I have another richboyd-saying for you: You can take pictures anytime, but you have to make art in the dark! As a working member of several automotive magazines, I've taken (and published) literally thousands of photographs over the past two decades. These thousands of photographs have been taken for a variety of reasons: event coverage, vehicle features, and of course the monthly tech stories that enlighten readers and take the mystery out of restoring a custom vintage vehicle. Most have been competent photographs-a few have been better than competent, and some have been less.
A series of well-exposed photographs can tell readers a great deal about the processes and procedures involved in fabricating a part or modifying existing mechanicals. Besides educating and entertaining readers, I feel a better-than-average photograph can, at times, approach the level of art-more about artful photos in a minute.
Cameras and printing technologies change periodically, but the standard for a good photograph remains much the same. A properly exposed photograph is one that has visible detail throughout the image from the light or highlighted areas, through the darker or shadow areas. Composition can be reasonably left to the photographer's liking, but the object should present itself in a way that's not trite or boring. Placing a person (or persons) smack dab in the middle of a rectangle is often less interesting than moving them off-center to make an asymmetrical or unbalanced composition. This fact is true whether we're talking about a picture of a car, truck, or pretty girl. However, don't cut off her head or leave too much room overhead. The negative areas around an object play as important a role in composition as the object itself.
Most experienced car/truck-builders know (or strongly suspect) that bright colors are more likely to catch an editorial type's attention. Yes, red, orange, and yellow trucks get a greater share of our photographic attention than pale green, pale blue, or purple. Why do bright (high- chromatic) colors get photographed more often? I've been told that our attraction to bright colors is imprinted in our brain cells, and has to do with recognizing what's dangerous or edible in our environment.
A bright and pretty photograph will also create a pleasant feeling in our brain-a feeling I call visual ecstasy. It's possible to photograph darker vehicles (including black) well. Typically, we prefer to photograph dark or black trucks in even light-even light is the time of day when there's no direct sunlight on the truck-and preferably under a clear sky (without clouds). You may have heard photographers refer to this time of day as magic light. This brief period of even light allows photographers to take a longer exposure with a smaller aperture to increase the depth-of-field to make a photograph sharper from the front end of the vehicle to the back. Ansel Adams was a master at long landscape exposures.
I've also noticed that air temperature can have an effect on the colors recorded on film. This temperature influence is less of an exact science as it is a SWAG (slightly wild-ass guess). But before-sunrise photos have a rosier magenta pallet-at-sunset photos are typically yellow-orange, and after-sunset photos have a cooler blue-green pallet. These different colors can change the mood of a photograph from bright and cheery to quiet and somber.
Artists talk considerably about warm colors and cool colors, warm pallets and cool pallets. These color considerations are all about how different kinds of light affect our brain's perception of color. Yes, there are different influences of light from the sun, depending on the time of day or night, and as a result of it passing through the earth's atmosphere and the tiny particles of stuff floating in the atmosphere. There's also a somewhat blue-green light visible from the sun's rays reflected off the moon.
By the way, artist Joseph Albers studied how the different colors surrounding the same hue can change our perception of that color. Albers, known primarily for his "Homage's to Squares," became a prolific artist. Although he disavowed categories, he's credited with influencing the movements of Geometric Abstraction and Minimalism. He was also one of the first modern artists to investigate the psychological effects of color and space and to question the nature of perception. His work was significant and he was the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.
However, on the subject of photography-photographers of trucks and cars typically hate to see a big blown-out sunspot on the hood or fender. So we move around to hide the sun's reflection, or wait until the sun is lower in the sky. The photographs that have given me the greatest pleasure are the longer exposures taken in late summer's magic light that saturate the image with intense color and sharp detail. These twilight exposures can be several minutes in duration for the greatest color saturation. But we don't often have the luxury of time or weather to perform these works of art.
Modern digital camera technology continues to improve the tools of our trade. However, it is the photographer's imagination and energy that are his greatest tools. Being satisfied with your photographs can create habits that become all too familiar. As a result, the photographer runs the risk of becoming complacent. And if the photographer is not a little bit excited by the results, how can he expect the viewer to be?