Truth be told, I’ll always be a car guy. Deep deep down, I have a draw to them. They can stir the soul, get you excited, some people even think that they can get you laid. They make noises, they move, they light up, they shoot stuff out, they have personalities.
Automobiles are form and function cohering. There are too many to list, and too many merits to cover for any particular one.
This post is focused on the images I recently shot for a project (They can be viewed in the Wheels section of my site) of a 1950 VW split window coupe that has been impeccably restored.
Let me preface by stating a couple of notable things I think about the VW beetle. First, we all know its an icon, it is and was a cheap little vehicle that just seemed to find that ‘oh so elusive’ parking spot right in front of the automotive world, and hasn’t moved for decades. When I was a toddler, I was obsessed with the Beetle, the shape, the colors, the way they sounded. I had the matchbox cars, and thought that Herbie the Lovebug was the neatest thing my little mind could comprehend. So much so that I still to this day vividly remember holding my mother’s hand as we walked through the Harmonia Savings Bank parking lot in Scotch Plains NJ, and there being a cream colored VW bug in a parking spot right near where we were walking. I got so excited about the stupid car that I let go and ran right up to the rear bumper and grabbed hold of the two chrome tailpipes sticking out of the back of it not realizing (At 4 years old who does) that they were blazing hot since the car had just been parked. My screams of joy instantly turned to screams of pain as my palms get scorched…..it did score me a lollipop though from inside the bank. So my first real contact with one of these cars really was burned into my memory to say the least.
Fast forward 30 years to the making of the images you see here of this particular bug and I will give you a bit of the story behind the shoot.
I was approached to do this project for an award that was going to be given to the top finishers in a concours show for the Central Jersey Volkswagen Society. The car itself is owned by a gentleman in Central NJ and is part of an impressive collection of vintage Volkswagens and American Muscle Cars. There was absolutely no budget for the shoot and the deadline was tight, but it was for a charity so I decided to take on the job.
The original concept was to shoot the car in a field of soy plants about knee high at sunset so that all that would be visible was the silhouette of the vehicle from the top of the wheel arch up among a flat field of greenery as well as some shots of the car in motion. Upon arriving at the owners garage and doing last minute location decisions I said “Ok, lets get the car” to which the owner replied “I’m, not taking the car out into that field unless you are going to spend the next week detailing the underside of it and picking all the crap out”. Plan B time. Upon further discussion we had come up with a concept that would highlight the timeless shape of the car and also include the unique rear split window. Shots like this are really best suited in a studio, where the elements, lighting and positioning can be finely controlled and repeated shot after shot. I turned around and surveyed the gear I had in the back of my jeep which consisted of my cameras, a few light stands, some strobe heads and some softboxes.
I thought about it for a while and then asked that the car be moved out from the garage into the driveway. The owner replied to that request by saying “Why cant you just take the picture in the garage?”. I knew this was going to be one of those days. Finally we convinced him to bring the car out into his driveway and rolled it off to the side while I set up. Knowing from experience that sometimes less is more, I grabbed one stand, a boom, one strobe and the largest softbox I had with me. I elevated the head with the box way out on the boom powered it up and metered the output. I then tethered my camera to my macbook and fired up the capture software. Once I felt I was in range, we rolled the car into the scene directly under the box and away we went. The first few test shots were looking promising but thats where the challenges started rolling in. Being that I was shooting this image in a driveway at dusk, the garage doors and the ambient lighting from the lights in the garage were showing up as well very faintly. A few more exposure tweaks and some begging to have the breakers cut in the garage and we were making headway.
Once night fell, the temperature dropped and things started getting interesting. For one, the modeling lamp was the only source of light between shots that I could use to accurately check focus. The problem there was that soon we had swarms of bugs that were flying all over the light and landing on the car. Moths, beetles (No pun intended), and whatever else cruises around in the dark were zoning in all over my equipment and the car. I was being eaten alive by mosquitos and nobody thought to bring any bug spray. The next challenge was dealing with the night air. The radiant heat form the modeling light on the strobe had warmed up a patch of the sheet metal on the roof, but had left the rest of the surfaces cool. Large amounts of condensation started forming all over the car except for the top of the roof. So in between every frame, we had to go in and turn on the power to the garage, use hairdryers and heat guns to carefully warm up the surfaces, and wipe the car down and dust off all of the bugs that had accumulated, then kill it all and shoot the image quickly before it all built up again.
Five hours later, we were all beat, there was empty drink bottles and Dorito bags around the driveway, we were covered with mosquito bites, and I had three variations of the shot done. All things being considered, I think the image came out fantastic. It took some minor cleanup in post production and was eventually printed poster size using a 4 color press and really looked stunning. Anyone who sees it can pick up the all too familiar shape of the classic VW beetle despite the fact that only a small portion of the car is visible and there are no literal indications as to what type of car it is. I just hope that the people who won the framed and signed copies of it have not relegated it to bathroom art in their homes.
In closing I just wanted to reveal the secret to creating this image and how keeping things on the simpler side can yield great results.
Oh yeah…. I would also like to add that there were lots of bugs killed shooting this, both literally and figuratively.