Porsche Parade: Photography in a Target-Rich Environment

Remembering that the ultimate target-rich environment for Porschephiles, the annual “Parade,” is almost upon us, I just began to think of what shots I want to get in Charlotte, and reviewed the checklist of equipment I’ll need for the job. It occurred to me that some of this might be of interest to you; this promises to be the best-attended Parade ever, and even if you’re not going to this one, there will be a lot of similar activity at home or on one of the PCA Escapes.

Think first about what you want to bring back home with you. No point in carrying a big, heavy telephoto if all you really want to bag is shots of family, friends and concours. Yes, I know that I’m ignoring my own rule. I believe that if you own a piece of equipment but don’t take it with you, there will inevitably come a time when you desperately want it and call yourself stupid in two or more languages for leaving it behind. But we try to be real in these blogs; you’re probably going to the Parade to have fun and not satisfy some ornery editor the week after.

On the other hand, if you’re serious enough about photography to be reading this, there will be some pretty generous minimums. You’ll need at least one camera, and, for most people, this will be something small that can be dropped into pocket or purse and will always be with you. It should have brand new, never-used even for a week before, fresh batteries, and you should carry a second set with you. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen awards banquets held up while someone waits for tired little batteries to donate their last micro-ampere to charging the flash to catch that all-important snap for the regional newsletter (it’s happened to me, too, but we don’t need to go into that—call it important R & D on lithium battery longevity).

But this would be a great time to spring for a more versatile camera—either a film SLR (used ones are available really cheap) or a digital SLR, “D” camera that can handle interchangeable lenses, although you’d probably want to start with a good, wide to telephoto zoom. Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Pentax are all names you can trust—I’ve shot with all of them, although I mainly use Nikon equipment, and there are other good manufacturers as well. What you get with these higher end cameras besides the ability to change lenses (and perhaps use some of the old lenses you had with a similar film camera) is the easier ability to use a more powerful independent strobe, the ability to shoot faster (more shots in a short period of time, sometimes critical) and freedom from shutter lag. Shutter lag is that point and shoot camera demon that sometimes makes you feel the shutter release is simply a requisition for a picture to be done when the camera finds it convenient. The “D” cameras have the ability to take the picture now, not after the crucial moment has passed.

Having said that, a point and shoot in the pocket can and will save the day. In times of duress, I have even shot part of the victory lane ceremonies at Daytona with a Minox, and used the same camera to bag a treasured series of pictures of a late-night quick-draw contest between two Porsche execs wearing newly acquired cowboy hats. The Minox caught the moment the next day when Porsche president Ernst Fuhrmann stopped by the side of the road to help a stranded PCAer figure out why his car wouldn’t start. And I was once on an international press trip where one of the other journalists carried (without backup) a brand new, untried camera—that didn’t work. It doesn’t matter how good your equipment and photographic talent are if the camera isn’t working, or (more likely) isn’t where you are. Also, many people value the point and shoots’ ability to compose using the screen on the rear of the camera, a trick few of the interchangeable lens cameras can do.

A point and shoot in the pocket means you won’t miss unexpected shots like this one of two past national presidents of PCA.

 

But let’s say you’ve already spent the bucks and have both a point and shoot and an interchangeable lens camera. What else might you need? Well, if you are lucky/smart enough to have a camera or lens (different manufacturers do it different ways) that is “stabilized,” you’ve got a jump start. These puppies actually counteract some of the normal shake of the hand-held camera, and can be worth their weight in gold within their limits (they’re typically good for 2-3 stops, so if you can hold your camera still at 1/125th second, they will get you down to 1/30 or 1/15th—although of course they do nothing for motion of the subject). If you don’t have one of these, and even if you do, consider a tripod—but be super careful if you’re working close to the cars.

A tripod is a must for early morning concours shots.

 

If you’re going to shoot the concours, being there early when the air is cool, the crowds haven’t arrived, and the light is limited but sweet is a good plan. However, you could well wind up requiring a slower shutter speed than you can hand-hold, and the tripod fills the bill. Here’s another trick the tripod allows: use a strong neutral density filter to limit the amount of light that gets through your lens even further, and use a long exposure, 15-30 seconds or more. People move, cars don’t (once they’re parked). Final effect: people disappear, cars remain. Of course there’s always that guy who stands and looks at one car forever…

No way to get this shot without a tripod: sunrise over a Parade concours with a golden background.

 

You can’t hold the camera still long enough to do that trick with a monopod, but they do help some, and there are many circumstances where they are arguably better, like speed events. Anything more than a small telephoto gets pretty heavy if you hold it in shooting position for long, and the monopod is a perfect answer, providing stability and support in a lighter and less cumbersome package than a tripod. If you have an external release for your camera, you can also use a monopod to get high-angle shots with a normal or wide angle lens.

A monopod and a long lens are requisite equipment for head-on autocross pictures.

 

If you did opt for that external strobe mentioned above, you will be well ahead of the game for any shots that benefit from a flash, all the way from contrast control in full sunlight to catching all the things that go on after dark. It’s a huge benefit to have the light source sitting up higher; there’s much less chance of getting that spooky retinal reflex (red eye). Another biggie is having a quick cycling dedicated power source in the strobe that doesn’t need the camera’s relatively small battery to get it going. And speaking of power, the larger external strobes put out a lot more light from a larger source, and the best ones allow you to direct that light in a variety of directions and even have a pull-up reflecting card that can be deployed to send some light forward and the rest upward.

Getting the strobe higher above the lens helps avoid red eye, particularly when using a telephoto.

 

A combination of bounced flash and ambient room light avoids harsh shadows and gives a feeling for what’s going on around your subject.

 

Help your Informal portraits by using bounce light with a hand or card reflector; note the absence of shadows and the catch lights in the subject’s eyes.

 

More light means the ability to get the shot from further away, and bouncing the strobe’s output allows a more attractive and natural looking light in the many situations where a relatively low and light-colored ceiling allows this trick. If yours doesn’t have the pull-up reflector, here’s another trick for you: use a 3 x 5 card held onto the strobe by a rubber band as your reflector; even simpler, use your own palm, held behind the vertically oriented strobe to throw just enough light onto your subject while sending most of the light up to bounce down off the ceiling.

Whatever your equipment, enjoy your Porsche and keep shooting. I hope to see you in Charlotte. In the meantime, let me hear from you at leonardt@pca.org.