Not so long ago I was asked by OutdoorPhoto to interview my partner and fellow commercial photographer, Sarel van Staden, about his love for cars, our automotive photography work, which we like to refer to as “car porn”, as well as the innovative lighting techniques that give our work its signature look. Here is the interview:
IT IS A LOVE STORY…..
When Sarel talks about cars, his whole demeanor changes. His childhood stories include tales of many hours spent learning about engines and cars from his dad, a motor technician, who rebuilt cars from the chassis up; as well as passionate stories of favourite car posters against bedroom walls. He is, however, quick to set my mind at ease by adding that the only love stronger than his love for cars is his love for photography. It is a well known fact, that great photography is dependent on great light, and Sarel adds: “Understanding the basic characteristics of light and how to applying it, makes photography an amazing creative journey that feeds my soul”.
Most photographers will tell you that lighting a car well poses challenges such as unwanted reflections and hot spots in paintwork, but this is what makes Sarel tick. Figuring out ways to light reflections, enhancing the colour and showing shape in for instance a black car, is what he lives for. “This is my way to express and create art. A means to pay homage to and thank all the cars designers over the centuries, for spoiling me and many other passionate car lovers with their beautiful creations.”
When asked about the industry and automotive photography in particular, he explains that advances in 3D rendering techniques, is limiting the need for conventional automotive photography and it’s notorious lighting challenges. According to Sarel, photographers constantly need to push the boundaries to create something unique and he does that in his endeavor to come up with new and creative lighting techniques. “To be able to use light to bring out the shape and the beautiful lines in cars is almost like a drug to me. In my mind I am constantly conceptualizing new and better ways to create art of cars and this eventually lead to the car porn images”.
Does he take inspiration from any one in particular? Referring to acclaimed automotive photographer Tim Wallace, he says: “the way that he combines the emotional human element into his artistic photography style of cars is just amazing”.
Curves, lines and light
Huge lighting set-ups and studio builds come to mind when one thinks of conventional automotive photography. I asked Sarel to tell us more about the lighting techniques he uses for the fine art car shoots, as well as his preferred lighting tools. “I mainly shoot using instant light sources with extra diffusers or painting-with-light wands, also with extra diffusers. For instant light I use the Elincrom quadra lights or the Prophoto B2 system in combination with a 400mm beauty dish which I modified to create soft, focused light. This I double diffuse with an extra diffuser to create the matt finish, characteristic of my fine art images”.
“I developed and built a custom light wand which I also double defuse, for the painting-with-light technique. With the wand I create soft light and an almost matt finish, without unwanted reflections in the paint work.
To create soft light, a conventional lighting set-up requires a 3 x 7 m scrim positioned 1-2m above the car in a commercial studio. With the wand I create the same soft light with the hand held light wand. The positioning of the conventional light scrim creates spill off light that also exposes the surroundings which in turn reflects in the paintwork of the car. By using the light wand less then 100mm away from the bodywork of the car, there is almost no spill off light, eliminating the reflections of the surroundings. By moving the 2m light wand over the car, during the exposure, we create a soft light source much bigger that traditional light scrims in automotive studios. The only limitation of this technique is that it can only be done in low light.”
Asked about his future plans, he was quick to answer: “Many many beautiful cars!”
“The details are not the details. They make the design.”
– Charles Eames