I’m a native of Las Vegas, having lived here my entire life, and I have been a professional photographer here for over 25 years. With Formula One coming here soon we’re we’re about to be thrust onto the world stage of motorsports but many don’t realize the city is no stranger to car enthusiasts.
In addition to all of the exotics that seemingly grow on trees in this town, Las Vegas has a huge car culture for classic cars as well. On any given weekend through the spring, summer, and fall, you’ll see numerous Facebook groups announce different “Cars and Coffee” type events all over the valley, where car collectors polish up their cool cars and bring them out to show the public and, of course, talk about cars. Las Vegas is host to the annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend, where thousands of people come in their perfect poodle skirts and 50s bowling shirts to listen to live music, shop at vendors, and, of course, attend a classic car show.
“Viva” is a fun event I try and attend every year and the way I always find out when it’s coming is the bevy of casting calls I see in all the local photography and modeling groups of people wanting to get dressed in their classic retro clothes, go down to the event, and do photo shoots with the cars. The same thing happens with all of the Cars and Coffee events too. Lots of locals see it as an opportunity to get photos with the cars. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea but as someone who’s no stranger to high-end car shoots, I can tell you it really isn’t.
The issue isn’t the cars or even the models. I’ve seen some pretty amazing models at these events who obviously spent hours on their hair, picking just the right outfit, and making sure they know how to look cool with these cars, Daddy O! That isn’t the issue. The issue is that when you go out with a model to these car shows, you’re essentially shooting in a parking lot with dozens of other spectators walking right into your shoot. There are other background issues too. It’s so sad to see an amazing model posing with a stunningly beautiful vehicle of yesteryear right in front of a Home Depot where you can clearly see the Burger King sign in the distance. That kind of ruins any artistic effect you’re going for here. I’ve seen it a million times over the years too and it’s so sad to see people so much work in just to make really lousy photos.
Personally, I’ve always taken the approach that anything worth doing is worth doing well. So if you want to do a photo shoot with models and cars, there really is a better way to go about this. If there is anything I’ve learned about shooting with cars and models over the years is that there are two important facts about classic or exotic car owners:
Fact #1. These people LOVE to have photos taken of their cars and;
Fact #2. Most of these car enthusiasts don’t actually have good photos of their cars.
So this takes us to Plan B. Rather than use the car show as the background for your photo shoot, do the next best thing and ask if the car owner would be willing to move their vehicle out to a more open area of the lot and set up your shoot this way. It’s not ideal, and you still should be realizing that removing the Pawn Shop marquee in the background may be a job for some retouching in Photoshop as well as removing oil stains and parking lot lines, but at least you won’t have five people standing around with beers in the background looking at the car next to the one you’re shooting with. It’s not great, but it’s better.
Here’s my trick though. If you want to get some killer photos with a model and some cars, don’t even bring your camera to the car show. Seriously. Just leave it at home. Instead, bring a tablet computer with your portfolio on it. The best results I’ve gotten over the years have been to walk the show with your model, look at all the cars you’d like to shoot with, and then just strike up a conversation with the owner. Explain that you’re a photographer and you’d love to do a really cool shoot with their car.
In all my years of networking with car owners like this, the amount of times I’ve been turned down I can count on one hand. It almost never happens, and the better your photography work, the easier it will be to get to a “yes!”. Explain your vision for the shoot, the model can explain what he or she wants to wear, where you’d like to go shoot it, etc. It might even help if you sweeten the deal by offering them a free poster of their car they can hang in their garage. The cost to you will be a few bucks and they will love the fact that they can get a great keepsake of their cool car to hang on the wall. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Several things will usually happen when you do it this way. First, the car owner will most certainly say yes to providing their vehicle as a prop for your shoot. Second, they will tell you about all the other cars they own (Note: many of these classic or exotic car owners don’t just own one) or hook you up with someone who might have a vehicle better suited to your shoot. Using this networking method over the years, I’ve had car owners provide for me a:
1947 Army Jeep
1950 Fire Engine (complete with firefighter outfits)
1957 Chevy Bel Air
1977 Trans Am
1979 Rolls Royce
1972 De Tomaso Pantera
Plus an endless list of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Porsches, Jaguars, and various other incredible exotic cars.
Then there are the motorcycles I’ve been loaned for shoots ranging from Harley Davidson cruisers to high-performance sport bikes.
The list goes on and on, all because I wasn’t bashful and just talked with the car owners for a few minutes at a car show, pitched an idea for a shoot, set up a day and location, and got some amazing photos as a result.
To prove my point behind all of this, I decided to show a before-and-after of just what I’m talking about exclusively for PetaPixel.
Enter the beautiful model Leila Sas! Leila and I have worked together on a few projects and she was very gracious enough to want to work with me on this article for PetaPixel. Leila, having a closet full of incredible retro pinup outfits, attended a recent Cars and Coffee gathering in Las Vegas with me. There were dozens of cars ranging from old hot rods to modern-day street racers and everything in between. Leila came dressed to kill, so we definitely drew some attention that early Sunday morning. We found an interested party who allowed us to demonstrate my point and you can see the downside to shooting inside one of these car shows:
We later pulled one car out and did some shooting with that, but it required a lot of creativity and many hours in Photoshop to generate an image we were both happy with. Ultimately though, the photo in the lot really wasn’t that great to begin with because it just wasn’t the best time or place to do such a shoot, as is the case with almost all of these car shows.
Plan Something Better and You’ll Get Better Results
Networking with some other car owners, I did manage to meet a really nice car enthusiast, Brian Heminger. Brian is not only the owner of a gorgeous blue Lamborghini but also drives a stylish 2020 Shelby GT 350 Mustang. He and I have been talking about doing a shoot with his Mustang for a while, and I thought, what better opportunity than to do one for PetaPixel?! So, I hatched a plan and we put together a shoot. My idea was to utilize Leila for another shoot, this time making it look like a street race on the Las Vegas Strip. Shooting on Las Vegas Blvd. is pretty much impossible as it’s busy with traffic even in the wee hours of the morning. So my thought was to composite something.
Part 1: The Scene
Just prior to our car shoot, I went location scouting on the Las Vegas Strip looking for a more exotic backdrop for our two cool cars. It’s tough this time of year because most of Las Vegas Blvd. is under construction for the upcoming Formula 1 race we are hosting. I managed to find a suitable location and with my wife, Bethany, helping spot for oncoming traffic at 3 a.m. when traffic was light, I shot a variety of different photos at different angles and heights to do the composite of all the cars and our model, Leila.
Part 2: The Cars
We set up our shoot on a remote, dead-end road in Las Vegas on the outskirts of town. Brian brought a friend along, Rod O’Neal, owner of a stunningly green, 2021 Lamborghini Huracan EVO, pumping out over 1,000 horsepower! We heard these two coming to our location from miles away.
We shot a variety of photos over the course of the Golden Hour and into the evening. The result is something we all are pretty happy with. The new Generative Fill feature in Photoshop definitely helped with a few elements of the finished photo but our idea was to make it all look like a street race on the Strip.
It took a lot of planning but it was well worth it. Best of all, all of the resulting photos we got that night look better than anything we could have gotten in the parking lot in front of a taco stand or a home improvement store. Networking is key, and the more you can use these car meetups to set shoots up later, the better the results you’ll get!
About the author: Adam Sternberg has been a professional photographer and videographer in Las Vegas for over 25 years. He is the co-owner of CorporatePhotographers.com, one of the largest corporate photo and video companies in the city.