Larry Chen on Photographing ‘Moving’ Cars One Piece at a Time | Profoto (US)

Larry Chen on Photographing ‘Moving’ Cars One Piece at a Time

25 June, 2020

Written by: Allan Weitz

Larry Chen is a noted ‘Canon Explorer of Light’ photographer with a specialty in photographing cars… fast cars. And though he primarily shoots available light on location he does get called upon on occasion to photograph cars in studio settings. The trickier assignments are the ones that include yet-to-be-introduced models for the upcoming season. These cars are typically disguised with abstract decals that only come off when the car is actually being photographed on location, and hopefully out of range of auto paparazzi who earn a living sneaking around looking for unusual cars being driven in picturesque locations at sunrise followed by a chase car and support crew.

When Toyota reached out to Chen to photograph their new Toyota Rav4 Prime, a powerful new hybrid model which was still 1-year out and for security reasons referred to as ‘Code Red’. The stipulation was instead of a mockup or 3D model of the new-model-year car, Toyota was sending him the actual car for 48-hours. This would usually be wonderful news except the deal was they couldn’t take it outdoors – it had to be shot in a secure studio location. For whatever reasons the folks in the corner offices didn’t want to take any security risks, and since they had the actual car, they wanted Chen to shoot the actual car rather than a 3D mockup. Chen’s job was to photograph it and make it look real.

To maximize the 48-hour time limit they would have with Code Red, Toyota supplied Chen and his crew with a current model RaV4, which was similar in profile and form-factor compared to the newer hybrid version. As a starting point Chen’s crew used previously agreed upon electronic backdrops with 3D information & reflection information embedded in them as guides.

Once in place they spent a day blocking off each of the required shots in a way that made sense using previously agreed upon electronic backdrops with 3D information & reflection information embedded in them. Rather than trying to light the entire car for a perfect shot in one take, it was decided to photograph each of car’s panels individually and stitch them together post-capture. By doing so they were able to maximize control and detail of the final image.

Creating convincing reflections for daylight, nighttime, and foul-weather scenes in studio settings each present their own particular challenges. To introduce movement, an assistant jacked the cars up slightly, wrapped rope around each of the car’s tires, and with the car in neutral, yanked the rope to make the tires spin. In order to capture the spinning motion, Chen used the LED mode of his flash units and dragged the shutter in order to record the tire motion.

To recreate the look and feel of windblown rain and road spray, leaf blowers and pesticide sprayers were employed to simulate foul-weather conditions. For two very long days they threw everything they had at it and pulled off the assignment with flying colors.

A longtime Profoto user, Chen’s various Profoto lighting systems were put to the test over the 48-hours spent with Toyota’s yet-to-be-released RaV4 Prime. To create the Code Red photographs Chen and his crew used a pair of Profoto D2 1000Ws monolights, two Profoto B1X studio lights, and two Profoto A1X on-camera flashes for highlighting smaller areas.

To control the overall lighting and reflective qualities of the light falling on the body panels, Chen employed a variety of Profoto lighting accessories including Profoto OFC Snoots, various Profoto Grids, Profoto Umbrellas, Profoto Softboxes for interiors, and for controlling the lights remotely – a Profoto Air Remote TTL. Chen’s Profoto OCF Softbox Octa was also put to good use on this project.

Chen truly appreciates the fact he can fully integrate his various Profoto flash systems seamlessly – not to mention repeatedly and dependably, to create pretty much whatever his mind’s eye can come up with in terms of lighting.

To learn more about the gear used in this article, visit and follow @profotousa on Instagram.

To see more of Larry Chen’s photography visit his website and Instagram @larry_chen_foto.




Written by: Allan Weitz

Products used in this story

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