The 1957 Corvette Stingray, or C1 Corvette as it's officially known, is a true automotive icon that revolutionized the American sports car

Tag: Tips & Techniques

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To Our Women Readers

The Beckster (she who is my wife) suggested that, because this article is about photographing vintage cars, many women would not read it.

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I’m Not Really a Car Aficionado

Some guys are crazy about cars. I’m not one of them. If you’re planning on being a car collector you need a small fortune and some serious garage space. For example, according to the duPont Registry, Jay Leno’s collection reportedly includes 181 cars and 160 motorcycles valued at $52,000,000. I’m uncertain what the definition of having ‘too much money’ is, but I think Jay may be close. The Sage’s secret insider sources indicate that all of these vehicles are located in his Burbank, California, garage that started out at 17,000 square feet, but now totals 122,000 square feet.

Are all these luxury vehicles insured? What’s that tab annually? If insurance for a single collectable car is a mere $5,000 (probably a low estimate), then his annual vehicle insurance is at least $1M. Excluding motorcycles. I always wondered why my Allstate insurance agent, Sir Winthrop Carrington, Jr., the Third, lives in Monaco.

Even though I’m not car crazy, I do have my wish list. One of those would be this sky blue 1957 Corvette Stingray, shown below.

1957 Corvette Stingray

The 1957 Corvette Stingray, or C1 Corvette as it's officially known, is a true automotive icon that revolutionized the American sports car

Today, you can buy one of these between $75,000-$140,000. The original MSRP was $3,176. The difference between the original manufacturer’s suggested retail price and today’s price is what’s commonly referred to as “hindsight.” (On the other hand, I was only four years old when Chevrolet launched this Corvette. If I had only known then what I know now. If I had only had a bank account at four years old.)

Because we can barely fit two cars into our garage, I am not destined to start a car collection any time soon. The closest I will probably ever get to a 1957 Stingray is on the other side of my camera lens. Thus, the topic of this journal article.

Vehicular Vernacular

Before we consider techniques to photograph classic cars, I propose a sagacious statement: An investment into improving your understanding the lexicology of cars, and some rudimentary automotive science, can give you photographic insights while shooting at your local car show. For example, neologisms from automotive technology can help expand how you look at, perceive, and understand your subject material.

What better place to expand your horizons than a few classic car forums. While there are hundreds of forums to consider, following are a few of the most popular:

  • With over 750,000 registered users, one of the largest is Automotive Forums. Here you can peruse 90-different makes as well as sub-forums such as “car audio,” “car movies,” and “car parts for sale,” (likely from your local chop shop).

If you have never lived near Chicago, Detroit, New York, or a similarly large U.S. city, a definition is warranted here. Large urban area ‘chop shops’ steal your car and turn it into car parts (literally overnight) by cutting up the car into re-sell-able auto components—the sum of the parts being more profitable than the vehicle as a whole.

Out of grad school, I worked for the ad agency Needham, Harper, & Steers in Chicago, on the national McDonald’s account. McDonald’s corporate periodically held operator meetings for owners from all over the world. At one of these conventions, held in a suburb near the city, a McDonald’s exec had his car stolen right out of the parking lot in broad daylight. (You can guess where I’m going with this.) He called an ‘acquaintance’ who knew something about chop shops (which is to say, he probably owned a chop shop). This exec (let’s call him Roy), asked him if he could get his car back. The answer was ‘Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.’ Roy then informed his ‘acquaintance’ that he really wanted the top quality fly fishing gear that was in the trunk. Roy never got his car back. But he did receive his fly fishing gear in the mail several days later.

Moral of that story: If a chop shop steals your car, make sure you didn’t leave junior in the back seat. You’ll never see him again (except maybe his mugshot in the post office several years later).

Continuing with car forums:

  • The Jalopy Journal, and the related HAMB (Honkey Ass Message Board), offers “a plethora of information for old school hot rod enthusiasts.”
  • Are you a Chevy Impala fan? Look no further than to find your tribe.
  • Looking for more? Check out a definitive list of classic car forums at … the list of most popular classic car forums.

For a quick example of how to enhance your vehicular vernacular, let’s dive into the Corvette Forum with a few topics such as the subjects below. (These are actual quotes from the forum, and no names have been changed to protect the innocent):

Actual Q&A From the Corvette Forum

SubjectKey Excerpts
1986 Fuel Pump TroubleshootingQ: “When I went through resistors to find the right one, I said to myself: ‘You'll know which one it is when you hear the fuel pump prime.’ Is there a procedure to test circuit, fuse, relay, etc.?”

A: “Could be the diaphragm, filter. Good idea to Ohm out the INJs to make sure they match.”
Strut Tower BraceQ: “I know how well the C7 was designed/built to be stiff and it does a wonderful job but I'm still surprised. Does anyone offer a (front) strut tower brace?”

A: “Strut towers braces can be of some benefit in Macpherson or Chapman strut suspension designs where a point load from the springs (and upper suspension control geometry) is introduced into the load carrying frame relatively high in the structure that is difficult to support.”
The 383 Admiral
'61 Pinion FlangeQ: “I'm replacing the rear differential pinion seal on my '61 due to a leak and I found this gray rubber circular piece smashed between the nut and the pinion flange. Anyone have any idea what this is?”

A: “The previous installer probably sealed the area up with RTV to prevent a gear oil seep past the splines and nut. Fairly common to do, even if it is not in the ST-10. The ‘washer’ is just hardened RTV. I hope you marked the location of the nut in relation to the pinion, before removing the nut!”


Having read these examples of Corvette Forum discussions, I’m sure you already have had a few “aha” moments.

And I’m certain that these examples have provided valuable insight into the relationship between car talk and automobile photography. For example, in the future when I’m under the chassis of a ’61 Corvette, I will avoid the rear differential pinion area, so as not to get transmission oil on my camera lens.

If you have read this far without rolling your eyes to the point where they are now stuck in the back of your head, you’ll know that the above section was strictly for fun and entertainment. Of course you don’t need to know the language of cars in order shoot great automobile photos!

This knowledge, however, could be quite useful to strike up conversations with car owners while you’re angling for the perfect shot—particularly if you notice that the owner hasn’t Ohm’d out the INJs in his fuel pump diaphragm.

Photographing Classic Cars

Most car photos look like the one below (an example of what not to do):

  • A random smattering of grass, sky, trees, and tents.
  • Gaping front hoods with black hole engine compartments.
  • And a huge puddle of gear oil seepage under the Corvette’s pinion flange.

Typical Photo from a Car Show

The 1957 Corvette Stingray, or C1 Corvette as it's officially known, is a true automotive icon that revolutionized the American sports car

Instead, here are a few suggestions for legendary car photos that will not only yield impressive images—but, more importantly, enhance your reputation as a sage-like mythical photographer:

  • Rather than trying to shoot the entire car, get in tight to capture close-ups of the design elements. Any attempt to capture the entire car will likely end up looking like the image above.
  • If you must shoot the entire car, be very conscious to exclude extraneous background elements—tents, trees, beer coolers, etc. If you are a married man, take particular care to avoid shooting any scantily clad models in bikinis. Refer to bullet (a) below.
  • Use a 70mm+ zoom lens to help tightly frame and crop.
  • Don’t just stand there and snap like a tourist! Look and think in three dimensions. Spend some time before you fire the shutter button. Move around the car to consider all the angles. Squat down low. Lay on the ground. Crawl underneath to check the strut tower brace.
  • If you must include background, use a large aperture (big number on the lens / small f-stop) to blur the depth-of-field.
  • Pray for clouds, which provide flat lighting. Shooting chrome and glossy finishes in bright sunlight will throw the metering off in your camera, exposing for bright reflections on the chrome, while under-exposing the most important elements.
  • If the gods ignore your cloud prayers, and the sun is blazing during your vintage car photo shoot, use a polarizing filter to reduce reflections and glare. Most polarizing filters work great with today’s mirrorless cameras where you can see the polarizing effect directly through the viewfinder. As you look through your viewfinder, rotate the circular filter to dial in the amount of polarization that you want (or don’t want) in your image. Digits are free. Shoot different polarization settings.
  • A note about using your camera’s viewfinder (as opposed to using the LCD screen): When shooting outdoors, it’s virtually impossible to accurately frame your composition using your camera’s LCD screen—no matter how bright you can set the LCD. Use the viewfinder instead. Otherwise, you’ll likely just get a snapshot with all kinds of extraneous stuff. (Another distinct advantage of using a dedicated camera instead of your smartphone.)
  • (a) Finally, if you are a married man, whatever you do … do not shoot bikini-clad models. These photos will fall out of your shirt pocket at the most inopportune moments. Like your anniversary dinner party, at which point this can be difficult to explain. “Honey, I was on the ground trying to get a good angle on a ’61 Pinion Flange.” Based on the Sage’s first law of her-mode-dynamics, I can guarantee you’ll experience another polarizing effect here—technically known as ‘getting locked out in the snow.’

A Few Mythical Motorcar Photos

And now, for some exciting examples. Ladies, still with me?

The ’37 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster became famous as the car the von Trapp family drove to the lively hills in the Sound of Music.

1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster

1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster


As Tom Cruise’s character, Joel, observed in the 1983 film Risky Business, “Porsche. There is no substitute.”

Get a Handle on this Orange and Gray Porsche 911

Door handle on two-tone orange and gray Porsche 911


She’s Real Fine, My 409. Chevy’s 409-cubic inch big block V-8 engine with twin four barrel carburetors was standard on the Impala SS (Super Sport).

Chevy Impala Fin and Taillights

Cherry Red Chevy Impala


Franklin D. Roosevelt drove a 1936 Ford Phaeton that was specially modified for his disabilities.

Ford Phaeton


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The Sage