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Life Before Photoshop: VW Campaign

One exposure on one piece of film.

One exposure on one piece of film.

In the film days, the days when the word Adobe meant a type of house in the southwest, we had to create all our images in the camera. One piece of celluloid, one exposure was all we had to work with.

I would say that the hardest subject matter to shoot during those times were automobiles, and actually anything that had wheels and moved was difficult. These were big budget shoots, and if you didn’t nail it, you didn’t work on that account any longer; you didn’t work at all with that agency. You were “persona non grata”, which basically meant that you would be through getting work from them. Worse, if that art director you just made to look bad wound up at another agency (and they moved around all the time), you were done there as well.

Scary times? you bet!!!

I loved car shoots because the day rates were the largest and you always stayed at the best hotels, flew first class, and ate at the best restaurants. Believe me when I say it was great times, but hardly worth whatever consequences there were if you screwed it up.

I was shooting a big campaign for Volkswagen, and one of the ads was going to have a local buy…as they referred to advertisements running in just one or two cities. The budget couldn’t support a camera car so when this occasionally came up, we would rent a Lincoln Town car because they had the smoothest ride. As in the photo above, we would get in the trunk and shoot car-to-car from there.

After determining the Sun’s position using my Sunpath readings and my Morin2000 hand bearing compass, we decided on this urban street in LA. My assistant and I were in the trunk of the Town Car, and another station wagon with a large piece of foam-board taped to the rear door to bounce light back into the grill, was right next to me.

We hired two cops to block the street and a water truck to give the road a wet-down…so the reflection would add to the visual interest. Although the car looks like it’s speeding down the road, in actuality we were only traveling ten to fifteen to twenty miles maximum per hour. As long as both cars were moving at the identical speed, I could shoot at 1/4th of a second) to create the illusion of speed while keeping the car sharp..

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, in the digital age, the age of CGI, most car photography is now done in the studio, often times the landscape is bought separately, and the illusion of speed and the blending of the car in the landscape is handled with Photoshop….so sad, so very sad!!!


Visit my website at: www.joebaraban.com, and be sure to check out  my workshop schedule.   In conjunction with the Santa Fe Workshops, I’ll be leading a group to Cuba for the third time next March. Come join me in what I’ll guarantee you to be an amazing experience, and you’ll return home with memorable photos from a wonderful country.

Don’t forget to send me a photo and question to: AskJoeB@gmail.com, and I’ll create a video critique for you.


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    • Gary Thursby September 20, 2015, 10:50 pm

      Great story! It’s funny how much technology has changed photography technically. Its a good thing the principles you teach on how to make a great pictures do not rely hugely on technology. Digital photography was an enormous boom for the camera and photo editing software companies but it did not change what makes a good photograph.

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