Guerrilla Model Shoot at the Auto Show

2015 Mustang
Shutter: 1.500, Aperture: ƒ/3.5, ISO: 1000, Lens: 24-70mm, remote activated flash

I’ve been trying to pull off this shot off for a couple of years now. I love visiting the Washington Auto Show each year and taking photos of the new cars, but the lighting in the convention center is not intended for taking pro photos, it’s to show off the cars. I wondered, would it be possible to bring some minimal lighting, and create studio conditions on the fly with a model, without getting kicked out? Check out what we did for this and other shots below, as well as the equipment and techniques involved.

Needed lighting

Let me first show you the equipment I had with me. I put a flash on a pair of Yongnuo YN622 Wireless Flash Transceivers. You get a set of two identical units for about $70. Put one of the transceivers on your camera’s hot shoe, and slide the flash into the other. I then attached the little foot that comes with the flash to the bottom of that. On the left is a $30 NEEWER® 160 LED Light Panel that runs off of six AA batteries. It’s mainly intended to be attached to the top of your DSLR, and shoot video, but the bottom has a universal tripod screw hole, so I stuck it on my Gorrillapod. Now I could place it anywhere inside the car, and provide some fill light from the driver’s right. It worked great for the price, and for most of these shots, the light was under 30% power, that sucker gets bright. Here is one of the test shots (outdoors, after sundown) with just the light panel, at the lowest power.

Dash light
Shutter: 1/60, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, ISO: 4000, Lens: 18-35mm

With a lot of my guerrilla shoots, I try to practice a little bit ahead of time to minimize the amount of experimentation I’ll have to do on the fly. I warned our model Mary Catherine that I had never worked in these conditions before, and there would be a degree of trial and error once we were under the actual lighting at the convention center. I wanted to be respectful of her time, but also mindful of our time in each car. I did have a press pass, so it was expected that I’d be taking photos of the cars, but we didn’t want undue attention, or be asked to leave. We were there on a preview night, and though it was much less crowded, there was still a constant flow of people that would also want to try sitting in the cars. I also want to note that I had a circular polarizer on the lens for each of these shots. This filter screws on the front of your lens and acts like sunglasses. You lose quite a bit of light, but one of the benefits is that it cuts down on glare. This was very helpful for my shots through the glass.

In trouble
Shutter: 1/100, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 1000, Lens: 24-70mm

We also wanted to try some playful shots. When explaining my concept to Mary Catherine, I stressed that my primary vision was to promote accomplishment over body parts. I wasn’t trying to get poses of her bent over the hood of a car. The reason why we’d be taking these photos (in a pro scenario) would be that she was the winning race car driver, we’re not just showing off the cars and her body. I wanted a Maxim magazine style of studio lighting, and just a little bit of sexiness, without being obscene. In this shot my buddy Josh held the flash with a blue gel, out the rear window aiming in. We used the light panel to provide fill from the opposite side, and I directed Mary Catherine to be in the moment of juuuust being pulled over, and letting the seriousness of the situation sink in. It was a very simple effect to get. Be sure to see the test shot I got with my son.

Stingray Corvette
Shutter: 1/500, Aperture: ƒ/5.0, ISO: 1000, Lens 24-70mm

This is my second favorite shot. This one is more on the borderline of traditional sexy car shots. We’re showing more of the car, and a bit more leg, but I still wanted to stay classy. There was a line of people trying to get behind the wheel of the new 2015 Corvette Stingray, so we needed to move quick. For this shot all we had was Josh holding the strobe pretty close to me, to my left. We took a few shots to get Mary Catherine’s leg position looking just right and this one it really clicked. The car show was a great opportunity to try a lot of different cars and (pre-existing) lighting conditions all in one evening.

2015 Scion
Shutter: 1/1000, Aperture: ƒ/5.6, ISO: 1000, Lens: 15mm fisheye

I also wanted to pull off lighting the driver and the car at the same time. For this shot Josh is holding the flash outside of the passenger side window, aiming in. There is a snap-on diffuser which helped add a little light to the outside, but it really helped with illuminating Mary Catherine’s face. This side of the car was underlit to begin with. We had the light panel inside the car to add some balance, but I don’t think it made a ton of difference in this particular photo. We shot almost every car at this angle because they all had a large stand with the sticker details right by the driver side door. In a studio scenario, I think we would have definitely have shot from the other side to get closer to the driver.

Shutter: 1/640, Aperture: ƒ/5.0, ISO: 1000, Lens 24-70mm

Here’s another fun shot we grabbed. The Washington Area Metro system was showing off one of it’s new busses and we hopped on board. We played with posing a little, we wanted Mary Catherine to interact with the loops a bit. How do you look sexy on a bus? I posed Mary Catherine a little to get some curvature that made sense with her arm being raised, and I asked that she cover her eye to give a bit more allure. I think we came close. It’s still a bus. The remote flash was hand held to my left. In this situation, the bus was very dark, but if the flash had been on-camera, it would have looked like a snapshot. Going off-camera definitely helped it get that studio look.

Shutter: 1/100, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 1000, Lens: 24-70mm

I love doing the rear lit trick, with the remote flash aimed directly at the lens and the subject blocking the light, gaining a little halo in the process. The light panel was especially needed to get fill from the front. In a studio scenario you could use a reflector, or additional lamps, but we had to be very mobile and discreet. The only thing I didn’t take into account was the headrest. There was no seat we could find that would allow for a full halo. Given choices, I would choose a car/situation where I could pop out the headrest, or an older car with lower seat backs to get a shot like this right. I liked how it came out, and added Omar the Radwan’s Cross Processing photoshop action for a little bit flavor. Actions and filters are like steak sauce… use a little bit for flavor, sparingly, but if your steak sucks, sauce shouldn’t be expected to save it.

Shutter: 1/640, Aperture: ƒ/2.8, ISO: 1600, Lens: 15mm fisheye

I also shot the cars (sans model) for a few local publications. (Check out the full gallery). Here’s a shot that uses the remote flash to fully illuminate an interior. I left in the hand holding the flash on the right, but it would be easy enough to crop out, or adjust you framing before you shoot. I also used the little foot that came with the strobe on the bottom of the transceiver, so I could place the flash on the ground and light up the underside of some of the darker cars.

2015 Yaris
Shutter: 1/1000, Aperture: ƒ/3.5, ISO: 1000, Lens 24-70mm

Mary Catherine was a real pro. She understood what I was trying to accomplish, and was excited to find the solutions with me. I was also very grateful to have Josh with me to offer his advice and hold the flash in the optimum places. I was very upfront that I’d be experimenting to get a better feel for studio lighting, and the undesirable lighting of the convention center added to the challenge. A lot of times in on-location situations you won’t have absolutely ideal lighting. I would love to rent a classic car (or know a friend who has one available for a shoot) and really play around with different lighting at whatever pace I need. Stay tuned for more guerrilla shoots, and more photoshoots, if I’m lucky, with Mary Catherine.

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