“The Art of Racing in the Rain” Photo-Series

On March 22nd, 2020, India went into lock-down along with a whole bunch of other countries to protect itself from the COVID-19 pandemic that was spreading across the globe faster than wildfire. This meant that all activities that required leaving the confines of home were put on hold.

What does that mean for an automotive photographer whose job is to capture images of vehicles in various locations? Well, it simply means that that would no longer happen till this pandemic passes over. And just like that, all projects, local and international were cancelled until further notice.

Limited resources push the boundaries of creativity and forces you to come out of your comfort zone to do something different. That was the root of the “Art of Racing in the Rain” series.

I was to be in Europe for a few projects and had been in talks with Lamborghini for an opportunity to photograph one of their cars while we were in Italy. Mind you, I have been a Lamborghini fan ever since I laid eyes on a Miura poster when I was a kid.

My thoughts were constantly circling back to the fact that I would have been photographing a Lamborghini in Tuscany. It was most probably that constant itch and the fact that I could not do anything about it, one of the main driving forces for the scale model shoot.

Since the gyms were shut, the treadmill at home was being put to use. During a cooldown session, it dawned on me that the treadmill belt below looked very similar to a road in motion, something we photographer’s see while hanging out the back of a car to take rolling shots. It was a eureka moment and I thought that since it looks like a rolling road, it should give me similar results to if I were photographing tracking shots or rigs shots of a real car. I tried it out immediately and it was exactly how I had imagined.

I spent most of the day planning the shoot, studying the car and its angles and working out the position of the lights and the background, to try and make sure the image comes out as realistic as possible.

At one end of a shoelace was taped the under-body of the 1:18 scale Lamborghini Huracan and the other was taped to the base of the treadmill. A key light was placed to light up the scene and then the auxiliary lighting was adjusted accordingly to achieve the dramatic look of the image. A spray bottle was used to emulate the rain falling on the car as it moved on the treadmill, which also helped in wetting the belt to give it a feeling of a wet track/road. A table tennis net was used to replicate the boundary wall of the track. The net also helped to add the element of speed on the sidewall, helping the realism of the image. To achieve the correct perspective, the camera was placed inverted on a tripod so the lens could reach low, at the level of the treadmill belt.

With the treadmill turned on, I could see the car bouncing around and moving from one edge of the belt to the other. As the speed of the treadmill was increased the car stabilized itself in one place with very little vibrations and movement allowing for the photograph to be taken.

As for Camera settings, the first thing to keep in mind is that, to make the car look realistic, the whole car has to be in focus with respect to the background. When shooting a full-size car, most of the time even if you are shooting at f/4 or f/8 the car looks to be completely in focus because of the distance you are standing at from the car. Here, with the camera extremely close to the car, a wide-open aperture will lead to a very shallow depth of field, which is something that gives away the fact that you are shooting a toy/scale model.

I was shooting at apertures from f/16 – f/22 to make sure the car, the road and the background are all in focus. Since I wanted to showcase the motion on the treadmill belt and the rotation on the wheels, the shutter speeds for the shots were quite slow, ranging from 1/50th of a second till 2.5s for certain exposures. I tried to keep the number of exposures to a minimum to make sure that the post processing on the images would not take too much time.

In all, the 4 photographs of the different angles of the scale model Lamborghini on the treadmill took about 3 and a half hours for getting the shots and about 2 hours for post processing.

The most challenging part of the project was making sure the car stayed in place while it was moving on the treadmill as I was taking the images as long exposures on slower shutter speeds, the toughest part was trying to keep the car in focus. Since the scale model didn’t really have any suspension, the was bouncing about quite a bit on the treadmill belt. Another challenge was trying to capture all the elements of the photograph in the camera in the least number of exposures required. 

Being limited has brought in a new perspective on creativity. As a photographer that spends a lot of time outdoors and not being able to do that, definitely is a barrier. But ask yourself, are you a photographer just because of the subjects you shoot, or are you a photographer because you have the eye to view the world differently and tell that story through your camera. Covid-19 might have locked you in your homes, but that doesn’t mean it has locked your ability to get creative and experiment with the limited resources you have. 

Observe every little detail and let your mind run free and I’m sure you can come up with loads of ideas to challenge your creativity.