Moving Mini

This has to be the blog post that has been in my mind for the longest period ever, but four months after I did the photographs the post can finally be written. Much has happened in that time, but the one thing that hasn’t is the planned event that prompted me to try a different branch of photography to my norm – automotive photography. The planned event? The sale of our five-year old Mini.

We’ve owned our little Mini Cooper for five years, but the time has come to acquire something a little bigger, and with five doors. I’m not the smallest of people, and the Mini looked a bit crowded with me driving it. Having the extra doors means more flexibility with the small person as well so it’s a no-brainer, but still not an easy decision. In July we found a suitable car and rather quicker than planned purchased it, so suddenly became a three-car family. And the four-year-old just isn’t old enough to drive the Mini yet, no matter how much she’ll argue the toss.

So with the decision made to sell the opportunity was there to try something new and try my hand at taking pictures of cars. I’ve done some F1 shooting, as seen on the blog and in the galleries, but the pictures I’ve taken in the past of our cars have been little more than record shots. The Mini is an ideal candidate for photographing because frankly it looks a lot more interesting than a Mercedes or a Citroen. The plan was hatched, and the aim was to take a few different shots in different locations in Milton Keynes: A dusk shoot in the woods with flash, an interior shot, some close-up detail shots and the big one – shots of the Mini moving.

I’ve never done anything like this, but I’m lucky enough to know Chris and Darren Teagles who are both big into their automotive photography, and pretty darned good at it too. Chris (his website is here) is studying Photography in University at the moment and is already well known for his automotive photography and has been published too, deservedly so. Chris and Darren have a camera rig which they use on a variety of cars, so I contacted them to see if they would be willing to have a go with the Mini. Of course, they were more than willing to oblige so we set up two different styles of shot – one outdoors in a country lane, the other in a more urban environment in an underground car park.

So early in the evening we all met up on the old A5 near Little Brickhill. This used to be the main road from Dunstable to Milton Keynes, but the building of the bypass around the village rendered this road closed at the southern end of the village and you wouldn’t really recognise it as one of the former main roads in the country these days. Here is where I started to get out of my comfort zone and into something completely new – rig photography.

Country Road

A rig is essentially a giant telescopic carbon fibre pole which attaches to the car. Attachment is via large suction cups – one on the roof, one on the windscreen. Hanging from the pole was an adjustable pole for the camera, which dangled upside down at the end. If you think you know your camera and all the button locations, try using it upside down – it is impossible! Once set up we ended up with a very valuable camera and an equally valuable wide-angle lens dangling from an expensive pole held on a car with suction cups. What could possibly go wrong?!

The “after” picture above shows good speed on the car, but I’m afraid that is somewhat of an illusion. Darren drove the Mini while I walked alongside activating the camera and we never got above a medium walking pace. Setting ISO 50 at f/22 gave us a 3sec shutter speed, which worked out rather nicely for the sense of speed without the dangers of my camera whizzing along the road at high speed. The biggest difficulty was keeping the rig steady – the road looked smooth, but even the smallest bump was amplified, equally the car had to be driven in a silky manner to prevent it. Each run we did – probably 100m in total – allowed me to continuously shoot about a dozen images, and then pick the sharpest and the image with the best background.

All well and good, but when I got home I was faced with an image which was a) upside down, and b) had a pole in it. The first part is easily solved, the second part required Photoshop. Lots of Photoshop. “Clone out the pole” they say, how hard can it be? Answer: ridiculously. To make the trees look natural, to correct the roof of the car where the suction cup was, to erase all the pole reflections in the bodywork and to get rid of myself and Chris who were both visible in the shot at Little Brickhill took a long time – probably about 4hrs on that image alone.

Underground MiniThe other location we used during our evening was the new Sainsburys car park in The Hub, Central Milton Keynes. Not somewhere I’d have thought of using but Chris and Darren were familiar with it – and what a location. At 8pm on Saturday it was almost empty, and we were able to turn a corner and play on a straight section. Billiard table smooth and with unusual lighting the effect was stunning on the finished image. Here the darker conditions gave us a 5sec exposure at f/22 with ISO 100, again we had shake to contend with but by using two images and cloning the bits that needed to be sharp from one the the other I came up with what is rapidly becoming my favourite image ever.

The picture looks great now, but boy did it take some processing work. I reckon I spent around 8hrs on this in Photoshop, much of it needed but I’m sure the final hour or so was spent satisfying my OCD. This was the harder of the two shots by far because not only did I have to clone the pole out, but also the suction cup on the windscreen (above the tax disc which I also removed!). Removing those items took a lot of fiddly cloning, including rebuilding the headrest and making sure everything was spot on. There were more reflections of the pole in the bonnet and down the bumper which were tricky – nothing is straight on the car, so cloning curves took a lot of time!

So my first experience of automotive photography was a success. I’ve got some great pictures and we have some really good images of the Mini with which to remember it by and to sell it with hopefully. Anyone want to by a Mini?!

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