Ever since I picked up my first DSLR camera (A Canon 40D with a 17-85mm kit lens) in January 2008, I never thought of doing automotive photography professionally since it started off as a little hobby of mine when I went back for my post-secondary study. I wanted to have a nice camera to take nice pictures of my first car (a 2005 Subaru 2.5RS) and my local friends’ rides, but eventually automotive photography became an addiction.
A lot of you are familiar with my automotive work from the motion rigshots I’ve been producing since 2009, when I was doing automotive photography as a hobby. After shooting cars for the past three years I feel I should share some of my thoughts about automotive photography before my schedule gets busy again and when our Canadian weather becomes warmer.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been digging through my archive hard-drive to look for photos that I can put together for this behind the scene blog post. This blog post allows me to show my followers how some of my shots are done and my clients can also understand the process of making these wonderful car images.
Automotive rig photography allows a photographer to capture a vehicle in motion by attaching a camera on a pole (a.k.a the “rig”) which is mounted on to the vehicle, and the camera is in a fix position relative to the car. This will allow the camera to capture the motion of the vehicle at a relatively low speed by having the camera’s shutter open for a period of time (usually in seconds) and creates an illusion of the vehicle moving in a quick speed in the final image. Like the following photos of the Lotus Exige and Audi R8 spider. Here’s a rigshot 101 video on youtube I made in 2010.
Rigshot technique is an essential tool to produce awesome automotive photos for a car photographer, I remember when I first saw these images before getting into photography during 2007 I was really amazed by these kind of photography from various car websites and magazines. It was a secret technique among photographers back in the days since most advertising photographers use expensive commercial car rigs where most average shooters cannot afford to own one. Up until now anyone can find information of how to build a DIY rig from many photography forums.
Before I started building my automotive rig during 2009, I was very into automotive photography while following a couple well-known car photographers in the industry. I attended many automotive events, taking snapshots of different vehicles until I came to a point where I found the need to produce better car photography other than taking random snapshot photos, therefore I started my little DIY automotive rig project.
My current automotive rig can be break down into the following parts.
- One Manfrotto Magic Arm
- One Avenger F1100 Pump cup without swivel
- Two Avenger F1000 suction cup with baby swivel
- Four Manfrotto super clamps
- One custom aluminum pole (14 ft) made my Rig-Pro
Getting the right parts to build the rig was not a difficult task because there are forums with many useful information guiding me to build the rig. Suction cups and clamps can be ordered online from camera stores such as B&Hphoto and Adorama, even the aluminum rig pole can be bought from a local metal shop. My first challenge was how to use all the equipment from the list above together, how to mount the suction cups on the car properly, what kind of camera setting I need to get the right amount of motion blur at the slow speed, and how to remove the rig in post processing after getting the shot because this information could not be found online, therefore first year of doing rigshot photography was pretty time consuming.
One of my first automotive rig photoshoot was done on a friend’s brand new 2009 GTR R35 with an Amuse bodykit. It was a scary experience because mounting a heavy rig (20lbs pole + my old Canon 40D) on a new car with a pricey price tag could end up being my first and last gig. Improperly mounting the rig may cause damage to the vehicle itself and your camera gear. Every time I think back, I tell myself that I should have done some test shots on my own car first, instead of using other people’s GTR R35 as a white mouse! I feel lucky that I did not damage anyone’s vehicle, and since that day I have never caused any damage to any vehicle ! (Over 150 rig photos on different vehicles to date!)
Although I love doing rigshots, I started to find this technique a little repetitive, and overly used by photographers to get an average rig photo. I wanted to be a bit different at that point and I decided to push my rigshot skills to the next level, although it was a little risky. I contacted my friend to invite a local Silvia S13 owner out who’s willing to do some donuts in an empty parking lot for this photoshoot, but with my camera rig mounted on his S13 to get an illusion of the car drifting! Here’s a raw shot from the camera. This shot was featured on MaydayGarage as well!
Here’s a short video footage of the S13 doing donuts in my youtube channel in case you guys don’t believe it:
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My few months old Canon 7D (My 40D’s replacement when it came out in late 2009) was mounted on the S13, and there’s a part it didn’t shown in the video where one of the suction cups loses it’s suction and my 7D was swinging like a seesaw! Thank god the camera did not hit anything before the owner stopped doing donuts. That was one of my scarcest moment for doing photography but hey! No guts, no glory! At the end of the day I got the shot I wanted.
After this drifting rigshot attempt, it gave me some new ideas when I was assigned to do my first editorial feature forMotorMavens.com about our local DMCC (Drift Mania Canadian Championship) driver Patrick Cyr. With my first “almost destroyed my few months old Canon 7D” experience, I know what to do in order to capture these type of shots without causing any damage to my equipments or the vehicle. I was able to capture this DMCC driver drifting with my DIY rig safely!
After shooting for the first two years I had gained a bit recognition with my automotive photography work in my local import automotive community since most of my work are based on import tuning vehicles. I started to find myself became a “rigshot only photographer” when I was building my portfolio website and I realize most of my work were just automotive rigshots! And I was a little fed up by many getting questions from local cops and being kicked out by security during my photoshoot sessions.
Car photography is not only about making a car move in a photograph. A true car photographer should able to capture amazing photos of a vehicle in different ways such as photographing static shots of the vehicle to showcase the curves and the design of the cars, getting shots of multiple cars in a shot nicely, capturing the details of the interior of the vehicle, advance post processing skills, and some knowledge of using different lighting equipments.
You also need to know how to put multiple images together in post process while shooting in a limited location.
While working for Scion Canada for some photoshoots, I got few opportunities to use their photo studio to practice my car studio lighting technique I always wanted to try.
Doing rigshot photos gave me a great start to get into this car photography game and allowed me to step into the automotive photography industry. Shooting cars from the past three years, I had my work published in different magazines such as Scion Canada’s lifestyle magazine, Performance Sound & Audio, Audi Canada magazine, and more to come. Which is not bad for a photographer who has only shot for a short amount of time with no photography education in the past, but this won’t make me stop pushing further! I also got few opportunities to shoot for Mini Canada, Toyota Canada, and AOL Autoblog as well. For the past two years, I’ve been sent to Las Vegas to attend the SEMA SHOW for Scion Canada, visiting Toyota Headquarter, Fiveaxis prototype workshop in California, and sometimes I get to see some really rare cars from my freelancing work while shooting for different magazines and clients.
My most rewarding moment from doing automotive photography is when other photographers and car enthusiast call me the “rigshot master” in photography and the automotive community. Although I love doing these type of photos, I’d like to use this blogpost to tell everyone automotive photography is not only about taking pictures of a car with a blurry background or a DSLR camera on a pole or random snapshots of a car with a nice camera. Car rigs are like camera gear, owning it does not guarantee getting the money shot. Automotive photography requires creativity such as telling a story of the car itself, how it relates to the outdoor location, and showcasing the lines of the vehicle’s design with different lighting techniques. Simply following other photographer’s style, you will never become a successful car photographer, be unique!
Going through my archive hard drive also allowed me to look back at my progress of my car photography over the past three years. Lots of time and money was spent into this business when I was a full time student, managing time and money was a huge factor for me since both school and photography cost a lot of money and were very time consuming, but it was totally worth it! I would also like to say thank you to all my friends and the ones who supported me since I started doing this professionally, without their help there was no way I could have reached this far! Things are starting to pay off itself now and I’m looking forward to producing more awesome photography in the future! 2012 will be a great year. =)