On the Open Road

· 23.July.2018

Unsurprisingly, as a motorsport photographer, I enjoy taking pictures of fast cars both on the track and out on the public roads. However, shooting cars on public road is something very different and means you need to be more aware of safety considerations, for yourself, your clients and other road users. Last month I was booked to shoot the Zenos E10S sports car with Scottish race driver Christie Doran.  The Zenos is a road legal track car, built in Norfolk in the East of England. With a 0-60mph time of just four seconds, the E10S has the performance to rival the big sports car manufacturers and is guaranteed to put a huge smile on the driver’s face.

My brief was to show the car on the open road to demonstrate that the Zenos is not just a track day warrior.  I had just 24 hours with the car so we took the Zenos out into the Scottish Borders for a day shooting in the countryside.

Zenos E10S – Fujifilm X-H1 + XF16-55mmF2.8 – 1/250s @ f5.6 ISO200

Like all genres of photography, meticulous planning is essential, especially when your time is limited with the car and with the other people taking part to consider.  

One thing I always do is check out the locations I want to shoot in well in advance.  I always give myself two or three options just in case something goes wrong on the day.  This could be bad weather or something as simple as a parked car in the area you had marked out as a good spot to take some static shots.  Both of these things happened on this particular photoshoot.

I divide the shoot into two areas – static shots and moving shots.  For this photoshoot I was also shooting video from ground level and with a drone, so I needed to build this into the plan.

For the moving shots I look out for two things.  One, I need a location with several angles so I can vary the shot without moving too far and two, I need a location where turning the car round is going to be fairly easy.  There is no point choosing a nice road if it means the car is going to have to travel a long distance before there is a spot to turn around and come back.  

Another consideration is other traffic.  If the road is going to be busy at the time you are going to be shooting, not only is it going to difficult to get a clear shot of the car, it could also potentially be dangerous, especially on narrow country roads.

The final consideration is other obstacles.  The road we were using was in farming country and there were sheep wandering on the road.  I planned to shoot the moving sequences away from the sheep but you need to be aware of animals and wildlife when shooting, especially in the countryside.

Zenos E10S – Fujifilm X-H1 + XF16-55mmF2.8 – 1/30s @ f9 ISO100

When shooting cars on public roads you have to be mindful of safety of yourself, your clients and other road users at all times.  The first thing to remember is to stick to the speed limits, as this is a legal requirement.  The temptation when shooting fast cars is to blast it at full speed down the country lanes but this is potentially very dangerous on country roads.  

Also if you are showing the speedometer in any of your shots and it shows the car exceeding the speed limit, then you leave yourself open to being prosecuted by the authorities.  So I always brief the driver to stay at or under the local speed limit at all times. There are ways of making the car look like it is going fast without breaking the law.

The second important safety consideration is the tracking shots.  On a race track we shoot car to car from the back of a road car, strapping the photographer into the vehicle with a safety harnesses.  On a public road this is certainly not advisable and is actually illegal.  

If you shooting on private land it is OK but on a public road I use a remote camera on the back of the leading car and shoot with that using the Fujifilm Remote App to control the camera from inside the car.

I spend a lot of time ensuring the car is clean before shooting and an essential part of my kit is a bucket, cloths, water, chamois leather or blade, glass cleaner and bug remover spray.  The car should be spotless and cleaning the car before you shoot saves loads of time in Photoshop later.  It’s not just the car itself; I always check around the car for litter when shooting static shots.

The Samyang 8mmF2.8 fisheye is perfect for getting wide shots in tight places

The Fujifilm X-H1 and X-T2 camera bodies are the backbone of my kit.  Lenses with fast apertures are the best to give a really shallow depth of field.  I use the three Fujinon zooms for flexibility – XF50-140mmF2.8, XF16-55mmF2.8 and XF10-24mmF4 – and also the XF90mmF2 and XF16mmF1.4 primes.  I also use a Samyang 8mmF2.8 fisheye lens for when I need to get into some tight spots – shooting from the passenger seat for example.

A polariser is also part of my kit to cut through reflections in the glass and the paintwork.  I also pack some ND grads, to balance the exposure if necessary.

I also pack the Fujifilm EF-X500 flash guns to provide fill in light if needed, along with some reflectors.  I prefer to use available light for my car photography but it is always useful to be able to put in a little fill flash with a diffuser if I need to lift a deep shadow.

Because I had the Zenos for 24 hours I did most of the static images the evening before I was joined by Christie and the others.  Luckily the weather gods played nicely and the low sun provided me with the perfect lighting late into the evening.

Detail shots of the interior of the car are just as important as the external images – Fujifilm X-H1 + XF50-140mmF2.8 – 1/800s @ f2.8 ISO200

The whole car needs to be shot from the front, rear, front three quarters and rear three quarters.  Then I concentrate on the detail shots: badges, lights, switch gear, engine bay and anything else that catches the eye.

As cars are shiny objects, you need to be very careful with reflections.  For the overall shots I tend to shoot with either the 50-140mm zoom or 90mm prime to ensure I am far enough away so that I won’t be seen in any of the bodywork. 

The next day I drove the Zenos down to the first location where I was to meet up with Christie and the rest of the team.  Dense fog had covered the road where we were due to do the first run, so I quickly switched to Plan B, which was a location five miles away but at lower altitude, so the fog wasn’t an issue.  This is where the earlier planning came up trumps.

The moving shots were almost exclusively shot on the XF50-140mmF2.8, sometimes with the 1.4x converter fitted if I need to stand further away from the road side.  For cornering shots I try to find a road that dips down so the car comes over a crest in the road and has a clean background. 

I also like to shoot cars through trees or grass verges with a slow shutter speed to give that sense of speed.

The Fujifilm X-H1 + XF10-24mmF4 attached to the rear windscreen of the tracking vehicle using a Manfrotto clamp

For the tracking shots I use a camera fitted with a wide angle, in this case an X-H1 and XF10-24mm, which is attached to a Manfrotto 241V suction clamp, which I secured to the rear windscreen of the car we were using to shoot from. 

Using the Fujifilm App to control the camera from the passenger seat of the car I directed Christie to follow us closely for a few hundred metres at just 40mph.  With a shutter speed of 1/30s to 1/60s, the results look like the Zenos is travelling a lot faster.  

On bumpy country roads there are going to be a lot of ‘misses’ when shooting at a relatively slow shutter speed as the cars move about, so I always take plenty of shots to make sure I got one that worked.

Time on the photoshoot always passes really quickly so it is imperative to make sure the required shots are in the ‘can’ before we moved to the next location.  By late afternoon we were heading back to Edinburgh to drop the car back at the Leven Car Company showroom.  

Working with fast cars is something I still get a huge buzz from and I always look forward to the next car shoot with anticipation. 

With Thanks To….

Leven Car Company  www.levencarcompany.co.uk 

Christie Doran www.christiedoranracing.com

Zenos Cars www.zenoscars.com 


Zenos E10S Photoshoot – Fujifilm X-H1 + XF50-140mmF2.8 – 1/2000s @ f2.8 ISO800

Engine Bay – Fujifilm X-T2 + XF16-55mmF2.8 – 1/320s @ f3.6 ISO320

Outside a landmark in the Scottish Borders – Fujifilm X-H1 + XF10-24mmF4 – 1/125s @ f6.4 ISO200

Zenos E10S – Fujifilm X-H1 + XF50-140mmF2.8 – 1/60s @ f6.4 ISO100

Zenos E10S – Fujifilm X-H1 + XF50-140mmF2.8 – 1/320s @ f2.8 ISO200

Zenos E10S – Fujifilm X-H1 + XF50-140mmF2.8 – 1/320s @ f2.8 ISO200

Zenos E10S – Fujifilm X-H1 + XF50-140mmF2.8 – 1/1250s @ f2.8 ISO200

A low view point makes for a more dramatic static image, helped by using the X-H1’s articulated screen to compose the shot

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