Friday, May 24, 2013

Challenges Can Lead To Opportunity

Nose of the Batman Returns Batmobile
After two trial runs to get some practice with my assortment of hot shoe flash gear and experiment with car photography, I thought it was time to take the show on the road and really test myself. It's one thing to go through practice runs in a no-pressure environment like one's driveway, not to mention having had the freedom to stage shots any way I wanted. It's a whole different ballgame when you tackle lighting and shooting something that presents the Mt. Everest of challenges - a subject that is entirely black, virtually devoid of any features defined by color or shading; situated in a confined area with a host of obstacles that prevent staging and interfere with light placement; and a limited amount of time to shoot. Such was the case yesterday morning when I couldn't resist the siren's call and headed to the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum and shoot the Batmobile from the movie Batman Returns.

The museum has three Batmobiles - the original one from the TV series, the one from the movie Batman Forever starring Val Kilmer, and the one from Batman Returns with Michael Keaton as the Bat Guy. All three vehicles are displayed in a barricaded area that includes the three Batmobiles, the Penguin's (Danny Devito's version) Duck vehicle, several Batman and Robin mannequins, plus a host of other Batman movie and TV show paraphernalia. 

I had never visited the Batman vehicle display at the museum before yesterday nor had I ever paid any real attention to what the Batman Returns Batmobile looked like (I saw the movie in 1992 and the last thing on my mind was to scrutinize the vehicle's design) so I had no idea what to expect. Since it was going to be nothing more than yet another practice exercise, how bad could it possibly be to shoot this thing, or so I thought.

I had obtained permission from the museum owner to photograph his vehicles at my convenience a few weeks ago when I decided to move forward with my my automobile photography project knowing that in addition to the Batmobiles, the museum housed a comprehensive, immaculate collection of American automobiles starting with some of the very first U.S. cars up through their more recent counterparts. Rare, classic examples from every vintage abound. It's a cornucopia of photographic opportunities so I made prior contact and secured permission to shoot. As it turned out, choosing the Batman Returns Batmobile as a guinea pig was a monumental challenge to my lighting skills under the worst of circumstances.

Rear fin and cowl
When facing defeat, it's best to simply admit it and hopefully learn from the experience. In this case, the car won. It got the best of me, no matter what I tried. Trying to place the lights where I needed them to be placed was either impossible or at the very least a time consuming process that involved a host of gymnastic maneuvers to avoid hitting any the memorabilia around the car, or worse yet, smacking the car with a light stand. In the end, I resigned myself to the fact that trying to light an entirely black subject with absolutely no defining shades, highlights or color kicked my rear end. 

Side detail
I tried everything I could think of to light up the vehicle using two strobes, a 10"X36" strip softbox, and a 13"X56" softbox but nothing worked. In hindsight, I should have tried something else, i.e. adding a third light to the mix, possibly a strobe with a small umbrella reflector and a grid pointed straight at the subject area like the nose or rear fin of the car. Something like that might just have been the ticket to bring out more of the car's details but this didn't dawn on me until after I had a chance to download the card and review what I got.

The only image that came out even remotely close to my satisfaction was a shot of the steering wheel/cockpit depicting the gauges, knobs, lights and shifter. At least the cockpit had some color and shading differences that provided some definition to the features.

Front of original Batmobile
After exhausting almost all of my self allotted shooting time and thinking that I was going to have nothing to show for the time and effort devoted to the exercise, I decided to try my hand at getting a couple of shots of the original Batmobile which contains some red trim and some chrome/metal features that I hoped would provide just enough definition to the vehicle's lines such that it would yield something positive out of the shoot. I set up the lights as fast as I could and took a couple of quick shots of the front, the rear, and one of the wheels.

Rear of original Batmobile
Wheel of original Batmobile
After downloading the card, I began to regret having spent so much time on the Batman Returns vehicle. I was almost to the point of convincing myself that I should have started with the original Batmobile and shot the living crap out of it instead trying to bite off more than I could chew with the other one. The original Batmobile obviously lends itself much better to images - at least with my limited, developing lighting skills. But then I thought, hey, if you can tackle the worst case scenario and learn from it, it's never a waste of time.

1929 Auburn Boat Tail Speedster
Then my day improved dramatically. After packing up my stuff and stopping by to thank the owner for the chance to shoot the vehicles, he asked if he could see some of the images. Not real crazy about the Batman Returns Batmobile images, I showed him the ones of the original Batmobile on my camera screen which I felt were somewhat better. He then surprised me by asking me if I had a few minutes to talk. He said he knew my work (I have had the pleasure of photographing him and his wife on several prior occasions for magazine articles and a cover), really liked the artistic look of the images, and wondered if I would be interested in working with him on a book he wanted to publish - a photo book detailing the history of the American automobile - using the museum's cars as the subjects. It would involve me coming out to the museum as time permits to photograph a list of vehicles he wants to feature in the book. If I was interested, he wanted me to do all the photography.


Hmmmmm. Let's see. A chance to photograph some of the best examples of American automobiles in a pristine setting and with the vehicles moved into positions which will lend themselves to easier shooting? And, I almost forgot, getting paid to do it? Duh. I hope to receive the list of cars in the near future and it would seem that I will be spending a lot of time at the museum this summer. 

What started out as desire to learn how to use my hot shoe strobe gear coupled with a personal mission to dabble in automobile photography has now grown into a book project which will feature my images. Not bad for a day that started out with an unexpected challenge that morphed into a great opportunity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey. What aa the overal aperture and shutter for your batmobile shots? Was all that black in camera?