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IAIN ROBERTSON

No matter how engaging a story might be, as it should enable the reader to paint images in his, or her, mind, states Iain Robertson, supportive photography and, more recently, videography, provides the perfect supplement, especially to on-line titles, in support of the reader’s thoughts.

One of the many joys attached to writing about motorcars is that they remain a largely emotive subject, despite their rudimentary intentions of providing a means of transport. They are colourful subjects, yes, even the grey ones, because of the technology that is involved in the automotive paint business, which lends them beautifully to the world of photography.

DSC_2925_editedThe paintwork of even the most basic of motor vehicles often contains shards of metal flake, or mica, which reflects light, an essential for even the most basic of photographers. However, motorcars of all shapes and sizes are created by designers, artists, who rely on colour, contours, shading, focal lines and even panel shut-lines that afford their models a sense of occasion, of character and of form.

In many ways, I would love to say that photographing cars is quite simple. Yet, that is not the case and, even the best ‘snappers’ have a tremendous job to ensure that they are not reflected in the final shots taken. From personal experience, I can tell you that it is sometimes impossible, leaving me to dart behind walls, around corners, or to shoot past other objects, in order to achieve the best images….without me in them!

DSC_3022_editedWhile I have a number of Canon and Nikon 35mm single lens reflex (SLR, through-the-lens viewing) cameras, I only use one mostly, these days. It is a Nikon 1 J2. It is a digital, compact camera that was exceptionally advanced, when it was new, around five years ago. It is still the case today. It came complete with two lenses: the first, which I use 95% of the time, is a dedicated 1Nikkor, 10-30mm zoom; the second dedicated and interchangeable lens is a 30-110mm, which is good for more distant images. The lens surfaces on both are protected by 40.5mm sky filters, which provide clarity and can be cleaned and replaced inexpensively, should they become scratched, or damaged. The quality of the images reproduced, in my view, speaks for itself.

When taking photographs of motorcars, it is always good practice to seek views that are unlikely to appear elsewhere, which is the main reason that I take all of my own images. The various car companies not only possess the monetary budgets to spend upwards of £400 per day for a professional photographer but also to whisk that person away to exotic locations, for several days at a time, where it is believed that natural lighting conditions might be better.

DSC_3521_editedThose same companies also provide a stock set of images to their media outlets that they hope will enhance the presentation of their products. As a result, a lot of post-production is carried out, to remove things like remote arms (like mono-pods), tripods, ladders, stray shadows and even the snapper himself, from those inescapable images. If you like ‘botox’, image enhancement and the front covers of fashion magazines, you might also like the relative falseness that such photos might convey.

Personally, I prefer the reality of British natural light, whether it is rainy, snowing, hail, or a glorious (if rare) sunny day. Even the most stormy sky can be used to project drama onto an image. Besides, I do not have the luxury of a photographic studio at my disposal…nor would I want it, with its associated overheads.

DSC_3722_editedI also love the immediacy, or the candidness, of many photographic opportunities. Occasionally, other people, or animals, or items, can stray into shot. I use them. However, I also pick the right times and conditions to make the most of my photography. If that means arising before sunrise, to capture the breaking rays across a vibrant golden field of rapeseed, then I plan for it, as much as I am able. It works at the other end of the day too, in the rich glow of the sun’s dying embers. Regardless, extremes of all sorts can also mean fewer distractions, such as driving onto a city centre pedestrian zone, when there are no shoppers about.

However, I try to pick characterful locations that might enhance an image, such as alongside the beautiful, Gothic Lincoln Cathedral, which is just over a mile from my home…and I have not, as yet, run out of different angles from which to include that wonderful building in my shots. By the same token, the County of Lincolnshire is blessed with areas that can look remarkably remote and are seldom troubled by passing traffic, an important criterion, when taking pictures of motorcars…on public roads! The County also has ‘big, expansive skies’.

DSC_3736_editedTall edifices can help with scale and it is useful to be able to include their full majesty in the final image. Therefore, I often position the car in a corner, or low down, in the frame, to allow the background its moment. It seldom detracts from the subject matter but does add plenty of interest. These same techniques can and must be used, whether taking snaps of flowers, people, bottles of wine, or even travel shots. Most ‘auto-focus’ cameras provide all of the right settings, so that you do not have to worry about them, as a result, I seldom resort to ‘manual mode’.

The beauty of the modern compact camera is that it is so readily transportable and accessible. Even those with in-built lenses can produce remarkably competent images, without taking up too much room, or demanding the use of weighty over-the-shoulder gadget bags. While I do look for rails, walls and trees that will help me to steady the camera, to avoid ‘shake’, virtually all of my photographs are hand-held. I do own a tripod for longer exposure shots but I seem to recall that the last time I used it must have been three, or four, years ago!

I must say that Lyn is very good in this magazine! She uses almost every, original image (that is those not supplied by a carmaker) that I send to her. Original imagery is important for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and helps with the reputation of the title. For cars, that means front ¾, rear ¾, side, boot, radiator grille, interior, seating, driving position and some arty-farty angles, for added interest. As I save them in around 0.9 to 1.4MB form, I usually supply 8 to 12 photographs per feature story. Complete with editorial (the words), that lot can be sent to her on one single e-mail, with attachments. Some other editors, especially in the print scene, want images in a larger format (up to 5MB but can be up to 12MB), which does mean sending them in small tranches, mainly due to e-mail restrictions set by your service provider. It can be fiddly but it is usually worth it.

DSC_2715_editedFinally, for the book reviews that I carry out, I simply roll back the covers of the bed in the guest room, where the sheets are clean (!), ensure that there is either good external light, or I will use the in-built flash on the camera, to illuminate them. Again, I use my trusted and superb Nikon 1 for the purpose.

I hope that my brief explanation goes some way towards helping you to understand the wondrous simplicity and enhancing values of original photography. There is no need to get uptight, or nervous. Just relax, plan what you are intending to do and do it. I never take any more images than I need and I always download them onto my Personal Computer, which means that I have a valuable archive that I move across to a hard disk from time to time, to save storage space.

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About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).