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http://blog.nwautos.com/2010/11/vroom_lens_how_to_get_the_best_photos_at_the_seattle_auto_show.html

November 12, 2010 12:00 AM

Vroom lens: How to get the best photos at the Seattle Auto Show

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A photographer looks for the best angle to photograph a Volvo at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show in March. Displays can be challenges or opportunities. (John Rettie / Special to New York Times News Service)

A luscious yellow Ferrari sits front and center in the company's display at last spring's New York Auto Show, a blonde draped over the front fender. It's a natural snapshot for anyone who loves cars, or blondes, or both.

Except that the car and the model are on a spinning turntable, and spotlights are throwing bright reflections off the paint and glass. And people are walking in front of the camera. When the shot finally takes shape -- the model's head tilted just so, the car facing exactly right -- a nudge from a fellow Ferrari lover blurs the picture. Just a little blur, but enough.

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A man photographs a Chrysler model at the Detroit auto show in January. Pro shooters say to work people into photos if they're not leaving the area. (Fabrizio Costantini / New York Times News Service)

Photographing cars looks easy. It isn't.

The challenge can be even more pronounced in a cavernous hall like Qwest Field Event Center -- where the Seattle Auto Show continues through this weekend, and where conditions are beyond the control of the photographer.

Ask professionals for some guidelines to documenting an auto show and you'll get a diversity of opinions. Some say to always use flash; other say to make the best of existing lighting. One may claim it's best to get a low angle on the car, while another says it's best to shoot from above.

The idea, of course, is to have fun at a car show and, for casual snapshooters using a modern digital camera, perhaps make a print or two as a souvenir. But putting some thought into the effort, like developing a theme, can produce more satisfying results.
"The bottom line in shooting an auto show is to make the best of a poor situation," says John Rettie, a California-based auto photographer who is a regular at auto shows.

Seattle Auto Show

At the top of Rettie's preshow checklist is choosing the right lens -- or the appropriate focal length if the camera has a zoom lens. He favors a wide-angle lens and uses fast shutter speeds to freeze moving objects.

He suggests using a high ISO setting -- 3,200, if the camera offers it -- which increases its capability to shoot in dim light. But higher ISO settings may add "noise" (the electronic equivalent of grain in film) to an image.

Rettie leaves himself open to ideas while on the show floor. For instance, one of his favorite images from March's Geneva auto show was a shot of a MINI Countryman hanging on a wall.

Get the angle
  • Experts recommend trying different vantage points. Experiment with lying on the ground and shooting upward. You can get a high angle without a stepladder by using a camera with a swing-away LCD monitor for the viewfinder and holding the camera at arm's length above your head for a view over the crowd.

He says: "A problem you'll find is that you might be photographing a Volkswagen, but there's a Honda sign right behind it. I made use of that, photographing a Bertone concept car with two incredibly high gullwing doors. Behind it was the stand for Italdesign, a Bertone competitor. I waited for the car to come around and got a shot of the gullwing doors squashing the Italdesign logo."

Above all, he says, be patient and adaptable.

"If you've got a person or people in a photo and they're not moving, I move around so that they become part of the picture," Rettie says. "I wanted to get a Peugeot concept car, and two journalists were interviewing the designer inside the car, and I had to live with that. They became part of the picture."