160 pdnonline.com JUNE 2014
GEAR & TECHNIQUES HOW I GOT THAT SHOT
PHOTOGRAPHER: Tim Damon
IN HIS 25 YEARS as an automotive
photographer, Tim Damon has made
almost every kind of image that car clients
demand: performance shots on race tracks,
cars and trucks in dramatic landscapes, and
lots of studio shots, sometimes done on his
18,000-square-foot stage in Los Angeles.
But whatever the assignment, his goal is to
bring out the unique contours of each car.
“When designers sculpt a car, they want all
those lines and shapes to be celebrated,” he
explains. “What normally happens is that
a client gives me a preferred angle: ‘This
will be a three-quarter, passenger-side rear
view.’ Once we set the angle, my job is to use
lighting to make it look its best.”
Recently Damon got to employ all his skills
for what he calls “a dream job” for Ferrari.
The car manufacturer gave him a new car for
two days, and asked him to take some “cool
pictures” any way he liked. The four shots he
came up with included outdoor shots and a
shot he created in his studio, which he turned
into a dark parking garage. Using multiple
lights and a camera rig, he shot a long exposure,
capturing the moving car in crisp detail, while
the dark walls around the car blurred.
The studio easily accommodated the rig,
which lifted the camera about 20 feet above
the car, and scaffolding on which Damon
stood to look down on the scene. The studio
also provides storage for all the lights,
cameras, gear, and camera trucks that Damon
and his production company, Square Planet
Media, own and use.
The studio also serves another purpose.
Damon says he always prefers to get the shot
he wants in camera. “It is sometimes easier
just to fix it in the computer, but I would
rather work harder and get it in camera.”
However, if a location shoot isn’t working
the way he wants, he may bring the car to
his studio to get an additional shot for a
composite. “That’s why it’s important for me
to have my own stage: I don’t want my hands
to be tied.” On a recent shoot for Lincoln,
for example, he photographed the car in
early morning light on a hill overlooking Los
Angeles. The silver car’s reflective surface
wasn’t showing all the colors of the city
lights, however, and to Damon’s eye, looked
detached. Back in his studio, he says, “I could
use colored gels and different types of lighting
sources to give the vehicle more shape and
depth,” then he had his retoucher composite
the two shots (see final image below).
Damon believes that his clients come to
him knowing that he prefers not to rely on
compositing, and he finds the challenge more
fun. “I’d rather do the extra work,” he says,
than have a retoucher do a job Damon enjoys.
“I believe that if I get a Christmas card from a
retoucher, I’m not doing my job.”
For his studio shot of the Ferrari, Damon’s
crew set up black cloths and flats to block off
an area of the white studio and make it look
like the inside of a parking structure. Damon
mounted the camera to one of the rigs he
designed himself for car photography. It was
attached to the rear of the car, extended about
25 feet and lifted the camera about 20 feet
high. Damon wanted the driver to maneuver
the car out of the studio’s cyclorama. During
a long exposure, the background would blur
while the rig-mounted camera, moving along
with the car, would keep the vehicle in focus.
The lighting had to be adjusted to
accommodate the movement of the car.
“When you’re doing a rig shot you don’t put
a light here and there. It’s not like playing
sheet music, it’s like playing jazz,” says the
photographer. “The only way you’re going
to get it is to start doing your exposure and
Veteran car photographer Tim Damon takes on the challenge of a shooting
a rig shot of a black sports car.