(some of this material has appeared elsewhere)
The pandemic may have severely curtailed my activities as a tennis and motorsports photographer but it did not diminish my desire and ability to produce creative images in that vein. In some ways it might have been easier for me since I still work part time as a health provider and the pandemic made me busier than ever in this regard. It’s that type of distancing that tends to cultivate the very best in creativity. If I had been a full time photographer I may have been too preoccupied with a lack of income and professional activity to think of alternatives.
A classic staple of car portraits is the vehicle captured in perfect focus yet frozen in motion with spinning wheels and background blur connoting great speed. This is typically shot from an open chase vehicle travelling parallel and at exactly the same velocity. I decided to use my own vintage 1985 Mazda Rx7 as the model and because of the pandemic performed this as a strictly solo effort. I spent an early weekend morning in a relatively empty parking lot.
I manufactured a camera boom with one inch square aluminium tube and a pair of powerful suction cups used in automotive body shops to help pull shallow dents out. Better still would be to weld something triangulated with supporting cross members to attach to the underside of the car’s chassis but I only have a MIG welder with no shielding gas so the welds would be dangerously weak. Despite significant swaying movement at the camera end, the movement was mitigated by the excellent sensor stabilization of the Olympus camera body I used as well as long exposures allowing me to physically (and out of sight) push the car at very slow speed. I shot with a Samyang 12mm f/2.0 at ISO200 and with a 10 stop B+W ND 3.0 neutral density filter giving 8 second exposures fired continuously by an intervalometer. It is important to buy quality neutral density filters since inexpensive ones tend to exhibit more color cast and B+W filters are made strictly from Schott glass, the company that supplies Zeiss with all their glass needs since the beginning of time.
My FB friends were delighted to learn that after a lengthy Pacific voyage followed by rail transportation across the country I finally received shipment of a rare 1968 Mazda Cosmo sport coupe. I posted photos of the car parked outside my house, and in my driveway!
Then I revealed that it was actually a 1:18 scale Autoart model of the Mazda Cosmo, shot with forced perspective. Attention to small details sell the illusion. In the first image it is the shadow cast by the car, the ability to see the tree trunk through the rear glass and the grass through the driver’s side window. The seamless alignment of my ersatz asphalt with the curb is actually cork board sprayed with flat black paint. I use at least two tripods, each with a Manfrotto 410 geared heads for ultra fine control of yaw, pitch and roll so that the camera body and model are precisely placed.
The custom made license plate and I contorting my body to appear to be folding myself into the driver’s seat (right hand side for domestic Japanese cars) and having the steering wheels turned in one direction are the small details that subconsciously sell it. I shot with wide angle primes like the Leica 15mm f/1.7 closed down to their smallest aperture, typically f/16 – f/22.
The famous movie Casablanca was shot entirely on Warner Brother’s soundstage so in order to film the end scene at the airport, a 1/2 scale Lockheed Elecktra was built and “short” actors played the ground crew. They were then shot in forced perspective as a distant object waiting outside the aircraft hangar where Bogart says final goodbyes to Ingrid Bergman. More recently, in Lord of the Rings the actors portraying the much smaller Hobbits were shot with advanced forced perspective techniques that included camera movement in scenes involving their much larger human and elfin allies. The Christmas movie Elf starring Will Farrell had 47 scenes shot with clever forced perspective techniques because its small budget would not support CGI. In the end the forced perspective scenes give the movie a timeless quality because the audience knows Will Farrell cannot be 5x larger than Bob Newhart yet the illusion would speak otherwise.
I resurrected the same 1:18 scale models and carefully retrofitted some miniature white LEDs into their headlights to recreate a fantasy night race between two Le Mans icons from differing eras that would never meet in real life.
Remember to dry off the treadmill at the end of the session to avoid raising the ire of your spouse!
And for my final forced perspective creation, I paid a visit to Mazda Canada Head Offices just north of Toronto on a quiet weekend. I had painted some white parking stripes on my ersatz asphalt and parked three famous Mazda race cars in front of the building. In real life these three vehicles would never appear together, such is the impossibility of arranging such a feat.
As the 30th anniversary of the Mazda Le Mans win came and went, I felt inspired to recreate a famous Mazda poster that has been hanging in my home office all these past years. And make it better.
The original was shot with film around twilight so it’s underexposed and grainy. Part of the circuit consists of small rural French roads with no street lighting so I imagined the perfect way to naturally illuminate the car. Rotary engines run much hotter exhaust gas temperatures than reciprocating engines because there is no exhaust valve train paraphernalia to absorb some of the heat. Under sudden off throttle circumstances such as slowing for a corner or in between shifts, the suddenly rich combustion mixture goes mainly unburned and on contact with the hot exhaust system ignites and produces a very characteristic fireball out the exhaust tips. This would create additional dynamic drama and also serve to illuminate the race car.
With careful staging you end up with a final image that requires no Photoshop meddling and is inherently convincing because the wheel are spinning, the roadway is a blur, the exhaust fireball … is real!
I duplicated the text as best as I could by stretching and condensing the fonts available with Photoshop. The content of the text is superb and the placement in the upper corner inspired. My only criticism is that the list of cars on the left hand column was too small and illegible in the original, I’ve enlarged it to emphasize the calibre of the competition, and that a Japanese rotary engined car beat them all, fair and square.
You can probably perceive the personal joy I experienced throughout these creations but both the techniques and the activity can have real photo journalistic value. Although these events may never have happened in reality (notwithstanding driverless cars of the future) they can revisit history in a way that is both informative and entertaining.