Zenfolio | Bill Course Photography | Photographing at America's Car Museum

Photographing at America's Car Museum

June 09, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

America's Car Museum, in Tacoma, is a car lover's paradise and a treasure trove for photography. Alas, no vintage Italian roadsters, but, once inside, you will find that is of little consequence. Make no mistake, this is a tough place to shoot. No tripods allowed, the logic being they are not concerned about photographers, but rather of other patrons knocking your tripod into the side of a priceless Deusenberg. I get it, and the instant mental re-play gives me sweaty palms.

With the exception of the automobiles next to the large wall of windows, and a few featured cars, the vast majority of vehicles are in low light and the issue is compounded by spotlights everywhere. You are constantly ducking and dodging to control the hot spots.  Additionally, with a number of cars parallel parked and cordoned off, it is difficult to get straight-on shots of some marvelous grilles and trunk designs. These are the conditions you have to overcome, but it can be done.

Here are a few tips on how. Plan to be shooting at around ISO 800, frequently as wide open as your lenses will go, with VR/VC definitely on, and remember to use smooth breathing technique (firing on the exhale) combined with body-bracing. I would also suggest shooting bursts, since frequently the second or third shot will be the sharpest of the series. You will use every lens length you can bring with you. Camera bags and camera backpacks are allowed, and that's a good thing. I did a lot of isolation with my Nikon 80-400, and it was the only time I have ever wished I also owned a 70-200. By the third hour, the 80-400 was getting a bit heavy, but its VR was incredible. Most of my isolation shots were under 200mm. I found my 14mm prime perfect for some tight, super-wide views of late 50's Chrysler grilles, and my older Nikon 24-70 (no VR) with good technique still nailed it in burst mode. I found out, after my arrival, that they do allow monopods (not mentioned when I called ahead), but my past results with monopods have not surpassed good handheld technique.

I would suggest allowing at least three to four hours to shoot. I walked and shot for about two hours, took a lunch break and reviewed images and then re-walked the entire museum another two hours. I found on my second time around I was more comfortable with the conditions, saw angles and subjects I missed the first time, and re-shot a few subjects I had flagged after initial image review. To be candid, many of the images are not where I want them to be, but I am still very happy to have them. It is especially satisfying to get some pleasing results by adapting to the situation and doing all you can to make the most of the day. Some miserably cold winter day, I will go back, armed with experience and renewed enthusiasm!

 


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