Frequent readers of our blog might recognise the name Richard Dole. (Those of you who don’t, click here and here to catch up with the rest of us.) Now, Richard is back with another story for speed freaks and motor heads. Here it is, in his own words.
I’ve had the wonderful opportunity over the past 10 months to photograph the development of the latest racing car from Nissan. The Japanese car company is returning to the Le Mans 24 Hour race in France and the World Endurance Championship series competing at the highest level with their new GT-R LM NISMO prototype.
Ten days before Christmas I was at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas to photograph the car for the first time in full race trim. Also on location was a 150 person film crew producing the Nissan Super Bowl ad in which the racing car would make its worldwide debut. My assignment was to produce images for the print and online collateral material that would be released as soon as the TV ad aired.
I was told the video crew would determine the availability of the car, and that the amount of time I would have to photograph it would be a couple of small windows over 3 days.
The first window came on the second day, with a five minute advanced notice. The production crew and race team were taking a 45 minute break for lunch and I was given access to the car. Unfortunately, the team would only allow to for the car to be pulled straight out of the garage and parked in pit lane. It could not be turned, moved, or otherwise organized other than making sure the logos of the Michelin tires were positioned on top of each tire. The one thing I did have working in my favor was the weather. It sucked, and that was actually a good thing. It was cloudy with dark clouds on the horizon. So the ambient light was flat and I could light the car without worrying about the noontime sun creating challenges.
I quickly grabbed two Profoto Pro-7b Battery Packs, three Pro-B Heads and a couple of Seven Inch Reflectors, light stands and sand bags. I underexposed the ambient light 3.5 stops – ISO 100, 1/250th at f/18 and a 95mm focal length – and knew instantly this was the shot.
The lighting was really simple. I had one Pro-B Head 10 feet in front of the nose of the car, one head 5 feet directly behind the car, and the third head was 10 feet to the rear and side of the back tire and feathered to skim the length of the car. I wanted to have some light spill on the ground about 2 or 3 feet from the edge of the car, as this would help to spotlight the car with darker pavement leading into lighter pavement leading to the car.
The lights were repositioned for the final shot of looking straight down the nose of the car. I wanted the background as dark as possible. The image was shot at ISO 100, 1/250th at F/22 with a 112mm focal length.
The shooting time was less than 45 minutes and less than 40 frames. The decision to release the car during the lunch break was so last minute that I made all of the decisions I could control – the lighting, the angles, and so forth.
This final image was a collaborative effort between myself and Paul Ryan, the Global Communications and Marketing Manager for the GT-R LM program. Paul and I have worked together on a wide variety of projects for the past decade and having his creative input on location was an enormous asset.
For this shot, the camera was rigged to the car with a carbon fiber boom and suction cups. The car is either pushed or pulled at very slow speeds (walking pace) and photographed using long exposures. It creates the illusion of speed but at the utmost control and safety.
Paul and I met five members of the NISMO racing crew early in the morning, strapped a tow strap onto the car and pulled it to its location, the exit of the last corner leading onto the front straight. The location on the front straight was ideal. It had color with rumble strips on the edge of the track, lights with both pit lane and the grandstands illuminated, a dark sky, and a sense of place. But the shot needed lighting, as the sun was just coming up above the horizon.
The boom was attached to the lower rear bodywork of the car. The car was lit with two Pro-7b packs and three Pro-B Heads.
One light with a Seven Inch Reflector was positioned at the front left of the car and positioned to skim over the hood of the car. It was placed on a lower stand and blocked from the camera by the car’s cockpit. This light also help light the cockpit of the car.
The second light was behind the rear wing and positioned on a tall C stand. It also had a Seven Inch Reflector and was covered with opaque diffusion material.
The third light, also with a reflector, was off the right rear of the car facing forward.
Both Pro-7b packs were powered down, as the goal was to try to evenly match the ambient and the strobes and not blow out the car.
The crew pushes the car and then let go just prior to the shutter being triggered. Exposures ranged from 2 to 10 seconds and the flash was triggered both dragging and not dragging the shutter. The final image is a 4 second exposure. We also positioned one of the rental cars just out of frame at camera right and used the headlights to supplement the lights on the racecar to shine on the road in front of the racecar.
The images, press kits, and related material were released by Nissan immediately following the airing of the Super Bowl ad and went viral, including the most page views ever on the World Endurance Championship website. The images are also running in magazines that have hit newsstands this week in Europe, Japan, and North America.
The success of this type of assignment is always the results of teamwork. The photographer gets plenty of credit for the images; but the full benefits of this work would be not possible without the cooperation of the NISMO race crew, the post production team that polished and produced the materials for distribution, the public relations staff at Nissan offices around the globe, and the leaders of the motorsports program that entrust their multi-million dollar investment to myself and the other creative individuals.
I also feel credit belongs to Profoto for making the highest quality, most consistent lighting equipment in the world. I’ve owned and used Profoto for the better part of my career because they always perform at the highest level.
Richard Dole is a commercial photographer based in Saint Augustine, Florida.
See more of his work at his website.