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.
This blog was also posted by Outdoorphoto.
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.
David duChemin wrote in one of his books: “Vision is the beginning and end of photography”.
I agree. Vision is that something , the je ne sais quoi, the inspiration that moves you to pick up your camera to photograph it. It will determine how you photograph and why, the settings you choose and the angle you use. For me it is not only the journey of the making of every photograph, but also my journey to discover, define and often redefine my own vision. Often I am defined by my vision.
I get stirred to photograph a particular scene, often not knowing what it is that I am “seeing” or why, only to discover the elusive vision when I look at my images later and then discover exactly what it was what I was feeling at the time. The camera becoming the tool of self-discovery.
DuChemin points out that our vision often grows to meet our skill. I believe we become better equipped to express our vision. I love looking at my older images. I can often clearly see what was going on in my life by looking at what my vision was when I made the images – what caught my eye then…what stirred me. I can clearly see how my technical skills improved with experience, but I am often amazed at how my ability to express grew. There have always been “common” elements in my images, that identify them as my work, but I am just better at expressing my creativity and myself…my vision. I am learning every day how to photograph what moves me, but also how to express what I feel. The more passionate I am about the subject, the more I have to say and to get across to the viewer. Du Chemin worded it so aptly: “Passionate stories, told passionately..”
“Knowing what you love to photograph, and what you do not, is the first step in the recognition and refinement of your vision”. So what happens if I have to photograph something I am really not that excited about? Here, I believe, learning the tricks to communicate through light, colour, camera angles etc can often save the day. I often draw from my love for photography in general – the chance to spend time with my beloved camera – to draw passion back into my vision.
Freeman Patterson summed it up so beautifully: “Photography – both the craft and the art – helps me to be. It allows and enables me to live creatively, which is to honour Creation and my own existence.”
This past week-end the Photowise team was privileged enough to be part of a lovely couple’s special day. All was just perfect and the resulting images reminded me why I photograph in the first place…. I love people and I love telling stories!