The title of this article has something of a double meaning. Interestingly, the word deuce has a lot more meanings than I could ever have imagined when I checked the web. However, the interpretation I am using is the one which means ‘two’. In the case of cars, a deuce coupe is a 1932 Ford Coupe (deuce being for the year). As I used two cameras to capture images at the car show it seemed like the most appropriate title.
Car shows of this type present one of my favourite subjects for photography and I’ve included a few hints in this article which, I hope, will be useful for anyone who hasn’t tried car photography, particularly in rather trying circumstances.
Northwest Deuce Days
The car show is called the Northwest Deuce Days and was held on July 18 to 21, 2019 in Victoria, British Columbia. It runs for four days with many events for the car owners. The fourth day is when the cars are on display for the public and staged throughout the scenic inner harbour of Victoria and on the grounds of the provincial Legislature.
The cars must be pre-1951 to participate and approximately 1,400 hot rods, street rods, and rat rods turned up. The event’s highlight is the Deuce Coupe so that is the title of the event. Approximately 650 cars produced in 1932 were at the show.
The 1932 Ford Coupe is considered by many enthusiasts to be the definitive “hot rod”. It was originally offered in two models. The Model B had four cylinders and the Model 18 boasted the Ford flathead V8 engine. The V8 was the more popular model and was the first budget-priced, mass-marketed car to have a V8 engine. As you can see, the cars are generally very cheerful and come in a range of often wild colours.
The festival draws about 100,000 spectators on the “The Big One” day when the cars are all staged and on display. The crowds make it almost impossible to capture many cars without a lot of people obstructing the image.
Expect to get a lot of photo bombing as very few people care or notice if they are going to be in your way. When I first arrived I was annoyed at constantly being jostled by people. However, I got used to it after a wee bit.
Of course, I keep my wallet secure in my closed and essentially empty camera bag (water, protein bar, lens cleaner). It is critical to travel as light as possible as a lot of walking and standing is involved over a period of hours.
Both camera straps were around my neck for added security when being bumped. The heavier camera was resting on my virtually empty camera bag to minimise strain over an extended afternoon of shooting.
It was a very hot day so I had water in my camera bag and a hat for protection from the blazing sunshine. Even though I drank a lot of water to stay hydrated there was no need for a washroom break so that speaks to the importance of staying well-watered. I did see one person lying down and being attended to by medics and I wondered whether it was dehydration. A snack and water are as essential to carry on an outing as the camera glass you select.
Two cameras were used to capture all images at the show. The wonderful Panasonic G9 (M4/3) was equipped with the amazing Panasonic Leica 12/1.4 (24mm equivalent) and the stunning Panasonic S1R had the sensational Panasonic S Pro 50/1.4. Having two cameras allows for instantly switching between the wide angle and the normal lens.
I prefer to use prime glass when possible instead of a zoom. In my experience, no zoom (even the incredible Leica SL 24-90) matches the rendering of primes and offers the same control over the background. The Panasonic Leica 12mm/1.4 (compact and light as a feather) provides a wonderful three-dimensional Leica rendering. I did not want to take any more equipment as it was going to be a long, crowded day so it was important to travel as light as possible.
One of the brilliant aspects of these Panasonic cameras is that they strongly share haptics and design. My two workhorses were set up identically so that there was no confusion on switching cameras.
The G9 feels as light as a feather; a joy to use. The extremely compact camera strap on the G9 is made of silk and is by Artisan & Artist. The strap can even be wrapped around your hand, out of the way and it is highly recommended for smaller cameras such as the Leica M.
The S1R has a bigger model Rock & Roll strap that makes the camera feel lighter than it is; it has a nice, somewhat elastic feel to it so it remains comfortable and the camera seems lighter. A great strap can make all the difference in the pleasure of using a camera. I also prefer straps not to be too bulky so the camera can easily be stowed away.
The photo of the deuce of cameras was taken at ISO 6400 with the Panasonic S1. The relatively low noise is incredible. I am pleased with the low-light ability of the S1 and I do not hesitate to use it up to ISO 12,000. The value in the size of the G9 and the fast 12/1.4 lens is readily apparent and there is plenty of glass choice available from Panasonic and Olympus that is second to none.
All the cars are labelled with a very visible card or sign so it can take some creativity to capture the car without the label interfering with an artistic image. I have no interest in spending time retouching them out in general unless it is a compelling image.
And, whatever you do, do not touch them without asking for permission. Usually, though, they are on the inside window of the car out of reach of prying fingers. For later identification of cars, it is useful to photograph the label. I include a large area around the label so that it is easy to know what car it belonged to.
Capturing great images requires a lot of patience, observation, attention on what is going on around you, anticipation, and familiarity with your camera and lens. The picture below exhibits a much less cluttered scene around a car than in most cases. I often had people push in front of me to get their picture and then rudely linger looking at their image (chimping); manners are a rarity at such a crowded event. People often take a selfie and then get busy sharing it with others there or sending it; they stay put when you wish they would move on as shown below.
Practice makes perfect
As mentioned, a lot of patience is necessary to get the images you want. I like to get into a position that has the composition desired and then watch the people around me and quickly capture the image during a momentary opening in the traffic. Even then there is a strong possibility that the edge of your frame will have some unfortunate distraction.
Then the wait starts again. To capture some of the images that I really wanted, I waited ten or even 15 minutes. If the traffic is too heavy, then I moved on or switched to capturing detail on the vehicle.
A really irritating aspect of shows like this is having people chat right in front of a car or be busy on their phone when they could just move out of the way. But this is all part of the challenge of photography. You do not want to be fiddling with menus as moments come and go.
The picture below was a must for me. I loved the sign matching the car and the contrast between the background and the car that is a pristine work of art. There were people constantly looking in it and around it. Also, crowds were going right past it but mostly in one direction.
I struggled for a full quarter of an hour with no opportunity. I chose the G9 with the 12/1.4 (24mm equivalent) and turned my back to the on-coming traffic and backed up, holding my arm out to block people and grabbed this image once the composition was correct.
It is one of my favourite images of the day. I love the crisp sun star on the car. The Panasonic Leica 12/1.4 creates beautiful sun stars; an essential lens feature for me, especially in car photos. I laugh when incompetent people on the web run down m4/3 for image quality. It is definitely capable of producing gorgeous no-compromise images in daylight, which is where I take most of my images.
Just look at the tonality in the car. I can feel the voluptuous curves on the car in that image. The 12/1.4 renders a wonderful micro-contrast that cannot be created later in software.
Some people recommend using a polariser for car photos. I do not use a polariser because I like sun stars. The reflections bring life to the vehicles in my opinion. However, this is a creative decision so do what works for you. Also, a polariser needs extremely careful use on a 24mm strong wide-angle as the sky often darkens unevenly.
It is often more rewarding to focus on the car’s details due to the surrounding crowds. You do not need a macro lens to capture details in general as most interesting touches are better with some environmental context. Details can be found inside the car as well as outside.
The interiors of the cars are extremely customised and tend to reflect the personality of the owner. No flash is needed with the image stabilisation available today. I never use flash because I find it makes images look unnatural and most cameras have enough dynamic range to capture the interior with natural light. The next photo is just a sample of many interesting interior images available.
When taking pictures of the interior, I am always very careful to not touch the car for support or the owner will rightfully get very angry. They have a lot invested in these vehicles and belts and buttons and so on can easily mark their precious paint job.
Two of the cars at the show were worth over a million, so bring plenty of cash to pay for any damage. People are never allowed to touch the cars. One owner had a sign saying: “My car is like another man’s wife – Look and Admire, but DO NOT TOUCH!”
The car below has a very visible orange pylon clearly telling people to stay off the running board. While I was waiting to take a photo a family told their child to stand on the running board so they could take a photo of her. The owner freaked out and started screaming at them. People moved away and I got my photo. I spoke to the owner and she told me she was exhausted from hollering at people to stop touching the car.
There can be extremely rare exceptions to the no-touch rule. A young woman wearing a mini skirt with a top identical in colour to the trim paint on a rat rod got the offer to sit in the owner’s car. I grabbed the photo between people and quickly selected f/1.4 to blur the backdrop of crowds. Needless to say, she was over the moon in delight. This just does not happen.
Crop to hide
Creative cropping should be kept in mind when taking photos so that you do not pass up on cluttered opportunities. I love square images and had that in mind when I composed for the picture below. The steering wheel was truly unique and gorgeous in the sunlight. It was very distracting outside the final composition area but enough of the environment was included to provide context to the interior. I assume the owner has driving gloves!
This was one of my favourite cars in the show and it was constantly swarmed by countless people. Later in the day I managed to grab this square composition when the mobs were dramatically reduced. The cropped area to the left and right have people taking photos. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth travelled in one of these in a visit to Victoria decades ago. It was so roomy inside and luxurious.
Selective depth of field is a powerful tool in keeping the attention on your subject. I prefer using lenses that have an aperture ring on them for a number of reasons. I can glance at the ring and quickly confirm what my setting is before I lift the camera to my eye. Also, the aperture can be adjusted quickly to a new aperture as you lift the camera so that all you do is compose the frame and instantly capture the magic moment. Both of the lenses used had the invaluable aperture ring.
There was one stunning car that I wanted to capture but it was impossible to get a decent image of it due to the crush of people. After a few attempts, I shifted to taking a photo of the beautiful chrome cap. I took three images at the following apertures, one each at f/1.4, f/2.8 and f/8. I was not sure for this image how much blur I wanted and how much secondary detail to provide context to the cap. I find this is impossible to assess in the viewfinder or on a LCD as it is just too small an image to evaluate critically.
When I looked at the results at home, I preferred the image below. I love how this lens renders out-of-focus areas in a wide variety of distances and background types. I have never seen any nervous out-of-focus areas. Instead, they never draw attention to themselves and they are like, my favourite Scottish cookie, “Melting Moments”.
The image below was taken at f/1.4 and again demonstrates why I did not want to use a zoom. The picture puts the emphasis on the rear of the car and totally blurs out distracting people nearby. I find the S Pro 50/1.4 to be razor-sharp across the whole frame at all apertures. I did not buy the Leica SL 50/1.4, an incredible lens. But the S Pro 50/1.4 is a good alternative, bearing in mind the price difference and focuses instantly and accurately> It has proven to have a beautifully smooth OOF drawing under a variety of conditions that I find very appealing.
Engines at bay
Engines are often fantastic subjects but most cars at this type of event have the hood closed. It’s a difficult decision for the exhibitor — show the vehicle in its full glory or draw the main attention to the engine compartment. The image below shows the extraordinary effort owners put in to keep their pride and joy spotless. I spoke to one owner, and he told me that he and his wife each invested eleven hours of detailing time in preparing for the show even though the car had been carefully prepped before arrival.
I always wanted a hot rod but realised years ago that I had no interest in the loving care aspect. I could not convince my wife to do it and I cannot afford servants, so that dream got dropped from my bucket list. Just look at that spotless engine.
By the way, many owners are delighted to discuss their car and passionate hobby. However, it can be difficult to escape them politely as they enthusiastically chat to also help pass the boredom of sitting all day.
Of course, there will always be an exception to the spotless rule. I could not believe my eyes when I spotted this beautiful grille. Curiously, the rest of the car was pristine. The owner obviously thought it added interest with the fascinating insects. People loved examining it once they noticed the bugs.
Hood ornaments also make great subjects and can be a nice creative challenge to compose. I decided my composition on the photo below but had to wait about five minutes to have the background clear of people. I took a number of ornaments at various angles. I gave up on one I really wanted as the people just were relentlessly in the way.
Hoods also can offer up interesting images due to paint treatments and the chrome objects. I could not resist the hood below and again had to wait quite a bit for the background to clear of people. I watched through the viewfinder until I got what I wanted.
This can be quite stressful, creating tension as you wait. I am still recovering from a severe whiplash injury so I found myself in total upper-shoulder stress early in the outing. But I persevered due to the pleasure of the hunt and I knew Guinness would ease the suffering later. However, I can appreciate why some “photographers” prefer reading camera reviews on-line rather than getting off the couch and out using their camera.
Wheels and trim
Wheels can also make for great and very patient subjects. I wanted a photo of this fine car but it was in a bad location and totally swamped with people. During my outing, I found a lot of wheels that were a delight to capture.
Quite a few vehicles were for sale and clearly marked. Often it is because the owner wants to fund the start of another custom car. They love the journey of the project. The sale goods were tempting but the Leica SL2 is finally becoming available and, who knows, I might hear the Siren call.
Surprisingly, not all vehicles have had that much work done before the show. I am not sure why the owners bring them, but they probably arouse fond memories among some of the attendees. Even on the old rusty vehicles, the owners had started to gather accessories for the vehicle such as the cloth sack on the truck below.
Capturing interesting people around the vehicles can make for a great image. The picture below had young people in it which was unusual. Most attendees at the event were older. I loved the interest added by the woman with the parasol. Also, the man had just turned around from looking at the car and started to admire her outfit.
It can be a challenge to get a good composition but being constantly aware of your surroundings will reward eventually. I spotted the woman with the parasol and had to move quickly across the street to grab this shot.
The image below was another opportunity that I spotted further up the street. I ran over to grab the shot. On my way, the camera was adjusted quickly and easily so as to be ready as I lifted it to frame the image. I chose f/2.8 to help separate the subject from the background.
Shooting a lot with a common focal length creates familiarity with that lens and makes it easy to select the appropriate aperture for the desired effect. If I use a zoom, I treat it like a variable prime lens and pick my focal length before I frame the image – I then use my feet to adjust the framing. This way I know what the perspective is and can calculate the depth-of-field effect.
These people were being photographed with the car. The photographer kept guiding them on how to stand. Eventually one of them leaned on the car, after being prodded to do so, but the gold-coloured metal belt she was wearing got dangerously close to costing her some significant money. You can see why car owners fret a lot.
The car below reminded me of Hercule Poirot – my favourite detective. I could visualise him being cheerfully driven around in this fine machine.
It never hurts to ask someone to pose alongside a car. I asked the woman in the mini skirt to oblige and she instantly responded. I captured the shot without fiddling with my camera. Immediately, a crowd of people pushed in, wanting to get the same pose, but the magic moment was gone because her initial vibrant expression had diminished.
The departure of the cars, also known as rollout, is one of the best opportunities to grab some shots without people blocking the way or photobombing your pictures.
Towards the end of a show, I chose one of the main exits and shot away. Minimum shutter speed was set in the 1/250 to 1/500 sec range depending on how fast the cars were moving. Generally, they drive reasonably slowly to avoid hitting the inevitable distracted people roaming on the street.
Another feature that I love about both these Panasonic cameras, as with many other modern cameras, is that I can set minimum shutter speed in aperture-priority mode and then let an auto ISO setting take care of the exposure.
Another nice aspect of rollout is that the owners are now in their cars and that adds further interest.
Despite the common web-bashing of the Panasonic autofocus system, the S1R nailed focus instantly and spot-on, even on cars travelling towards me, and not one image had inaccurate focus. Every photo of a car coming toward me was crisply focused.
During the day, I never had focus failure on any image unless it was my fault. I used spot focus for both the cameras. I have never shot fast-moving subjects as that is not my subject of choice, but for my type of general photography, the focus has been one of the most accurate and consistent that I have experienced.
My maxim is to choose a camera that suits your needs rather than the highest specs in categories that will not improve your photography in any way.
And of course, every car show or parade has a gorgeous heritage firetruck on display. It was impossible to get a decent photo of this truck during the show. There were countless people taking selfies and crowded around it. I came back when I spotted the retired fireman getting ready to fire it up. It was interesting to observe how complicated it was to start up. Security people cleared people from the area and I bagged my picture.
When the cars start to empty out, the people dissipate and it is possible to get some uncrowded scenes of cars. But it will not last long so it is necessary to scramble.
As you can see, the G9 with its micro four-thirds sensor is fully capable of producing fine images. I ignore the majority of reviewers as they generally do not know what they are talking about. These days it is very hard to find a quality digital camera that is not capable of bringing home the goods, assuming it is being used for its purpose.
Just as I thought I was finished for the day, I observed a tow truck go by me heading toward the show. I ran after it, thinking there might be a neat photo opportunity. Sure enough, this owner’s car was being loaded up. I examined the various angles and then spotted the worried owner coming around to the rear.
He nervously watched as his baby was being loaded. I snapped this image when I saw the gesture that makes the story for me.
This was my first major outing with my newly purchased S1R and S Pro 50/1.4. I had done some testing and spent much time setting up the camera to be as simple as possible. I have all the buttons set to my core controls and have a personalised quick menu for rarely used options.
The G9 is set up to be close in operation and the design is so close to the S1R that they make a great pairing. I am delighted with both cameras.
The images in this article are just a small sampling. I came away with countless images and have much material to play with on a dark and stormy night.