The Car Show Shoot – Or How To Focus Negative Waves

DSCF3063Remember ” Kelly’s Heroes “? The Clint Eastwood war movie with Telly Savalas and Donald Sutherland? The tank driver in Sutherland’s Sherman – Moriarty  – was always complaining…and Sutherland accused him of always sending out negative waves. I learned a lot from Moriarty and I put it to good use at car shows.

Shooting car shows for money must be nerve-wracking this days. Digital has made every second person a professional photographer in their own mind and they frequently exercise themselves at open events by trying to sell images of the cars. Sometimes they succeed, but not often, and few get paid enough to fill their bank account. A friend who has shot professionally for years has exposed the measly price paid by some publications and it really would not be enough to cover travel costs for free-lancers. The staffers and stringers get paid little enough when the owners and editors of the car mags double and treble up as writers, photographers, and art directors.

For myself, I shoot for my own publication…of weblog columns. I do get paid for a camera column but the rest are done as mental exercise – and they are more valuable to my psyche than to my purse. If I’m not a William Randolph Hearst, at least I am in position that I do not need to answer to a William Randolph Hearst.

Still…good car pics are hard to get when the crowds swarm around the vehicles. Big exhibitions with many cars packed closely together and a large number of free entrants means there are few free spaces near the cars. Going early and staying late are the two best strategies for unobstructed views but these depend upon the good will of the organisers and the driver’s willingness to be on the ground a long time.

I have evolved a different tactic. I call it the Moriarty. I find the position and view of the car that I want – taking into account the sun, shade, flash position, etc. I stand at the spot and check the viewfinder – sometimes taking a shot to check the exposure as well, but not concerned if there are too many people in front or along the sides of the car.  I charge the flash, position the camera just under machine and stand there smiling at the car.

Smiling? Yes, smiling. Smiling is legal, morally innocent, and vastly disturbing. If the smile is small but absolutely fixed it makes me look like a gargoyle. I stand there steady as the crowds surge in and out and eventually they start to pick up on the negative energy. They look at me out of the corners of their eyes…

Go. Away. Go. Away. Go. Away……

Some apologise for getting in the shot. Some try to stare me down. Some get nervous and loud. But they all eventually move. The Moriarty Negative Wave carves a pathway from me to the car and I get a clear shot. It might only be for 5 seconds but I am ready for it.

It might not be righteous but it is effective.


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