The Challenges And Rewards Of Photographing A Concours
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.