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Life Before Photoshop: Toyota Trucks

Look ma, no Photoshop

Look ma, no Photoshop

I would say that the hardest assignments to shoot before the days of any form of post processing were car shoots. The cars had to look perfect or your automotive career was over. Your name would spread faster than a California fire during the Santa Ana winds.

Besides the projects I shot for most of the Fortune 500 companies, I shot a great deal of car photography; which included billboards, advertising campaigns, and full line brochures. These were incredibly lucrative with six-figure budgets, but one screw-up and you were done…making them fairly stressful.

I loved shooting cars and thinking back I really don’t remember feeling pressure to come back with “the goods”. I always felt confident that given enough pre-production time I could always make the agency and the client happy.

The trick was always knowing where the light was going to be anytime from the moment the sun came up to the last warm rays before sunset; I used a program called Sunpath and a hand bearing compass. Least I not forget the biggest part of a successful shoot, it was also incredibly important to surround yourself with a really professional crew; each one doing what they did best and then having a good producer to make it all work together.

Truth be told, I was in a very small group that paid attention to where the sun was going to be, and an even smaller group that positioned the car in such a way as to create what was called “liquid light”, the nice soft light that ran from the car lights to the taillights. It had to be smooth, soft light that highlighted the side of the car…it had to look that way before you clicked the shutter. No small feat!

AS I tell my online students with the BPSOP, and the ones that take my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” workshops I conduct around the planet, Light is everything and the only time it isn’t is when you’re street shooting and looking for that moment in time; capturing a person’s gesture or body language that will usually reveal something about that person’s soul.

In the above photo taken for Toyota Trucks, I was to find a nursery where we could create a story based on all the different ways to use the  trucks. After having a location scout armed with the Sunpath readings and the compass find me several that would work, the Art Director and I checked out all the ones that received the early morning light I was looking for.

The location we settled on was perfect as it would back light all the flowers we put by the truck all the plants, dirt and fertilizer we put around and in the back of the trucks making them glow. I’m always telling my students and fellow photographers to try to back light anything that’s translucent; it’s my favorite way to light.

I had the car prep company put the trucks in such a way as to get the early morning light running down the side; it’s called the “Law of the Light”, and I’m always conscious of it.

When we were finished and I was satisfied as far as the way it was going to look, we waited until the sun came up. Just when I could see the full sun above the horizon and the light began to stream through my composition, I added one last touch…I had them turn on the sprinklers so they would be lit from behind creating a nice misty effect.

Everything you see here was created before the shutter was pressed and absolutely no help from Adobe; which at that time was a type of house in the SW part of the US.

Visit my website at: www.joebaraban.com, and check out my workshop schedule at the top of this blog. Come shoot with me sometime. On July 30th I begin my 29th year at the Maine Media Workshops. I’ve had the same week since the beginning. It’s the week of the Lobster Festival down the road in Rockland. It offers a completely different set of photo ops than one would expect when coming to photograph the coastline, lighthouses, and fishing villages of Maine. Come join me and spend a week completely immersed in your love for photography.

Send me a photo and question to AskJoeB@gmail.com, and I’ll create a video critique for you.


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    { 7 comments… add one }
    • Venkat April 22, 2017, 6:47 am

      Good morning Joe,

      Another amazing shot and wonderful execution. I went back to your archives to read up more about “Law of Light”. It’s truly a wonderful concept and I hope to apply this going forward. I did have a question, though – if I am shooting just after sunrise or just before sunset with the sun at 2 or 10 position and my lens at 6 position, my shadows turn out to be completely black. Do I have to open up the shadows using a reflector often or am I metering the scene incorrectly? For example, if I had taken the same picture above, the front of the car would have been much darker than what I see in your picture. I think I am probably metering the scene incorrectly but I would love for you to confirm it for me.

      The blog entry of portraits with “Law of Light” is simply spectacular.

      Best regards,

      • Joe April 24, 2017, 10:30 am


        If you look at the front of both trucks, you’ll see that the chrome really takes up the entire area, and the chrome “pops” because the angle from the ambient light to the lens is the same. There two areas in front of the blue truck that appears black: one between the chrome in the middle and the other at the bottom.

        If you look closely at the shadow on the passenger’s side of the blue truck and under the hood of the white truck, you’ll see that it’s black. This doesn’t bother me…in fact, I like the contrast between the shadow and the bright areas next to it. If you remember, the use of light and contrast are two ways to create Visual Tension.

        Btw, this photo was not taken right at sunrise, but a little later.

        Does this help? Send me an example of one of your photos that has black shadows from shooting very early or very late.


        • Venkat April 24, 2017, 10:47 am

          Thanks. This was very helpful. I tried applying this last evening and will email the pictures to you now for your feedback.

    • Venkat April 24, 2017, 10:18 am

      Hi Joe,

      I posted some questions on this blog entry earlier but it doesn’t show up. Not sure what’s happening.


      • Joe April 24, 2017, 10:31 am


        I just sent you an answer…by the way, thanks for the great words.


    • Debby Currie May 15, 2017, 2:26 pm

      Hi Joe,
      Another great image.
      I have to ask what other subjects besides the plants you have here would you consider as translucent.

      • Joe May 17, 2017, 12:43 pm


        Plastic cups, grass, water, anything that you can see through or that light can be seen through.


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