Let the lights shine on those gorgeous cars
At Chennai’s AVM Studios, scores of lights have been propped up for a still shoot. At the centre of the vast studio, a stage has specially been created where huge skimmers (white reflectors that act as bounce boards) are in place as 30 to 40 boys help out in adjusting the powerful strobe lights. But it is not a portrait of a popular Tamil film star that is being shot but the latest Toyota Camry that is the cynosure of all eyes. The shoot drags on for several days. Welcome to the world of advertisement photography.
Whether it is a new Ford Fusion, Grand Vitara, Toyota Camry, or even a new TVS or Bajaj bike, getting to shoot these for advertisement purposes is no mean task. And now with the sudden rise in new automobile launches in the country, ad spends have increased several fold resulting in increased demand for professional photography. Costs for a single advertisement shoot meant for newspapers and magazines run into several lakhs of rupees.
So what does it take for an automobile shoot? Lots of patience and skills says Iqbal K Mohamed. He is director, academics of the Udhagamandalam-based (better known as Ooty in the Nilgiris) Light & Life Academy which is an international institute of photography. Iqbal is one of India’s leading advertisement photographers and an alumnus of the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography, California, US.
Shoots involving new car models require photographers to spend several hours preparing for the assignment. This involves fixing of beamers and lights and other equipment. Shooting the interiors, especially seats, sometimes involves bizarre steps like chopping off the entire roof of the vehicle! Now with the increasing use of software like Adobe Photoshop, photographers tend to enhance their pictures to a great extent.
“Photoshop enhances a picture and should not be used for correction. We cannot make a mistake and then correct it on Photoshop software as this is not a very good way. On location, a distant lamppost could cast its reflection on the car which is removed withPhotoshop,” says Iqbal. He has shot many campaigns for the likes of Ford, Toyota, Fiat, Mitsubishi, Mahindra & Mahindra and Ashok Leyland. Recently he photographed for two coffee table books on the Unesco World Heritage citing the ‘Nilgiris Mountain Railway’ and ‘Chola Architecture’.
According to Iqbal, shooting cars in a studio takes around 6-8 hours. Interestingly, every car has a golden angle. “It is usually the company which discovers and arrives at the golden angle of a car. Very often, it would have done some experimenting using an inhouse or freelance photographer to try and get that particular angle from where it looks the best. It is this that needs to be highlighted because it is the main shot of the car, apart from all other regular ones like the back, interiors etc,” he says.
Iqbal had a memorable experience shooting the Camry. The concept was to have the car in a beautiful location like Europe but since this was an expensive proposition, he tried something different. So off he went to Europe to capture a host of locations and then came back to India to shoot the car. Both shoots were merged taking care of all parameters like colour scheme, light, contrast etc. “For the campaign, we shot over 80 to 100 backgrounds, of which 8-9 were chosen. The car was shot near Chennai and everything worked out perfectly. With new age technology and right software, we can do wonders,” he says.
Iqbal shoots with digital cameras. Action shots are taken using high-end 35 mm camera with 17 mega pixels. He uses a Canon 1DS Mark II camera for the action shots. As for static shots, he uses normal telescopic and super telescopic lenses. Dashboard shoots are not complicated, says Iqbal. The backseats are first removed and in its place a tripod is perched. The shots are taken with the front seats completely or partially reclined, depending on what the client wants.
“We do the usual lighting and then light up the interiors and some portion of the exterior. There are various meters like the speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge etc which are exposed independently. There are several exposures put together,” he says.
As for the car seat shots, the client usually chops off the top of the car. A gigantic 30 foot soft box is then placed on top to shoot it. Chopping of car roofs is a recent do for carmakers. When Iqbal started automobile photography in the late 1990s with the Escort, Ford refused to chop off the roof. Studio-based shots are much in demand by companies since the details of the car come out very clearly. As is well known, studio shoots require a lot of lighting. Many people hire lights, reflectors, skimmers etc. Skimmers are white reflectors or bounce boards on which lighting is done.
The car is parked on a stage in a studio. Getting the first shot can even take 30 hours. “It takes 24 hours to set up the equipment and then after that every six hours or so we complete one shot,” says Iqbal. He rues that there are no hi-tech studios for still photography here . In terms of costs, though, India is cheaper than foreign studios. “While it will cost a few lakh rupees for the basic shots, a single shot abroad can cost that much,” he says.