Featured: The Challenges And Rewards Of Photographing A Concours

The Challenges And Rewards Of Photographing A Concours

By Petrolicious Productions
June 19, 2017

Story and photography by Corbin Miranda

If offspring are anything to judge, nothing goes together quite as nicely as a camera and a gorgeous car. Perhaps a winding back road and a wide open throttle are fair competition, but impeccable body lines and a quality lens offer something that the experience of driving just can’t.

One of my favorite weekend endeavors is to adventure out to capture some of the most beautiful homologations, design studies, and limited-run specials that the best engineers and designers of our automotive past had to offer, and two weeks ago, on June 11th, I headed out the the Cincinnati Concours d’Elegance at Ault Park to do just that. Photographing a concours, or any midday event for that matter, can present a few challenges though. Obstacles like enormous crowds of people surrounding the cars and clogging the sight lines paired with natural hindrances like an overhanging high-noon sun that blows out every single picture make getting a nice shot so much more challenging than a dedicated photoshoot. All you can in these kinds of situations is adapt though, so there are a few things I do in order to make sure I get the best images possible. Hopefully this helps with your next outing that you want to document, and at the very least maybe it will provide some insight into the photographic side of our shared interest in cars.

Besides changing my ISO—which is more or less the camera’s sensitivity to light (you basically trade off brightness for graininess)—to the lowest setting and maxing out my shutter speed, I often still find a need to further cut down on the amount of light entering my camera’s sensor, and I do that with the implementation of a polarizing and ND filter. A polarizer is going to eliminate the sun’s glare from glossy or otherwise reflective surfaces, and it also adds a touch of contrast that the sun would normally take away. I combine that with an ND (neutral density) filter, which is specifically meant to restrict the amount of light entering a camera’s sensor, not the glare aspect, which is handled by the polarizer like I mentioned above.

Oftentimes I’ll stack my B+W (brand, not black and white) polarizer on top of my Hoya ND8 filter, due to my Canon 6D’s limited 1/4000 shutter speed. This allows me to use a wide aperture such as f/1.4 (the basics of this value is that the lower the number, the greater the difference between background and foreground focus) to get some dramatic, blurred backgrounds, while still getting a sensible level of light exposure. I also like to use the reflection from neighboring cars or the grass to help illuminate a subject. Lugging around lighting gear is not really the most efficient way to try to capture a show, so I save that for dedicated shoots when I have time and space on my side.

Getting the right gear setup can only get one so far though, and as far as the crowds go, you just have to be patient and take the gaps you can get. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some better ways to go about using your patience though. I find the best technique is to set up your shot beforehand, i.e. focal length and framing, wait for the crowd to clear, and then quickly snap the shot. Even striking up a conversation with another onlooker is a great way to pass the time, as I sometimes find myself waiting for up to 10 minutes for a single shot I may not even use in the end! Basically, be prepared for when the moment arrives; line up everything you can and take a few sample shots to check the results before the opportunity for an unobstructed photo presents itself. Sometimes the stars of the show prove too popular, and when I can’t get a shot through the crowd details work better than full-car photos.

Though this article is focused on the broader theme of photographing crowded events, the Cincinnati Concours d’Elegance at Ault park was a fantastic event that featured everything from pre-war art deco cars, the latest super cars, and pretty much everything else in between. Not to mention, as most concours’ do, the event benefitted a great cause. In this case, proceeds went towards the fight against juvenile arthritis. All in all, crowds of slow-moving attendees alike, being at Ault Park for this event was a great way for a car enthusiast to spend a Sunday afternoon, and get some great photos in the process.

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4 years ago

Wonderful photographs Corbin. Thanks for sharing your tips with us!

Melanie Y'lang
Melanie Y'lang(@melanieylang)
4 years ago

Having bemoaned the blue skies at our local car show at the weekend, I wish I had read this article sooner and been more inspired to shoot! I like how the brilliant colours and people pictured build the atmosphere of bees buzzing around the nectar.

4 years ago

I’ve puked in Corbin’s front yard a couple times.

Cool dude with cool shots. Even cooler to see his work on this site.

Oliver Selzer | speedmatters
Oliver Selzer | speedmatters
4 years ago

Great pictures, Corbin! Would you mind revealing some information on your setup? Body, lens, etc.?

Keep it up!

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman(@fb_1293493178)
4 years ago

i hate this heavily processed, instagram generation photography. give me simple, unfiltered shots any day of the week.

Oliver Selzer | speedmatters
Oliver Selzer | speedmatters
4 years ago
Reply to  Ae Neuman

What do you mean with “heavily processed”? As far as I can tell the “filtering” you’re mentioning just comes with using a wide-open aperture (f/1.4) which is a great way of accentuating the subject and setting it apart from the background/foreground. The only other things processed are colour saturation and contrast which is pretty fine and done to a tasteful extent.

This is a great tutorial with many hints I’m already using myself largely and that had proven right a dozen times!

4 years ago

Thats some sound and useful advice .. but do know all those filters diminish both fine focus as well as details .

Here’s how I handle the situation ;

1) Forego Digital as well as SLR’s using a Leica M6 .. mainly with B&W film [ Ilford Delta 400 ] and occasionally color [ Fuji 200 ]

2) Though I’ll take a 50mm and a 90 I mainly shoot the 35mm lens [ Sumicron 1:2 ] both to get closer in thereby minimizing crowd interference while also minimizing any wide angle distortion

3) I pop the hood on what ever lens I’m using in order to minimize glare

4) Taking a cue from Henri Cartier Bresson’s book ( ” The Decisive Moment ” ) I’ll wait till both the crowds and the sun/clouds are perfect

5) With sometimes my including a person or two in the frame when it seems appropote

And here’s another hint / tip . Showing up with a non- digital Leica M is like having an open invitation to many an opportunity that may normally pass you by not to mention being a conversation starter . Why ? Because using a ( film ) Leica M says something about the person behind the camera that no digital regardless of the price tag can .

Ciao ……… 😎

4 years ago
Reply to  GuitarSlinger

… oh … but more importantly .. if its a show/concours you attend annually ingratiate yourself to the organizers and get yourself early entry .. even better if they’ll let you in during set up .

Robert MacLeod
Robert MacLeod
4 years ago
Reply to  GuitarSlinger

I’m sure he’ll bookmark this so he can come back and use your tips as a reference guide…