I’m a commercial photographer with a passion for lighting techniques and for cars. For years I photographed cars using different styles taking inspiration from other automotive photographers such as Tim Wallace. My passion slowly progressed towards creating fine art images of cars. Every car is designed by an artist in their true right and I wanted to capture their art using low-key lighting which would accentuate the curves and lines of the car.
Lighting the reflective surfaces of cars and especially black reflective cars is not easy. To create a low-key light source for such cars, is even more difficult. The light modifiers available on the market didn’t give me the results I needed. The lead to me custom building modifiers.
After many months of research and a fair amount of trial and error, I eventually had the custom built light modifiers to create the low-key lighting effect I wanted. I reverted to the basics of creating soft light and fine tuned these principles to create a light source and modifier that gives focused diffused light, or as I refer to it, the FDL technique. By keeping the light source as close as possible to the car, I was able to overpower ambient light resulting in the desired matt finish on the surface of the car.
Needless to say, I was very excited to have been given the opportunity to test the Profoto A1 as the light source for the FDL technique. It was with much excitement that I opened the box delivered by the courier – as it contained the long anticipated Profoto A1. Ever since I heard of it’s launch I wanted to, and looked forward to using it to create car fine art images.
This was by no means going to be a side by side comparison with other flashes, nor a technical review. I was keen to see what it could do, shooting what I shoot and the the way I shoot. I needed a light-weight, easy to handle, low-key light source, to accentuate the car’s natural curves and lines. Profoto calls the A1 the “world, smallest studio light”, but as 90% of my work is done using speed lights, I would treat it as such.
Opening the black box with it’s all too familiar branding on, had all the other photographers in the studio gathered around me in no time at all – clearly this was going to be a show-stopper.
First impressions are meant to be lasting and in this case the first impression came as no surprise. The supurb built quality was obvious and the lay-out of the buttons, the big dials and large LCD screen made navigating the settings easy and almost intuitive (who has time to read a manual, right?) This flash is easy to use – in fact much easier than the speed lights I am used to.
The A1 is lightweight and small enough making it perfect for the FDL-lighting technique, which calls for a handheld light source held close to the car and at different angles for about 50 exposures. From these 50 images I normally select about 20 which are later layered in post processing to make the final image.
A pleasant surprise came from the battery. The Profoto A1 comes with its own rechargeable Li-Ion battery, which lasted much longer that the usual AA batteries.
Profoto is a brand synonymous with quality, precision and class. Needless to say the models I was going to testdrive this light on had to come from similar elk. I chose a black Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge, with high gloss black body panels and brushed steel and titanium on the hood and grill. The other models were a red Aston Martin Vanquish S and two McLarens.
As a shoot like this, yields approximately 500 images per car, I need the light source to be reliable, the white balance to be constant, recycling times to be fast and no overheating of the flash head. The A1 passed with flying colours, even after 1500 photos on a single charge of the battery.
In fact, I had no much fun, that only after I reluctantly returned the A1 I realized that I had been using it in manual mode and that I never tried TTL. I am looking forward to test that in a future shoot.
In every photographer’s life there is always that one shoot, or project or job, which will forever be remembered and reminisced about. We have been so blessed that we can recall quite a few such jobs, but the 3 years we worked for SKA Africa (Square Kilometre Array) http://www.ska.ac.za is probably one of the greatest ones. It was during those cold night shoots, while waiting for the shutters to close, that we dreamt about and planned where we were going to take our photography and our business. It was also during those nights when the FDL-technique, which we now use on our automotive work, was conseptualised.
These are a few of the thousands of images we made for SKA, many are still being used in their publications and on their website. ( The 2013-2015 galleries)
The Evolution of MAN
Lion’s Explorer G2
When MAN Automotive (S.A.) Pty Ltd contacted us to shoot brochure image for their new photo-type bus earlier this year, we could hardly contain our excitement. To produce beautiful images of a car is one thing, but abus was sure to push our lighting skills to a whole new limit. As this was a photo-type the work had to be done in the manufactoring plant. The FDL lighting technique allows us to shoot anywhere, even in confined spaces, with minimum distruption to the client. These are some of the images we have produced.
During 2016 I was asked by OutdoorPhoto to conduct an interview with Sarel.
When we decided this past week that the time had come to introduce our FDL-Lighting Technique to the world, I went back to that original interview.
I was quite taken by how far we had come in just over a year, and how much the lighting had changed and evolved. I am posting that interview as a pre-amble or introduction to the many FDL-Lighting Technique posts to follow…. Photography remains a journey – techniques evolve, trends change….the only constant is our love and passion for our craft.
OH, FOR THE LOVE OF CARS
We asked Maryna Cotton to interview her partner and fellow commercial photographer, Sarel van Staden, about his love for cars, their automotive photography work, which they like to refer to as “car porn”, as well as his innovative lighting techniques that give their work its signature look.
It is a love story….
When Sarel talks about cars, his whole demeanor changes. His childhood stories include tales of many hours spent learning about engines and cars from his dad, a motor technician, who rebuilt cars from the chassis up; as well as passionate stories of favourite car posters against bedroom walls. He is, however, quick to set my mind at ease by adding that the only love stronger than his love for cars is his love for photography. It is a well known fact, that great photography is dependent on great light, and Sarel adds: “Understanding the basic characteristics of light and how to applying it, makes photography an amazing creative journey that feeds my soul”.
Most photographers will tell you that lighting a car well poses challenges such as unwanted reflections and hot spots in paintwork, but this is what makes Sarel tick. Figuring out ways to light reflections, enhancing the colour and showing shape in for instance a black car, is what he lives for. “This is my way to express and create art. A means to pay homage to and thank all the cars designers over the centuries, for spoiling me and many other passionate car lovers with their beautiful creations.”
When asked about the industry and automotive photography in particular, he explains that advances in 3D rendering techniques, is limiting the need for conventional automotive photography and it’s notorious lighting challenges. According to Sarel, photographers constantly need to push the boundaries to create something unique and he does that in his endeavor to come up with new and creative lighting techniques. “To be able to use light to bring out the shape and the beautiful lines in cars is almost like a drug to me. In my mind I am constantly conceptualizing new and better ways to create art of cars and this eventually lead to the car porn images”.
Does he take inspiration from any one in particular? Referring to acclaimed automotive photographer Tim Wallace, he says: “the way that he combines the emotional human element into his artistic photography style of cars is just amazing”.
Curves, lines and light
Huge lighting set-ups and studio builds come to mind when one thinks of conventional automotive photography. I asked Sarel to tell us more about the lighting techniques he uses for the fine art car shoots, as well as his preferred lighting tools. “I mainly shoot using instant light sources with extra diffusers or painting-with-light wands, also with extra diffusers. For instant light I use the Elincrom quadra lights or the Prophoto B2 system in combination with a 400mm beauty dish which I modified to create soft, focused light. This I double diffuse with an extra diffuser to create the matt finish, characteristic of my fine art images”.
“I developed and built a custom light wand which I also double defuse, for the painting-with-light technique. With the wand I create soft light and an almost matt finish, without unwanted reflections in the paint work.
To create soft light, a conventional lighting set-up requires a 3 x 7 m scrim positioned 1-2m above the car in a commercial studio. With the wand I create the same soft light with the hand held light wand. The positioning of the conventional light scrim creates spill off light that also exposes the surroundings which in turn reflects in the paintwork of the car. By using the light wand less then 100mm away from the bodywork of the car, there is almost no spill off light, eliminating the reflections of the surroundings. By moving the 2m light wand over the car, during the exposure, we create a soft light source much bigger that traditional light scrims in automotive studios. The only limitation of this technique is that it can only be done in low light.”
Asked about his future plans, he was quick to answer: “Many many beautiful cars!”
SKA published a beautiful Coffee Table book containing some of our work, done during 2013-2015.
See more of our work: http://www.ska.ac.za/gallery/kat-7/ Images of KAT-7 from 2013.
http://www.ska.ac.za/gallery/meerkat/ Images of MeerKAT from 2013-2015.
Ansel Adams (Feb. 20 1902 — Apr. 22, 1984) was a photographer and environmentalist and has long been regarded as one of the masters of photography.
“Adams developed the famous and highly complex “zone system” of controlling and relating exposure and development, enabling photographers to creatively visualize an image and produce a photograph that matched and expressed that visualization. He produced ten volumes of technical manuals on photography, which are the most influential books ever written on the subject.”
I took inspiration from Ansel Adams’ sea foam images for this series….
We have always enjoyed photographing interiors, especially for the hospitality industry.
Photographically speaking, interiors come which a whole range of challenges, ranging from the distortion created by wide-angle lenses to lighting challenges, from working in confined spaces to finding a great composition or angle.
This is a small selection of images we made for Ivory Manor Boutique Hotel in Pretoria. We used off-camera flash to fill in shadows, bounced flash from ceilings where we could and bracketed exposures where needed.
Photography is all about story telling – story telling through pictures. The digital age necessitates telling your story or the story of your brand, to be more specific, in a visual way to an online community and your clients. You brand will be judged on how you communicate visually – the better the pictures, the higher you will score.
Our clients are aware of the importance to tell their stories and how passionate they are about their businesses. We have been loving our recent personal branding commissions.
MCD MAGIC FACTORY is an innovative and dynamic marketing and communication fulfilment agency. We had the privilege to make images for their new website and to create a library of images for their social media campaigns.
2017 Brought us a new client, The Torque.
The Torque is an on-line platform for readers and vehicle seekers to meet honest reviews and ratings from people with real experiences of the vehicles they review and rate. For us, this means weekly car shoots of exciting new cars. Rob’s unwavering faith in our abilities resulted a brief to “make magic pictures” allowing us to freely express our creativity.
These images were shot in Paternoster, Western Cape, on the week-end of the big storm during June 2017. This shoot provided us with the perfect opportunity to test our lighting techniques on location.
See The Torque for the full review on this epic car.
I have had the incredible privilege to photograph with and learn from Freeman Patterson on visit to Namaqualand some years ago. Freeman was one of the main catalysts who started my photographic journey and I keep on finding inspiration in his books and photographs.
One of the main subjects of the conversations I had with Freeman was that we as photographers should learn to look at the world around us, without attaching labels to things.
Our first words spoken as babies are nouns aka “labels”. We name things – we describe by attaching labels when identifying objects and in our conversations, thoughts and dreams. Labels often act as the filters, which determine how we will use our senses to experience something, often excluding all but one or two of our senses. Stopping to connect and interact with something, experiencing it honestly enough, to get beyond the “labels”, is where we need to go to really see……we then think in terms of shape, lines, balance, rhythm, repetition etc. It is in this “alternate reality” where waves ebbing and flowing over rocks can be captured as “passing time” and frozen in a single exposure. Or where a range of sand dunes can become a collection of repetitive lines or shapes – almost abstract in their simplicity.
During some pre-dawn moonlit walks, I was struck by how hills, rocks and trees, stripped from detail, colour, form and texture – reduced to mere flat shapes – allowed my senses and imagination to experience them as anything but what they actually are. Two strong lines of repetitive shapes formed by a rocky ridge in the moonlight, had completely disappeared when I went looking for it in daylight. Yes, they were there, but the brownish mottled colours and varying textures had now completely “overwritten” the repetition I had seen in the moonlight. The lines and beautiful repetition had now been reduced to very uninteresting rocks. The strong formidable upright, almost authoritative, monochrome silhouette of Helmut’s tree, became a rather feminine Akasia, decked in pretty yellow blossoms in the morning light.
I was set an assignment at Bokbalbaai – a stretch of coastline approx 1km long, consisting of nothing but pebbles, rocks and kelp of varying colours and shape – to photograph anything but pebbles, rocks, kelp and sea. I sat on a rock feeling a lot of despair, looking at millions of rocks and pebbles…..
Remembering what I had taught so many of our students, I knew I had to simplify the scene in front of me, in order to make any sense of the assignment. Using the viewfinder, I limited my perspective to what could fit in the frame and deliberately deleting the labels “rocks” and “pebbles”, I started seeing shapes, curved lines, shadows repeating the curves and patterns to create form and repetition. It comes as no surprise that “simplify” is the first “rule” first composing great images….