My fascination with cars goes way back to the late 1950s, when my father brought home a brand new 1958 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner convertible. It had one those geeky retractable hardtops that hid away in the trunk. So cool. I was 6 years old, but that car made a life-long impression.
There’s something magical about the automobile. They can be new and shiny or old and rusty. They can be sleek and modern or just plain functional. I think the magic comes from the stories these cars tell, the trips they’ve taken, places they’ve seen.
The amount of care and love that goes into owning and maintaining a vintage automobile varies from person-to-person, for sure, but the pride that one feels for their car is always obvious. Some folks treat cars like they’re utilitarian, some like they’re precious jewels.
And that’s why I like taking pictures at car shows. I get to see and shoot a wide spectrum of automotive funky-ness. Rusted out rat rods. Super shiny trailer queens. Cool daily-drivers. Customized. Stripped down. Works in progress. Race ready. Low and slow. They’re all represented.
Come Spring you can find car shows in any number of places. There are organized events, like Goodguys or Billetproof, or less formal gatherings at local burger joints, small airports, and even local high schools.
This uniquely American obsession is perfect fodder for film junkies.
The 1955 Lincoln Capri below is a perfect example of making an older car sleek and shiny. This gorgeous ride is owned and built by a woman who truly loved the experience of customizing an older car. Great detail inside and out. So much shine and plenty of reflective surfaces to explore and photograph.
Using different lenses can make for interesting photographs, as can shooting into the sun!
Of course, it’s not always just hot rods. The people-watching at car shows is just as fun. Period correct clothing, make-up, hair, and tattoos are all on full display. The participants’ attention to detail makes the hot rod experience all the more authentic.
A common adornment on hot rods is flames. Seaweed. Realistic. Blended. Negative space. Overlapping. Crab-Claw. The possibilities are endless.
Shooting flames in black and white can highlight contrast and tones.
Chrome wheels like this late 50s Dodge Lancer hubcap are yet another example of black and white perfection. All that shiny goodness and reflection delivers!
The hood ornament is another well represented and artistic part of vintage automobiles. Mostly chrome and very ornate, from the female form to wild animals, they come in many shapes and sizes. A macro lens is a great tool for capturing their grandeur, but getting close with an instant camera can be equally effective.
Using a vintage film camera to capture a classic car seems about right! This image was made with a minty, light-leak free Voigtlander Bessa I, a $10 garage sale find.
Sometimes you’ll luck out and capture the holy grail of car shots in one picture… flames, chrome, pin stripping, and reflections!
Detail shots can be interesting. The left front fender of this 1961 Chevy Brookwood makes a great angle shot, showing off pin stripes, mag wheels, and a touch of chrome.
A low angle is perfect for getting shots of bumpers and exhaust details. It may even require laying on the ground to get just the right perspective.
Close-up shots can yield interesting bokeh. In this black and white hood ornament shot, the shutter leaves in the nifty-fifty make their pentagon shape obvious with 5-sided light reflections dancing in the background.
Making portraits at these events is limited only by your courage and ability to convince someone to pose for you.
Everything about this young man was screaming for a shot and the moment he caught my eye, I approached him.
He’s sitting on a custom ‘low-rider’ bicycle with his arms draped over the handle bars. His attire, piercings, and bandana add to the image, but the look in his eyes is what makes this portrait.
Finding an interesting point of focus can be a challenge, but combining perspective and angle with a detailed close-up is a good compromise.
There’s a bit of unintended irony in this Polaroid shot… it’s a color photo of a black and white hot rod!
Film photographer Russ Morris lives in Central Texas with Torri, his wife of 35 years and their little dog, Annie Bell. A camera junkie, Russ loves finger pickin' acoustic guitar, is an avid collage artist and painter, and makes a mean chicken taco. His website, russmorris.com will direct you to all his social properties.