Here’s How To Take The Best Possible Photos At Monterey Car Week
Photography by Jamey Price
Monterey Car Week and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance are some of the best chances to see the most exotic cars on the planet, both old and new, and point your lens at them. I’ve been to Pebble Beach twice in my career, and it’s a fun event. You can let your eyes wander over thousands of different types of vehicles from many decades of makes and models. So: it’s #carporn at it’s best, there’s a camera in your pocket—here’s how to ensure your memories from the trip look great.
There are actually a few key tips that will help anyone get the most from Monterey Car Week, and any Cars and Coffee meet up, or race meet—be it a Formula 1 race or the historic race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Let’s start with the latter. Motorsport photography is a different animal. You are farther away from the action, it’s a little bit faster moving than a car parked on the 18th green, and maybe a little more intimidating. With regard to motorsport photography, I have a few principles that I live by and stick to no matter what.
First, if you can see the sidewall of the tire (and read what the tire manufacturer is), you need to show that the car is moving. That means slowing the shutter speed down and panning the car as it goes by you. With most race cars, you start to see wheel movement at 1/800 of a second. But 1/800 is hardly a pan shot. So try slowing it down even more: 1/100. 1/60. 1/30. 1/10. Go as slow as you dare.
The slower you go, the lower your success rate will be, but the more dramatic the image may be.
Let the light work
Second, use the light. Laguna Seca has some amazing natural light. Use the morning sessions and evening sessions to the maximum that you can. I love backlit photos. The curves and flares from the car’s chassis make my heart go pitter patter. Use apps like SunCalc to see where the sun will be pointing at certain times of day. Or use video games like Project Cars to see what the sun is doing at that time of day. You would be shocked how accurate that game is with the pattern of the sun.
Third. Find clean backgrounds…Toyota FJ Cruiser blue-hued portable toilets don’t make nice backgrounds. Find backgrounds that aren’t distracting. Laguna Seca is one of the best tracks on Earth to make pretty photos, and no, you don’t need a press pass to make the most of it.
How to shoot the Concours d’Elegance
Once you’ve had your fill of the historic races, let’s tackle the cars you may find at the Concours. The Concours d’Elegance is tough. Trust me. You’re packed in with 10,000 other people all trying to take photos too, and everyone ends up getting the same photo.
First, you must accept that you probably won’t get a clean photo of a car. I kind of go the opposite direction. I tell a story of the event itself. Wide photos of tons of cars and tons of people are what I end up shooting. It’s an amazing gathering of vehicles, with tons of spectators all dressed to the nines and the light can be amazing on the course. I’ve brought a tripod the past few years and made some different photos with really long shutter speeds that blur the crowds and leave just a moving mass of people around a static car.
The other angle I take on Concours is to go very tight and shoot details on these cars. Each is different. Each is special. You don’t need amazing lenses to shoot interesting details on these cars. And you won’t be able to get closer to cars of this caliber many other places on Earth. So instead of shooting the standard, “Here is a 1935 Packard next to another 1935 Packard, sitting on a grass parking lot,” tell a story about the event, or show the car in a way that not many see, but many will appreciate.
My other “must do” suggestion for Pebble Beach is to get up before the sun and head to the course for Dawn Patrol. It is incredible to watch the cars roll in as the sun is coming up over the bay and enjoy the smell of leather, old engines coughing smoke and oil, and sea otter poop all mixing in the air. It’s a special event.
Taking photos of (the awesome) traffic
These same principles above also apply to cars you might find parked on the street. Honestly, I could not be more bored of seeing photos of a Porsche 911 parked in a parking lot or on the street taken from eye level on an iPhone. Any Cars and Coffee Instagram account will be filled with photos just like these. If you happen to find some exotic car parked peacefully next to the local coffee shop, do us all a favor and photograph it with some level of creativity. Showing those unique details, using a longer focal length, a shallow depth of field, or a different camera angle (get low to the ground, or raise your camera up) will yield far more interesting results than your average eye level “here is X car” photo.
Street cars in motion
The other joy of Monterey Car week is the sheer number of drives happening around the town. I won’t disclose exactly where, but Lamborghini runs private test drives around the area all week, and some of the areas you find them driving are truly stunning. Many many other exotic manufacturers and car groups do the same. Some of the best automotive photos I’ve taken are just by chance finding a group of cars blasting through the hills and roads around Monterey. Go wandering around the area…you never know what you’ll find blasting by you.
I’ve seen some amazing photos from these events before, but I’ve also seen some photos that make me just shake my head. But hopefully applying one, or all of the above tactics can help you bring home some photos that will make your instagram and Facebook friends truly jealous, and help them see a side of the event they may never have seen before.
–Jamey Price is an award winning motorsport photojournalist from Charlotte, North Carolina. His images have been published around the globe by Top Gear, Car & Driver, CycleWorld, Road & Track, RACER, MotorTrend, Autosport, F1 Racing, Motorsport Magazine, F1i and Blackbird Automotive Journal.
He is proud to be a Lexar Elite Artist and a Tenba bags sponsored photographer, and has been listed by GQ Magazine’s 10 best car and racing Instagram accounts to follow. He continues to do freelance work for some of the most respected sports imagery wire services, and for commercial clients and racing teams around the world including Lamborghini, Ducati, Audi, Red Bull, Goodyear, Gatorade, Aston Martin Racing, Force India F1 Team, Renault F1 team, Manor Racing F1, Toyota Gazoo Racing and many others.
Though primarily sticking to the motor racing world, Jamey has covered a diverse range of sporting assignments from horse racing in England and the Kentucky Derby to the NFL, as well as NASCAR, NHRA, Indycar, MotoGP, the 24 hours of Le Mans, Formula One and a little of everything in between.