Cars on Film | Russ Morris

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.

Pink Lincoln | Pentax ZX-5n | Sigma 28mm f1.8 | Kodak Ektar 100

Pink Lincoln | Pentax ZX-5n | Sigma 28mm f1.8 | Kodak Ektar 100

Using different lenses can make for interesting photographs, as can shooting into the sun!

Peek-up | Pentax ZX-5n | Lensbaby Composer | Kodak Ektar 100

Peek-up | Pentax ZX-5n | Lensbaby Composer | Kodak Ektar 100

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.

Red | Pentax ZX-5n | Sigma 30mm ƒ1.4 | Kodak 400UC

Red | Pentax ZX-5n | Sigma 30mm ƒ1.4 | Kodak 400UC

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.

Flames, flames, flames | Olympus Stylus Epic | Kodak BW400CN

Flames, flames, flames | Olympus Stylus Epic | Kodak BW400CN

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!

Checks | Hasselblad 500cm | Hasselblad 80mm | Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100

Checks | Hasselblad 500cm | Hasselblad 80mm | Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100

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.

Pink hood, ornament | SX-70 Sonar OneStep | Expired Polaroid 600 pack film

Pink hood, ornament | SX-70 Sonar OneStep | Expired Polaroid 600 pack film

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.

Imperial | Voigtlander Bessa 1 | Kodak TMAX100

Imperial | Voigtlander Bessa 1 | Kodak TMAX100

Sometimes you’ll luck out and capture the holy grail of car shots in one picture… flames, chrome, pin stripping, and reflections!

Reflection | Fujifilm Instax SQ10 | Fujifilm Instax Square Instant Film

Reflection | Fujifilm Instax SQ10 | Fujifilm Instax Square Instant Film

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.

’61 Chevy Wagon | Diana 151 | Kodak 100UC

’61 Chevy Wagon | Diana 151 | Kodak 100UC

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.

Shark fins | Canon Rebel T2 | Canon EF 50mm ƒ1.8 | Kodak BW400CN

Shark fins | Canon Rebel T2 | Canon EF 50mm ƒ1.8 | Kodak BW400CN

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.

One classy hoody | Canon Rebel T2 | Canon EF 50mm ƒ1.8 | Kodak BW400CN

One classy hoody | Canon Rebel T2 | Canon EF 50mm ƒ1.8 | Kodak BW400CN

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.

Bandana | Hasselblad 500cm | Hasselblad 80mm | Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100

Bandana | Hasselblad 500cm | Hasselblad 80mm | Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100

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!

White Rod | Polaroid SX-70 Model 2 | Expired Polaroid 600 pack film

White Rod | Polaroid SX-70 Model 2 | Expired Polaroid 600 pack film

Want more automotive inspiration? Check out film shooters Ronnie Conlin and Tim Scott.

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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.