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How to photograph the Chevrolet Malibu?


A little over a month ago I was challenged by my crankandpiston.com cohorts to improve my photography. A lot has been learnt in that time. I now know:

  • the difference between high and low key colours and the importance of subject perspective.
  • that majestic landscapes can easily overpower a car and that multi-zoom lenses require a deft touch.
  • “Magic hour” brings with it time sensitivity and constantly-changing lighting.
  • that automotive photography requires a clear vision, an artistic temperament, preparation, and stamina.

Today, all of this shall be put to the test. For the silver Chevy to pop, I need a location that mixes a dark backdrop with infusions of colour, so we’re close to the Meydan race course in Dubai.

To re-emphasise the importance of framing an image, I have been limited to just seven shots, meaning each one has to be right. I’d prefer then to take my time, so an early morning shoot would be best rather than rushing through magic hour. I have also decided to use only the 24/70 lens today – which provides photographic range from close to mid distance – rather than the more ambitious 70/200.

In order to really make the most of our location, I will also be using automatic flashes remotely connected to the camera to throw more light onto those parts of the Malibu hidden by shadow, thus giving the car more definition. Too much light will simply jump off the silver paint, over-exposing the shot; too little and the flash will have little effect. This means I have to use a faster frame rate on the camera than normal to get a more consistent ‘flow’ to the light. At the same time, I need a long aperture to restrict the amount of light in order to pick out the Malibu’s finer details.

I am working with a shallow depth of field and close cropped frames in order to draw attention away from the backdrop and keep the Chevy as the focal point. I should hopefully find a 50:50 balance between subject and landscape, a key ratio in automotive photography. I’m also using the shadows as well as the flashes to alter the perspective; keeping a proportion of the saloon out of direct sunlight allows some of the finer details like the bodylines to stand out.

I decide to mix up the series by changing locations for my final three shots, and a nearby staircase is ideal. It allows me to experiment with shooting from above. With so few details to work with on the roof, the Malibu can appear flat against the backdrop if not treated correctly. To counter that, I throw some forced perspective into the foreground by making use of the stairs’ geometric nature and the shadows bouncing off them.

By the end I’ve learnt a lot about the fineries of lighting, balance, perspective, and depth of field. Working with natural light is hard enough, and throwing artificial lighting in as well is a complex balancing act. And while it is still quite rough, I really am very proud of my finished Chevrolet Malibu set, which I feel shows the car in a light I would have been unable to replicate just one month ago.