Midnight Grocery Shopping

On a recent visit to Los Angeles, I really wanted to shoot some cars under a cool neon sign. I spent hours before the trip researching different areas and scouring google maps until I found this gem.

The next challenge would be to find some epic cars to bring the location to life.  This is when James stepped in. I got introduced to James by a mutual friend as I was visiting South OC Cars and Coffee, and he runs it.  It’s the largest weekly car show in the world, and each time I’ve visited, the amazing car culture of Los Angeles shines bright!
I mentioned my idea of shooting that evening under the Stater Bros sign, and he immediately offered up both his Supercharged Audi R8, and also a Twin Turbo Lamborghini Performante from 1016Industries.  I heard them before I saw them, the Lamborghini under boost is a totally unique sound, which raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

These crazy cars are both totally unique, and not just for their silly power thanks to the addition of forced induction. James’ R8 sits perfectly on a beautiful set of HRE 520 Series wheels, and is enhanced with a full suite of carbon fibre parts from 1016 Industries, which are then paired with the matte black body.  The Lamborghini is owned by Peter, and the carbon fibre parts really steal the show here as they’re forged carbon, which I loved shooting as the texture really pops under the neon lights.  The Performante also features a totally show stopping set of Brixton Forged wheels, with a forged carbon fibre barrel, matching with the carbon on the rest of the car. I’m sure I’ve missed more amazing details, but the last thing that grabbed my attention and made it particularly enjoyable to shoot were the blue details of the seats and brake callipers, which provided a pleasing contrast to the red of the Stater Bros sign.  Both these cars are a real testament to the quality of the products from both 1016, HRE and Brixton and as an incredibly picky person and I was honestly blown away.

The moment the cars pulled in, under the Stater Bros sign, I knew it was a perfect match.  I lit the cars using my new Amaran PT2c, which is a 2 foot RGBWW LED tube.  I now have a selection of the Amaran LED tubes and the 2ft tube is perfect when travelling as it easily fits in my suitcase, although I do prefer the PT4c I have when I’m not limited by luggage space as they pack more of a punch to overcome ambient light.

I don’t want this to sound like an advert for the lights, but these tubes have really refreshed how I approach night shoots, offering new creative possibilities with colour.  In this shoot, I effectively lit the cars twice, once with the tube set to white, then a second time with the tube set to red to match the sign. I wanted it to look like the sign was lighting up the cars, so focused more on the highlights of the cars with the red lights, then the white light had slightly more focus on the details.  It’s easy to get carried away with a “new toy”, so I think it’s important to show a little restraint where possible and give the light a reason.

When lighting, I think of it like a formula, I need all the elements captured correctly to give me as many options when I then start the retouching.  Having said that, with a quick shoot like this, it’s a bit more rushed than my commercial shoots would be, so there’s no tethering to a computer, I have a good idea of which positions I need the light in with these types of cars to get the reflections and shadows, then I check on the back of the camera that things look as I expect them to.

The retouching process is actually the time consuming part, and admittedly as I enjoy the process so much, I really go into really intricate detail which isn’t strictly necessary.  The starting point is working out which lighting frames are useful to me, and I can split this up into sections to make it a bit more manageable. First of all I need a background/base image, so a shot without me walking through with the light, and in this case, the right amount of cars driving through the background, and the traffic lights the correct colour. I then select the lighting frames which I can use, thinking about how I want the end product to look. Finally, and it’s less prevalent on this shoot as the sign did the hard work, I pick a shadow for the car, as this gives the light on the car a direction.

Art, both in photography and retouching, often thrives on subjectivity. With no brief for this particular shoot, I was able to approach this with a slightly selfish creative indulgence, allowing me to create visuals according to my own personal vision, even if it leans towards a slightly surreal aesthetic.

I wanted  to simplify the scene, so there are only two main subjects in each photo, the car and the Stater Bros sign. This meant a lot of time cleaning up any elements that could be distracting in the background. When building the lighting on the cars, I find that you often want to reduce the amount of lighting layers as much as you can, it is the contrast between highlights and shadows which give the illusion of shapes. I did at times find myself wishing I’d shot a few extra lighting frames for some of the shots, to give myself more options while retouching, but maybe that’s just a reminder of value of why we take our time more on commercial shoots to guarantee we get everything required in camera.