Taking Good Pictures

ON PURPOSE!


| August/September 1989



Little knob handle

Little knob handle

1828 E. 6th Avenue, Mesa, Arizona 85204

It's no secret, 'Engine Nuts' are lousy photographers! As a group we are not so much interested in the artistic value of the pictures we take, as we are in preserving events or details. Our nostalgic nature compels us to photograph an unforgettable event, a one-of-a-kind engine, a before and after, or some priceless mechanical detail for future reference. All too often however, we take irreplaceable photos only to find the pictures we expected to be so vivid are nowhere to be found in the processing envelope. They just do not do justice to the scene we intended to immortalize. Some pictures can be perfect in detail, focus and color, but they don't hold our interest let alone anyone else's. As a result most of them end up in a shoe box, or in the back of a seldom opened drawer. For some reason, other photos that may be less than perfect technically present the subject in such a way that we never get tired of looking at it. Once we realize what makes the difference, we can start taking enjoyable pictures on purpose.

The Camera

I have overheard people asking others what kind of camera they have. 'It sure takes good pictures'! The fact is, the person behind the camera makes the most difference. A quality camera can expand your options, but an Instamatic can record memories as well. My objective here is not to promote unnecessary equipment sales, but to improve our results with what is available to us. We will assume the user knows how to load and set his camera. If not, a session with the owner's manual is in order. Next you need to know what your options and limitations are. The new 'goof proof' automatic cameras have made photography much easier for the average person, but satisfying results can be achieved with very basic equipment. A 35mm camera is probably the most versatile, and a mind boggling array of equipment is available to challenge any level of expertise.

The Film

The question of which film to use is primarily a matter of individual preference. Some color films highlight blues and greens while others set a warmer tone by highlighting reds and yellows. Any quality brand that has worked in the past with good results is satisfactory. Otherwise consult your photo dealer or experiment. An important consideration for engine photos is film speed. Photos of engines in their original environment are often in dark sheds or gloomy buildings with poor light conditions. Such a setting will benefit from a 'fast' film, which is more sensitive to light. A film speed of ASA 400 is usually a good choice for these low light conditions (the higher the ASA number, the less light required for a perfectly exposed picture). Fast films tend to have a more grainy texture however. Photos taken on a bright summer day at an engine show are another matter. A slower film, eg. ASA 64 or 100, will give good results here.

Composition

After the mechanical and technical techniques are mastered, proper composition will result in 'keepers' nearly every time. Film and processing expense can be reduced as a result. Good composition is not hard if you ask yourself, 'Why am I taking this picture? What do I expect to see when I get finished?' Then take a moment to think about the answer. If your answer does not include the north side of a southbound spectator, then make the necessary adjustments before you shoot. If your purpose is one of an artistic nature, then things like shape, setting, background, shadow become very important. As an engine lover I find the photo which appeared in a national photographic magazine (fig. 1), to be lacking in detail and quantity. From an artistic point of view, however, it is beautiful and can be enjoyed by anyone whether they recognize the subject or not. If your purpose is to document some mechanical detail for future reference, then try to eliminate everything else and zero in on the subject. This is a real challenge sometimes because of the lighting and setting engines are normally found in. If you want to show the complete engine in one single shot with as much detail as possible, the 1/4 front view is a good one. Most of the major components will be visible. To really show an engine at its best, take a lesson from the manufacturers. After all, when they publish an ad they want people to see their engine in its very best light. Old manuals or books, such as Power In The Past by C.H. Wendel, are a good source for examples. You will notice the following:

(1) There is a lack of clutter in the background. They are simple scenes and use a backdrop, open field or other uniform distraction-free background. Shadows, cars, or lawn furniture are nowhere to be found. (2) In general, introductory photos will be from 1/4 front and slightly above, but the rest will be a profile 'facing the engine' (looking at the magneto side). This profile is usually most appealing and gives the picture a balanced look while conveying the greatest amount of detail. Some ads go so far as to remove a flywheel so the valve and timing mechanisms are clearly visible (holding the camera in line with the crankshaft so that the nearest flywheel blocks the view of the far one works nearly as well). A long focal length lens, 135mm or more, will further enhance this profile method. (3) They are always in focus. (4) They are properly framed. Oilers are not chopped off, skids are fully visible etc. (5) They often show action. A puff of smoke, flywheels spinning, accessories belted up, all help to show function and purpose. (6) They are taken from the engine's level. Not from overhead or eye level of a six foot tall person.