Ian Spanier: Photographing Car Collector Christian Mejia with Chevy Classics Impala & Corvair

Pictured: Ian Spanier completes a light test prior to his photo shoot with Car Enthusiast Christian Mejia;   Image: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

Pictured: Ian Spanier completes a light test prior to his photo shoot with Car Enthusiast Christian Mejia; Image: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

By: @ianspanier

While on a recent assignment for The Wall Street Journal, I met Christian Mejia, a Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based car collector and restorer. He was being featured for his great collection of 1960s Chevrolet Corvair Monza cars. The assignment involved making portraits of Mejia with one of his cars; and of the car being driven on the backroads of the Santa Monica Mountains.

I'm not a car photographer, nor a 'car guy' whatsoever. I've shot cars here and there, and I understand the challenges with reflections and angles when shooting cars. Even so, I love a challenge and often think that a fresh eye on a subject can lead to some great photography! 

Given that Mejia spends a good portion of his time in a garage working on cars, I thought that a portrait of him working on a car from the inside would be worthwhile. I thought that getting a camera inside the engine would be a challenge, but quickly found out that Corvairs are designed with rear-based engines in quite small spaces. I chose to focus on creating my shot in the engine of a 1961 Chevy Impala SS. 

Since all of Mejia's cars are collectors' items -- even though he loves to drive every one of them -- I had to be sure not to leave any footprint. Using my Platypod Max, I wanted to use a 28mm lens on my Canon Mark III, but even with the larger engine space, I had to go wider. I was a bit hesitant to use my fisheye lens as I don't always like the ultra-wide lens, but for this purpose, it was the best tool for the job. In order not to scratch the filter cover, I used my Platypod silicone pad under my Platypod Max. This move would also help prevent slippage had the car been bumped in the tightly packed garage. I used my CamRanger to remotely control the camera and stayed out of the frame. 

Lighting Proved Tricky

Lighting Christian would prove tricky with the extremely wide lens, and the hood, which worked a complete light block. I settled for a tiny piece of light in the corner, which I knew I could retouch out in the final image. I instructed Christian where to look, so that the key light would hit him nicely. The second light was raised high above the car to spread light around the garage, similar to the skylight above. Thanks to Lightroom, clicking the Lens Correction box eliminates the bending that a 15mm lens has, so that I was able to maintain my style more. 

Just as I was packing up, I thought a cool shot could be done with the rear-engine Corvair. Since trying to fit the camera inside and see the engine wouldn't work, I thought that putting a light inside the car and shooting from the outside might work. Christian showed me one of his race Corvairs that was being repaired; it had a great look and a decent amount of room with the lighter frame. 

Image: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

Image: Ian Spanier Photography 2018

Now, it would have been a lot easier to use a Speedflash or even a Profoto D2 as a light, but all I had with me was my Profoto B1 heads. I decided to go for it regardless. Using the handy Platypod adjustable Velcro strap, I added the 3" spigot adaptor and mounted the Platypod Max to part of the car's frame. Bearing the weight of the rather large B1 head is no issue for Platypod Max, and the strong strap adds the right amount of added support to keep the B1 in place. Due to the light spill, I added a reflector and cinefoil to block light and keep it off the back wall. You can see in the picture above that the light on Christian's face is actually bounced off the silver frame of the car.

When it comes to a tool that's worth the minimal space it takes in your kit, Max is versatile and as handy as a Swiss Army knife! 

IAN SPANIER is an award-winning, LA-based photographer. Check him out on Instagram and at ianspanier.com

Ajna Adams