, the light was failing quickly, so I jumped to my feet, mounted a 16-35 and got in close to the car for a few more shots, the sky was absolutely gorgeous! Unfortunately, at this point the mosquitos decided we were too delicious to ignore so Dean and I had to run to my car for bug repellent. By the time we were ready to shoot again, the sky was pretty dark so I transitioned to the final series of shots we were going to make.

I’d seen a post over at the Strobist Flickr Pool where someone had photographed a car by making multiple pops of a flash as they moved all the way around the car in a complete circle. Seemed like a good time to try it for myself.


First, I knew that if the car’s headlights were on for the whole time I needed to pop off the flash, they’d completely blow out any detail I’d hope to capture in them. I put the 70-200 back on, mounted the camera/lens to my tripod and added a cable release. After a few bracketed shots, I had the headlights in the bag (1/40 @ f7.1 ISO 100)… but only the headlights.

There was still enough light in the sky to make the shutter speed too short for me to be able to make my way all the way around the car so I threw on a polarizer to act as a neutral density filter. Perfect, I now had 15 seconds to pop off the flash.


It took a few frames of opening the shutter, running around the car, popping off the flash to figure out the best spots to hit the open flash button. In a few places, it caused hot spots on the hood of the car or reflections elsewhere. If i didn’t hold the flash high enough above the car when I was behind it, the flare from the flash spilled over onto the car. By the fourth or fifth lap around the car, I got the shot I wanted. And the mosquitos were feasting on my back, right through my shirt!


Once I downloaded the shots taken and tossed the duds, I really didn’t need to do much to most of the images. A little tweaking in Lightroom to make them pop a bit (CR2 files always seem to appear a little dull to me straight out of the camera). I added a gradient in Lightroom to darken the sky a bit in the sunset shots.

For the open flash shots done at the end, I copied the shot of the headlights alone as a layer above the flash shot of the car. I set it’s blending mode in the layers palette to “Lighten” which worked perfectly (camera did not move between the shots). I edited out the couple of flash pops you could see above the car. I added a curves layer over the grill to make it match the rest of the car better.

Next, I’ll put together a nice composite of these and other shots so I can make a nice print for Dean.