A couple weeks ago, I did something different and fun. I hopped into a brand-new Alfa Romeo and drove around Albany in it. I could have done the same in a Mazerati but the idea of driving such an expensive car around made me nervous, so I opted for the Alfa instead.
The reason I was driving the car had to do with a photo shoot I was asked to participate in. A few nights earlier, Geoff Arbuckle of Elevation10k (https://www.elevation10k.com/) called me up with the request. They hoped I could help out on a car shoot that needed very high resolution images. This meant having me come up as a digital tech with my 101 megapixel Phase One camera. It sounded like fun, so I agreed.
They were worried about rain ruining the shoot, so they had several rain days planned. As it happened, it rained on all three days. They didn’t have the time to wait though, and their weather radar showed a gap in the clouds that might be big enough to get the shots. With that information they gave me the call to drive up, and I did, through pouring rain. Halfway up to Albany, I pulled over and called Geoff. “Is this rain going to be a problem?” I asked. “It’s not raining here”, he answered. I kept driving for another hour, raining all the way. And then, maybe five minutes before arriving at the shoot location, the rain stopped.
The shoot location was a parking garage with a view of several iconic Albany buildings. I drove up to the roof, remembering as I did that I hadn’t driven in a parking garage more than twice since 2006. Luckily the garage was nearly empty. I was the first to arrive.
A few minutes later, Tanner, an assistant for the shoot showed up, followed by Geoff and the photographer for the shoot, James Pickett (Instagram: @jameshpickett). With the team assembled, Tanner drove us to an Alfa Romea/Mazerati dealership about ten or fifteen minutes away. There, we met the client, and the cars we would photograph: two Mazeratis and two Alfa Romeos. Someone held out the keys to all four cars for me to choose my ride but I just said, “give me the least expensive one.” It would be cool to drive a Mazerati but I hadn’t driven a sports car since Epic Games’ president and founder Tim Sweeney let me drive his Lotus in 1994. I was handed the key (a fob actually) for an Alfa Romeo.
I didn’t know the streets of Albany at all, so I followed Geoff back to the garage. At one point I had to hit the gas to catch up to him. Holy cow did that car have muscle! It felt like I was driving a rocket for the couple of seconds it took to catch up. It was easy to see why people enjoyed driving cars like these.
Back at the garage, we reparked all of the cars so that none of them would be in the shot, sports cars included. This was so that we could get a clean background plate that could be used if needed later. However, James wanted dusk or evening light, so we didn’t do much for about a half hour while we waited for the light to change. I set up the camera and tethered it to Elevation 10k’s laptop, but that didn’t take long and once it was set up, we just chatted about photography until the light was right.
When the sun finally hit the right position, James took about ten background shots in about five minutes and was done. Then, we had to get the cars out and park them correctly for the composition. This took more time than I expected because of all the fine adjustments that had to be made so that each car was in the right place and at the right angle to the camera. The real work came next. James wanted the headlights to be on but he was shooting with a narrow aperture (he started at f/14, but went down to f/8 or f/9). This meant a long exposure. Depending on the f-stop, the exposures were between 10 and 30 seconds each. Because of the way the Phase One records the images, a ten second exposure takes twenty seconds to record, and a thirty second exposure takes a minute. There were two effects from these long exposures. The first is that there were bright glares from the headlights that obliterated details in the image, and the second was that we had to wait a long time before getting feedback on the shot.
James worked out that it was not a good idea to leave the lights on for the entire exposure. Instead, he timed how long it took for them to turn off by themselves after the doors were locked, then created a schedule where the car that took the longest to turn off its lights had its doors locked first, followed by the car with the next longest time, and so on. This took some coordination between Geoff and the client, who controlled the door locks, James, who walked around the cars popping a handheld ProFoto flash unit, and me, who managed the camera. The goal was for the car doors to be locked, then wait until moments before the headlights turned off and I would initiate the exposure, the headlights would turn off, and then James added some light to the scene with three or four strategic pops of his flash. After that we had to wait what seemed like ages for the exposure to be complete and shipped over to the laptop where we could see it.
It took some trial and error but eventually we got the timing right. Next, we had to do it all over again for each car lit independently of the rest, as backup in case retouching was needed.
Geoff said the shoot would last from about 6-10PM, and that is just about exactly what happened. I had to get home, so someone else drove “my” Alfa back to the dealership.
This morning, Geoff sent me a copy of the image and permission to use it in a blog post, so here it is, and my explanation for why I was out of town that Thursday night.