I was at the Cheshire Show recently. I like events like that – there are often good opportunities to hone a few skills. For example, the day I went, there was some jousting and horse-boarding going on in the central area†, both of which provide some exercise for the sports-shooting muscles.
For the purposes of this post, though, I want to talk about the vintage cars; and one in particular.
I don’t really ‘do’ cars: I like to drive them, but photographing them doesn’t really appeal to me. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with this lot—they were parked close to each other, lots of people wandering around, distracting backgrounds—except that among the Ferraris and Jaguars and others was a wonderful 1959 Cadillac Coupé de Ville.
What drew me to that car in particular? Partly it was the gorgeous pearlescent green paint work and partly the outrageously OTT styling from a more naive age: one where we didn’t really understand the effect we are having on the world.
As I said, the layout didn’t lend itself to a full-car shot, so I decided to go for detail shots. I wanted to try to capture the ‘essence’, if you like, of the car: what aspect of the styling is important to recognising it as that particular make and model? (Apart from the words ‘Coupe de Ville’ written down the side, of course.)
I think that there are three things that are at the core of that car’s distinctive look: the tail fins, the tail lights and the headlight cluster. Given that, I decided to go in really tight on those features, to make pictures that were not just about a 1959 Coupé de Ville, but about a specific feature of a 1959 Coupé de Ville.
When I got back home, I looked through the pictures and realised that I actually needed to crop those particular images even tighter than I had framed them at the time.
What I got at the end was three pictures that I could combine into a triptych that pretty much screams “1959 Cadillac Coupé de Ville” without ever showing more than about 10% of the car.
The point I’m trying to make is that you don’t always want to step back and get more in to your pictures. Sometimes it pays to step forward, get closer and then get a bit closer still. Follow the link I gave above and see how many pictures aren’t a fairly generic wide shot of the car, and see how those that close in on a detail seem to say more.
So challenge yourself – look for the essence of something and photograph that, rather than just trying to ‘get the whole thing in’.
† Not at the same time…