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Ocotber 2006 Off-Road Mail - Letters to the Editor

Posted in Features on October 1, 2006
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OK, so you've built a cool truck that works well in the dirt, and you've contacted the staff here at Off-Road about having your truck in a feature story. For several reasons, the Off-Road staff may not be able to travel to you to shoot the feature. There are still some options at this point: Travel to a place where we can meet you, take the photos yourself, or have the photos taken by another photographer.

As staff photographers for Off-Road, we've crawled under quite a few trucks looking for truck-building tricks to showcase in Off-Road's pages. Here's a list of how a typical photo shoot is done:

The truck needs to be in its natural habitat.
It's amazing how many Off-Road Rides submissions we get that are shot in a driveway or a parking lot. We need dirt!

Shadows are tricky, so the angle of light needs to be correct.
Basically, you want the sun at your back, so the sunlight shines on the truck. At the same time, the photographer's shadow can't be in the photo. Techniques to avoid getting your shadow in the shot vary, but we've had good luck by crouching down or getting off to the side of the shot and zooming in.

Trees look really funny when they appear to be growing out of the hood or roof of the truck.
When there are trees all around, try zooming in tight around the vehicle. This also applies to telephone poles, light poles, etc.

On a typical photo shoot, start with a clean truck and find a good portrait spot such as a clearing or rock outcropping or a hillside.
Take several portrait shots at different angles. If you see a good photo possibility, move the truck, reposition yourself, or move both until the photo you've imagined is a reality in your camera.

A few shots taken from eye level are great, but most of the time, you'll need to crouch down or stand on a rock or ladder to get the best angle.
Many times, the best angle is shot while lying on the ground shooting up at the truck.

Shoot a variety of portrait shots, both from the front and back of the truck and with the camera turned both horizontally and vertically.

Once you're done with the portrait shots, move on to the tech shots.
Shoot the engine, tranny, transfer case, axles, leaf springs, shocks, brakes, and anything else that stands out on the truck. The items don't have to be modified or aftermarket -- if a stock part is a good part, shoot it anyway. There's no reason not to talk about the good job that the factory did when they designed and built that particular part. The drivetrain doesn't have to be spit-shined, but it should still be somewhat clean.

Interior shots work best shooting through an open door with the opposite door closed.
If you have a tendency to adorn your truck's interior with adult photos or other paraphernalia, please temporarily remove them for the photos.

When shooting tech shots, take mental notes about what the caption might say.
Ask yourself, "What's the point of this photo?" If the point of the photo isn't obvious, find a different camera angle that works better.

Make sure the camera is focusing on the correct thing.
Many a frame has been shot where the shock was the subject, and the camera focused on the tire instead: sharply focused tire and blurry shock. With Off-Road's cameras, users can select a point that the camera uses for focusing. Your camera may have a similar feature.

After the portrait and tech shots, action shots are next.
The truck doesn't have to be doing anything crazy; you're after something that is visually cool. For instance, when shooting a desert truck, the shots of when it's going the fastest often don't look as good as at slower speeds. At high speeds, the body tends to stay level instead of going up and down. Crossed-up/articulated axles look good. If you've got a mud truck, we'll need some mud! If you don't have a big mud pit, use a small mud pit and zoom in close. The idea is to visually make the most of what you have.

When needed, using your flash during the day can help to lighten shadows.
"Fill flash" is the camera-nerd term for this.
That about does it. If you need any more info, please contact Kevin Blumer at kevin.blumer@primedia.com.

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