Great Planning Helps You Shoot Like a Pro for a BaT Auction
HINT: The BaT “Plus” Listing with professional photos is probably worth many times more than the extra $249 it costs! Ask me how I know!
As auction day approaches my sense of urgency increases. I need to take the photos and figure out what to do for the videos. By now I’ve invested over 60 hours in the detailing (see part one of this series on DriveTribe), and I figure the photography will be a snap in comparison! Not so fast…
I had a ton of questions before I started: How many pictures will I need? Where should I shoot? What camera gear should I use?
21 of the eventual 395 photos on my shot list. With the help of the editors at BaT I was able to be more realistic with the number of pictures. I think we only used about 330.
I’ll start with the shot-list that famous car photographer and publisher of Coachbuilt Press, Michael Furman gave to me in an impromptu interview between shots at his studio.
The Top Ten list from noted automobile photographer and the publisher of Coachbuilt Press, Michael Furman. These are the ten shots that every car needs, at a minimum. Unfortunately, my shot list grew to 395.
The “major” shots are:
1. Full profile driver’s side
2. Front ¾ driver’s side
3. Rear ¾ driver’s side
4. Front head on
5. Rear head on
6. Full profile passenger side
7. Front ¾ passenger side
8. High front view (optional)
9. Interior shot (passenger to driver most often)
10. Engine shot
Michael’s explains in the clip that some cars can require up to 400 shots! I created my own shot list based on his suggestions and others from the well-written “Ten Steps To Take Great Photos of Your Vehicle” PDF that Bring a Trailer sent to me when they accepted the Alfa for auction. When I finished my shot-list ballooned to 395! Check out the gallery (all 10 pages!)! And, yes - I took every one - those are the selected frame numbers in the far right column, or my notes about when the shots would be completed. I curated the list from multiples of almost every shot.
I tried to color-code the angles – making it easier to get the required shots before moving the car. ALWAYS MOVE THE CAR, not the camera. That’s the pro tip!
Should you plan on taking 400 photos? No. It’s really not necessary and a little back-of-the napkin math indicates that most BaT listings feature about 60 photos on the main listing page, and another 100-150 or so in the secondary gallery. I spent hours and hours sorting, arranging and curating the photos for the listing. And then I did it some more.
I managed to tick off nearly 70 shots at my first shoot. When I loaded the photos on my computer my heart sank. At best a third of the images were useable. I got it all wrong on this shoot! I used some of the close ups, but none of the wide shots.
I made all the mistakes you can make. Some pictures were out of focus, some were poorly composed, and the biggest problem was the setting – it wasn’t nearly as photogenic as I had hoped. I asked a friend, a professional photographer to critique my work, and he gave me some helpful advice.
Above all, i needed to learn to slow down and enjoy the process. 70 shots in a few hours is way too fast for an amateur!
1. Try to ‘de-focus’ the background to make the car stand out better. Shallow depth of field creates a nice softly out of fuzzy background. Quick tip: make sure the car is FAR enough from the background – I found I needed at least triple the distance from the car to the background as the camera to the car, at f2.8!
From the 1st photo shoot. I was given the following pro advice. "The lighting is OK - foggy morning, open sky (except on the nose, unfortunate tree reflection). The problem is the background. The car is too close to the wall - no focus separation."
2. Find something in the frame to focus on, then check if anything else ‘important’ in the frame also needs to be in focus. A shallow depth of field is great, until the grill is in focus but the windshield isn’t.
Soft focus is your friend here - the classic "quadrifoglio" emblem on the key is sharp, and the wires under the dash are out of focus. It's a 50 year old car! Wires were exposed under the dash in those days. That's how they were made, really!
3. If you’re using a phone to take the photos, the depth of field is mostly controlled by how far away the subject is from the camera. Try using the “Portrait” mode on newer iPhones to create a shallow depth of field – this helps guide the viewer to what you want them to pay attention to in the scene.
Probably not great composition; I'm pretty sure it's not good to put the main object dead center, but that's how it turned out. It's hard to deny that the focus is on the steering wheel emblem and the background is a supporting character.
4. Use the ‘rule of thirds’ – divide the scene into thirds horizontally (and vertically for you advanced users) and make sure that you place the part of the car you want the viewer to pay attention to along one of these meridians. Most cameras have grid lines that can be seen on the screen that can help.
This is how I 'think' about using the rule of thirds. I haven't had any formal training, so this could be made up horse pucky. I feel like I've placed major elements on meridians and weighted the windshield in the center third.
After my first lackluster results I found a much better location and started again! I also got more adventurous with my lighting choices – shooting after sunset wasn’t as difficult as I expected. The light doesn’t last long, and I tried adding some flash fill. It worked OK, but it’s not something I do expertly (yet).
This was a MUCH better location for the three-quarter beauty shots. I could really make sure the background was out of focus, and using the sky with no direct sun to light the car looked great. I used a flash, not well, on a few shots.
The trial and error process proved to me that I could improve – and that kept me willing to try again (and again, and again). I’m no longer afraid to ditch a photo that I worked hard on – after looking at thousands of pictures of my car it’s becoming easier to spot the good, and the bad. Keep the red pen handy when filling in the shot-list finalists!
I enjoyed taking all of the close-up shots the most. It was like payback for all of the hours of rubbing and polishing. I like waxing my cars, too. I’m just odd.
My home office desk got some good use for the month. And yes, I needed extra physical therapy just to make it through the days and days of photography and detailing. On every shoot I was basically doing squats and 'touch your toes' for hours - not typical for an office drone like me.
Use the advice in the guide provided by BaT, create your own shot list and figure out your locations. Every minute spent preparing will save five times that once you are out on location!
Finally, my equipment list for the photo and video shoots -
1. Sony Mirrorless A7rii camera - stills and video
2. G Master 24-70mm f2.8 lens for Sony E mount - all of the 'beauty' shots from a low angle
3. Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens for Sony E mount - walk-around video, some interior shots
4. DJI Mavic Air drone
5. DJI Ronin - holds the Sony with the Rokinon wide angle lens just fine
6. GoPro Hero 4 with suction mount
7. Replay XD cam with suction mount
8. Godox TT685s flashG - my first flash in decades
9. Godox X1t flash controller - very handy to remotely control the flash
10. Vello FreeWave Plus remote camera trigger - hot tip: make it into a necklace and wear it
11. 2 Sennheiser G100 wireless systems with DAP lavaliers - sound in the car
12. Zoom H5 recorder - second system sound for drone and in-car filming
13. A mountain of spray wax, glass cleaner, interior cleaner and microfiber towels
I did 14 different shoots, and a whopping 70 hours total when I include all of the time spent sorting, editing, cropping, and exporting images for the BaT listing. It took about a month, which is exactly how long it took from the time the car was accepted for listing on BaT, until I was provided a link to upload photos.
In the next article I’ll tackle the video shoots. I had more fun by miles (literally) on the video shoots – mainly because I was driving the car! And, if you have questions about any of this reach out to me or anyone in the DriveTribe Photography Tribe!