Corvette Speedometer by Scott Bourne

Copyright Scott Bourne 2011 - All Rights Reserved

I’m going to spend more time photographing cars over the next year and accordingly, I’ll be writing more about the experience. Even if you don’t shoot cars, you can probably learn something from these posts. I hope so in any event.

The photograph above was made in my new 2011 Corvette Grand Sport. It is unusual in that I didn’t have a client. I rarely press the shutter unless I’m getting paid up front, but in this case I decided to do some “spec” work and eventually hope to sell the image.

I wanted to get something that told the story of the Corvette’s mighty seven liter displacement engine while standing still and from inside the car. I decided that shooting the speedometer and tachometer would do the trick. I needed to be creative if the project would work. So I came up with this idea.

Every time you start the Vette, the word “Corvette” flashes on the information display underneath the speedometer. It is only there for an instant. Likewise, when the car starts, the speedometer and tachometer gauges peg to the right and then come back down to zero. I realized that capturing this might tell the story I wanted to convey.

The mere capture of the gauges wouldn’t be enough. To introduce the concept of speed, i.e., the result of all that power, I decided to use a slow shutter speed to capture the blur of the gauges as they spun. This meant I would need a tripod. Now imagine this scenario – a horizontally challenged photographer (me) trying to squeeze a tripod inside a small sports car along with a big, bulky Canon 1D MK IV with 24-70 F/2.8 L lens. Let’s just say that it was cramped!

I timed the shot so it would be later in the afternoon when the sun angle matched the way I had the car parked. I opened the driver-side door to let in some ambient light. I mounted the camera and lens on an Induro CT-214 tripod…the smallest real tripod I own. I used the Induro BHD-2 bullhead and a Kirk L-plate to mount the rig. I then carefully extended one tripod leg out the door. I sat another on the center console and the third between my legs. It was as awkward as it sounds. Fortunately I am so old that I don’t have to worry about doing something that doesn’t make me look cool. I live in that state so it’s no big deal when I do it in public. Turns out I was able to save face because nobody was near by.

I practiced several camera angles and decided that zooming out to about 40mm on the cropped sensor camera was just right. I made my ISO 250 and my aperture F/13. I set the shutter speed to 1/6 of a second but needed 1.5 stops of negative exposure compensation to hold the highlights. At 1/6 second you can see why I needed the tripod.

Then I practiced making the photograph while starting the car. It proved to be just about impossible to get the shot I wanted in one take. I had to press the car start button with my left hand while using the index finger on my right hand to trip the shutter. I made about 60 photos before I got the right framing, exposure and blur in the gauges. However it was absolutely impossible to get the gauges and the word CORVETTE to line up.  I decided to made a separate exposure of the word CORVETTE lighting up on the dash and then simply composited that layer over the original photograph in Photoshop to make the final image.

The whole process took about 1.5 hours. Way too long in my opinion but heck, when you’ve wanted a Corvette since you were a baby, no amount of work is too much work if you want a great shot.

Hopefully you’ll see this on a calendar or poster soon. In the mean time, I hope hearing how my thought process went and what I did to capture the image helped you in some way.

And if you are into cars, please stop by my new blog, CarLoves. One exciting new feature at that site is a place for you to post all your favorite car photos. SmugMug built a custom solution for it that is pretty cool. You can rate and comment on other photos and the most popular are automatically ported over to a separate gallery that will eventually auto-populate a widget on the blog’s sidebar. Stop by and upload your favorite car photos if you like.

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