Car Photography Rig Tutorial

Take a look at the photograph below and ask yourself, “How was it created?” At first it looks like it’s a beautiful shot snapped from the sidelines on a racetrack, but then you notice the blurred background suggesting that the camera was actually moving with the car. But how is this possible? It seems that the camera might be attached to another vehicle in front of the racecar which is moving at the same speed. In fact, the camera is attached to the racecar and no one is even driving it. In this tutorial, photographer Nigel Harniman shows you how he created this amazing image:

It’s hard to guess that an elaborate rig such as the one Harniman uses would be the way to capture an image such as this. Obviously the whole thing has to be photoshopped out, which seems like a big hassle. But it’s the only way to get a tack sharp image of the vehicle with such a blurred background. It’s also amazing that this exposure is 30 seconds long, as it looks like the racecar is speeding through the corner at 80mph.

Harniman’s real trick is the 6-stop ND filter. Without this, the shot would not have been possible. There are many ways you can use an ND filter to your advantage. Here are a few:

  • Using Slower Shutter Speeds – This is the most common use of the ND filter. Since the filter blocks a certain amount of the incoming light, it allows you to use slower shutter speeds. And while this is typically a disadvantage, it can come in handy in certain situations such as photographing a flowing stream or someone moving fast where you want part the image to be blurred and show motion.
  • Using Larger Apertures – When you’re shooting outside on a sunny day, you often won’t be able to shoot at large apertures like 2.8 or 1.4. Even with your camera’s fastest shutter speed and lowest ISO setting, you may not be able to take advantage of you max aperture and the shallow depth-of-field it creates. Using an ND filter to reduce the light allows you to use these wide aperture settings even in bright conditions.
  • Capturing Sunsets – For this you would actually need a graduated ND filter. This filter is clear on the bottom and dark on the top with a smooth transition between the two in the middle. What this allows you to do is to essentially make the sky darker while keeping your foreground at the same exposure. Since the sky (especially at sunset and sunrise) is typically a lot brighter than your foreground will be, this helps even it out and keeps you from overexposing the sky or underexposing your foreground.
car rig photo

Despite what it might look like, this is actually a 30 second exposure

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One response to “Car Photography Rig Tutorial”

  1. Joel Altman says:

    Slowing the shutter speed using an ND filter is useful when using outdoor flash. The ND filter allows you to drop the shutter speed down to the speedlight sync speed.

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