For a couple of years now, I have been shooting a personal series about movie and tv cars, and the people that either own the original vehicles or build replicas for themselves. I call it the Unicorn Project (see more from the series here). Recently, I had the chance to photograph one of the screen-used Black Beauties from the 2011 film, The Green Hornet. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to try out my new automotive rig from Rig-Pro for the first time to simulate high-speed action shots.
Using an automotive rig is essentially a long aluminum pole, in this case, suction-cupped to a vehicle with a camera mounted on the other end. Using this, combined with a slow shutter speed and proper planning, and you can create shots that make a car safely look like its going very fast where the car looks completely sharp without needing a chase vehicle going the perfect speed or VR software.
This is not an easy feat and I know my first attempt at automotive rig photography is pretty decent, but has room for improvement. Many of my images had vibration blur and I didn't take enough extra plates of the background, which added a lot of unnecessary time to my post-production process. At least this is a learning process and I know my next attempt with be much better because I'll learn from my mistakes!
The guys over at Rig-Pro were kind enough to make a bullet-list of tips to keep in mind when setting up for a rig shot:
- location scouting is essential, and you're looking for smooth, with curves, and on a hill
- set up early in the day, it'll save you valuable time during the shoot
- wax the spots where the cups will be on the car
- mark the cups "F" & "R" with masking tape, as well as where they were located
- always bring an assistant if possible
- choose an interesting focus point, like a headlight, or wheel
- low angles work good for car with big cabin's, like Subaru STi's
- high angles work good for cars with small cabin's, like Lamborghini's
- once you install the rig, don't move it, any you can use any part of any shot
- mark your circular polarizer spots with masking tape, so you never have to look through the viewer
- pushing is a last resort, just releasing the brake, or using a cable pull are much better options
- start at f22 and work your way down to f11
- start at 1.5 seconds, and work your way up to 4-6 seconds
- make sure to do several static shots
- use your 1.5-2-second shots for the wheels, and ground, as they will have more detail, and convey motion better
- use your 4-6 second shots for the background, as it will be more streaked, and smoother, and give the best impression of speed
- parking lights, headlights, brakelights, passing cars, use everything
- straight wheels for straight backgrounds, turned for curves
- wheel-face towards the viewer 98% of the time, but tire-towards the viewer can work
- hold, or push down slightly on the camera during the shot, it'll keep it more steady
- however slow you're going, it's not slow enough
- never have the engine running if you can help it
- if you're shooting in daylight, make sure to have your ND handy
- check your cup pumps often
- remember that rig shots with the driver visible have much more impact
- windows up usually works best, but consider the driver here
I want to add that for the rig shots I used a Canon 5D Mk2 without its vertical grip to minimize weight, and thus, excess vibration. For the portraits and static car shots, I used my Phase One 645DF+ IQ140 digital medium format. Also, didn't want to risk my medium format on the rig attached to a moving vehicle just yet.
As for removing the rig in post-production, there is no simple way to go about it. It just requires careful clone stamping and blending and a lot of patience. Nik Software's new "Nik Collection" was used to help with adding and removing color saturation in the ground, sky, and headlights (Viveza 2 control points) and adding texture (Color Efex Pro 4). There was a little bit of noise from the long exposure, which I reduced using Nik's Dfine 2 software.
Have you had success with rig shots? Would love to have you share them in the comments section! Remember, this was my first time attempting this on my own. I'm pleased with my results, but I know I learned a lot about getting extra shots of the car stationary as well as the headlights on and off. Also, I wish we had more time in the day. Setup took a bit longer than expected because it was my first time, so we ran out of daylight and also the opportunity to take more images. I look forward to making more attempts in the future! I will be visiting with Black Beauty again.
If you know of any replica or original movie/tv vehicles and their owners around the United States that should be photographed for this series, please message me! Thanks!