Do you remember your first car?

Mine was a Toyota Paseo. It probably had an engine only slightly bigger than a go cart and almost no backseat to speak of. It's two doors made it a little sporty and, despite being super small, you could snuggly fit 4 warm-bodied teenagers into it. Actually, you could fit 5 if the person sitting in the middle of the back didn't mind having no seatbelt. That never happened. We were all young and flexible, so climbing behind the front seats wasn't a problem. When I had no passengers, I could fold the back seat down and fit my cross country skis through a hole that connected the trunk with the main cabin. That was essentially the winter configuration. Alternatively, I could pack the entire thing full of my 4-piece drum kit, buckling the bass drum into the passenger seat like a human. It was far from convenient, but it got the job done. The thing was in great shape. It had a 5-speed, manual transmission and knowing how to drive stick gave me a little extra skip in my step. My brother and I split the cost with my parents. I really only owned 25% of the vehicle, but once my brother left for college, it was all mine! During my junior and senior years, that car was my freedom and my access to fun.

Cars are a huge part of any teenager's life. For that reason, it is never a surprise when one of my senior clients wants to feature their car in their session. I totally get it.

In this installment of senior stories, I will tell you about one of the most epic cars I had an opportunity to shoot with a senior. A red Mini Cooper. White racing stripe and fully rebuilt. Let's go!

My first car (the Toyota Paseo), my sis, and myself.

Back at Black Creek

If you read my last senior stories post, you would know that Black Creek Park is super close to me. It is a go to location for shoots because it offers a creek, beautiful wooded scenery, a bridge, pond, lodges, etc. In this situation, we just needed somewhere with a parking lot that involved the least amount of road travel possible. Given our circumstances, we naturally chose the north parking lot at Black Creek. If parked in the corner of the lot and photographing facing the woods, there are really no background elements that might cause a distraction to an image. It is just some grass and then woods. Later in the day, the sun is also well blocked by the woods so that there is good shade everywhere in the parking lot.

I photoshopped out the license plate on this image before delivering it to my client. Nobody wants to see an ugly yellow NY license plate.

Lighting the scene

This shoot happened years ago and I was working with just a small speedlight (i.e. off-camera flash) and a Nikon D5000. I have since been able to upgrade a bit. However, at the time, I was not using high-quality gear. As a photographer, I am a firm believer that it is the photographer, and not the gear, that makes great images. I hope these images prove that point.

In any case, we were shooting in the shade. You have probably heard that it is better to do that than shoot in direct sun. I agree most times. At the very least, it is certainly easier lighting to work with due to the lack of shadows. Despite being easy to work with, many times the light can be pretty flat in the shade. To bring a little bit of extra directional light into these images that does not have a color cast, I used a small flash that I fired into a 4' x 5' white reflector that my senior's dad held up for me. The idea was to create a large light source that could illuminate not only my senior but also the car. You can see how there is a subtle contrast from right to left in the image caused by this extra light. It was not so strong to dramatically change the lighting, but it was noticeable. I like it a little better.

Posing with the car

Cars offer lots of opportunities for composition. They can be used as either a background/foreground element or frame. The latter is best done by actually sitting in the car and shooting through windows and typically looks best with some extra light added from the exterior. In this session, we stayed out of the car. That way that luscious red exterior was able to shine.

I could tell that my senior was super proud of showing off his car. He dove right into the session giving me GQ caliber looks. I had him position himself in the center of the car, standing as well as sitting. The symmetry mattered and made all of the difference. I also had him pop open a door and shot across the hood using the "V" of the door as a frame for his face. Having him look off into the distance without a smile sealed this as a strong masculine shot. He nailed it.

Also, because I am always after some variety in the images I deliver, we got some smiles going. To get authentic smiles, I find it best to do something that usually gets them to chuckle. The best technique I have found is to ask them something that makes them pause at the ridiculousness of it. That might be by asking them a question that has nothing to do with anything or give them a story that they should act out. haha. We usually have a good laugh.

And some other classics...

In the beginning, I told you that besides a car, my senior for this session was also interested in soccer. There is a soccer ball included as a prop in one of the images above. We couldn't let this session get away without some soccer specific shots. We also captured some nice clean portraits, because I like giving my clients variety.

Without requiring the car anymore, we headed to a location beside a big field. The sun was starting to set, creating gorgeous golden light on the forest in the backdrop. I changed to using a reflective umbrella with my flash and stuck it just out of frame. Doing so creates great soft lighting that makes just about everyone look great. This guy didn't need the help of good lighting, but I was happy to make sure that this wasn't a subpar snap that you would get haphazardly with a smartphone.

More stories to come...

If you stuck with me to this point, kudos to you! I have lots more stories and pictures to share, so stay tuned for future senior story posts! Also, if you know someone who has a class of 2022-2023 senior, please have them reach out. I am booking for next year and I would love to provide you with images that you will cherish for years to come. And while I am doing a public service announcement, please know that I do all kinds of different sessions besides seniors. I can cover your wedding, capture maternity, personal branding, family, engagement, etc. You name it! You can always reach me through my website contact page.

Have a great rest of your day and until next time!