Shooting cars in motion / by Neil Alexander

I've been working a little more on my car photography lately and I wanted to try and get some motion shots to liven up my options. I've a series of car shoots (watch this space) coming up and in addition to some beautifully lit static detailed shots, I felt that it would be necessary to convey some motion too. I've done a raft of research and performed a little ad-hoc testing and ended up putting together the rig in the picture below. 

For it I used:

  • One Manfrotto AutoPole
  • Two Elinchrom vacuum grips
  • 3 Manfrotto Super clamps
  • Some spigots
  • One Manfrotto ballhead
  • A camera
  • Two PocketWizard Multimaxs
  • Sigma 10-20mm lens
  • Singh Ray Variable ND filter
  • And a car....

To reduce camera shake and get sharp images, ideally I'd have had several patient manly helpers (it's a big motor) and pushed it along, or simply rolled it slowly down a gentle slope but I was pushed for time and was short on help. I ended up doing this with the engine running and driving the car myself using the PocketWizards to trigger the camera. With a little trial and error I calculated that I'd need a shutter speed of around 1/4 to 1/2 second to get the motion blur that I was looking for. It was a bright day and even at F22 I wasn't close, which is where the Vari-ND came in useful. Obviously the problem was that at those shutter speeds with the camera dangling off the end of a rather bouncy pole, getting sharp images was going to be a bit hit and miss. I took a lot of frames in order to get a very few sharp ones. 

I only ever had the car going 2 or 3 mph and even on the smoothest parts of the road surface the camera went through a fair degree of pogo-ing up and down. Fortunately being up so high I could judge when the bouncing was at it's minimum and then hammered the PocketWizard.

Then it was back to the ranch for some heavy Photoshop action to remove not just the pole and the clamps but the reflections of them too and all the mud that the car had picked up en route to the test site.

Though it worked ok, the AutoPole (which is clearly designed for use vertically in a studio) isn't really built with this kind of thing in mind. I've since been looking at some extendable carbon fibre poles (read muchos poundos) but have also found a place over in Liverpool that sells used 10ft scaffolding poles for the almighty sum of £5.  

Next opportunity I get, I'll nip over there and rig up another test., and this time with a cleaner set of wheels.

Range Rover in motion - setup.jpg