Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Tire Rule: Know It, Then Ignore It

If you've been looking around the 'Net for tips on how to photograph your car, you've probably been exposed to a rule about how to position the wheel/tire assembly. Here's how it goes: You should always face the wheel toward the camera, not the tire. That way, you never see the tread, only the shininess of the wheel. It's a decent guideline for the novice.

When on location quite some time ago, I had a person ask me; "You're not making a tire commercial, are you?" Well, no. I wasn't. But I wasn't making a wheel commercial either. My desire was to make the car as a whole look as good as it possibly could. The best way to do that varies from car to car, and also according to the type of attitude you're trying to portray in the shot. And that's why, now that you know the rule, you can ignore it, as long as you're thinking about your reasoning.

As I've moved through the rarified air of photographing the automotive high end, I am continually amazed at the parallels between it and my previous life in the music industry. It makes me believe that those parallels exist in any profession. For example, a musician who knows no music theory will have a much harder time creating a meaningful song, usually struggling to even come up with much that's listenable, and if they do, it's often pure luck. But once they know the theory, they are free to ignore those rules if they feel it better serves their vision. That knowledgeable blindness tends to work out very well when trying to create something new, unique, and interesting. One might think that the same result could come out of a musician who knew no theory, but it just doesn't happen that way.

You should feel free to have that same attitude anytime you learn a "rule" about your creative profession or hobby, and photography is no different. As soon as you learn the rule, start thinking of creative reasons to ignore it, and you'll be much better off stylistically.

Let's take a look at some examples. This first image is of Brian Nielsen's Shelby, which I was fortunate enough to shoot recently. This is the way everyone shoots the wheels, and it's entirely appropriate for this car, in this location. The impression is that of a "beauty shot." You can see the wheel detail, which is important for a restoration, and the car looks like it has been posed for your pleasure. You can see (and feel) that there's been more effort put forth than just driving the car up in front of the camera.

Now let's take a look at a Johnny Martin build, the '62 Corvette called Elegance. Note that the wheel is pointed slightly toward the camera. I did this deliberately, to invoke the same feeling that a runway model does when she strikes a pose at the end of the runway. If you know any models, you know that they're normally supposed to point their leading foot toward the camera. That keeps their foot looking small, and gives them an elegant, sophisticated look. This car has a different kind of beauty than the Shelby. Indeed, since the car's name is Elegance, it requires that the shot look refined, much like a model. That attitude is assisted by the wheel. Picture the car as a model, with her foot pointed toward the camera, and it makes the idea much easier to understand.

In fact, that's one of the tricks I use during a shoot. I pretend the car is a human model on the runway, and that quickly tells me what kind of shots to use.

The third example wasn't shot by me. It was shot by Andrew Cooper of Paramount Pictures, who happens to know a little something about photography, and has a tremendous responsibility to his employer to portray characters in exactly the right way. If you check out his work through your favorite search engine, you'll see he does a lot of people. That sensibility helped him determine how to stage this shot of one of the Bumblebee Camaros from Transformers 4. The attitude needed for this car is the same as a race car - lots and lots of attitude, heavy breath, danger, and foreboding. Imagine yourself walking through the African Savanna, when you happen across a lion laying down. He sees you. You know you're in trouble. But the real trouble begins when, still looking at you, he puts one paw in front of his body, and starts to get up! This is the moment you know some very bad, very unavoidable things are about to happen. That's the same attitude portrayed by having the wheel turned back, the tire ready to come right at you. This angle shows that this car is not to be trifled with; that it can devour your soul at the slightest provocation.

Now picture the Camaro or the Corvette being posed in the same way as the Shelby Mustang. The attitudes portrayed would be completely lost if the wheels had been turned, and both shots would be ruined. Yet it's perfect for the Shelby.

Now let's look at one last angle. This is Ted Parks's wonderful handbuilt roadster, the Varsity. This rear angle displays a very different aesthetic from shooting from the front or side. For a shot like this, I will invariably turn the steering wheel to show the wheel detail, as shown. I haven't yet come across a circumstance where I would show the tire from this angle instead of the wheel. But that doesn't mean it can't be done, it only means I haven't yet come up with a way to use it!

So keeping all that in mind, don't be afraid to deliberately break any rule - your shots will be better for it!

No comments:

Post a Comment