Tuesday, November 5, 2013



Everyone's a photographer these days. Advances in iphone technology have made Selfies the new personal signature...

In the Zen zone. Dodging traffic on a city street. (Matt Springsteen photo)

Dodging race cars at the guardrail. These are the only known images of me working. You wouldn't know it from these shots, but I do use a tri-pod sometimes. (Ronnie Mankins photo)

I'm a hack. One of those loose cannons with just enough knowledge of any given topic to make an ass of myself. On the printed page, my voice turns authoritarian, just because no one would buy a magazine for a feature on breakthrough camshaft profiles if they knew it was written by the human equivalent of a ball bearing - impressively dense perhaps, but none too sharp. It's all part of the smoke and mirrors of the media.

Over the years, I've met people who assumed I held an English degree, carried a vast mechanical knowledge, and/or wore a black belt in photography. One reader even asked how many books I sold to buy my first home! All seemed surprised to learn that I'm a high school dropout with no idea of how to operate a camera (or a telephone, or anything else built since the industrial revolution). They were shocked to find that though my books sell pretty well, they still don't generate enough income to make the measly rent on my sublet 10' X 10' room in a downtown back alley. And imagine their stunned disappointment when I confessed to being a mechanical bottom feeder: My knowledge begins with 1950s wrecking yards and dead-ends abruptly at the dawn of the disco era. You can't judge an author by the picture on his book cover. I'm a hack. A fraud. A deceptor.

At least I know my limitations. When it comes to photography, I can compose a decent shot, but that's as far as my skills go. Luckily, I have access to professional help: Freelance photographers - hungry as myself and just as desperate for a break. Thank God for these angels of imagery. Without them, I'd have to learn descriptive writing. A picture really is worth a thousand words (to an editor doing payroll).

Master Photographer Rick Amado once became so frustrated with my ignorance, he e-mailed me his private photography tips, pulled from my camera bag and reproduced here for your betterment. Rick just wants everyone to enjoy the magic as much as he does. Click for larger image and download. Thanks, Rick! (Scotty shot)

So today we celebrate the photographers. They drive for thousands of miles to place themselves in the line of fire at godforsaken locales, in hopes of touching their personal golden ring and maybe receiving an Atta Boy for their trouble. Miniscule paychecks are token afterthoughts from publishers who build empires on this imagery. The automotive photographers I know of who make a profit from their work can be counted on one finger. Realistic photographers have mostly resigned themselves to obscurity and poverty, in trade for the opportunity to do what they were born to do. I can relate to that and completely respect it.


Most of last year was spent shooting engines and drivetrain components for a book project. With no working knowledge of how my camera operates, or the basics of how to deal with lighting, I relied on luck. The following is another example of why I don't believe in luck. Even while shooting under controlled conditions, my ignorance held me back from what might have been. Out in the field, I was definitely struggling. Some nice images were ultimately recorded, but I also got a lot of these...

This early Caddy overhead V-8 (in an Allard) was shot on the fly at a daytime outdoor show. I consider it a "good" shot, for a hand-held image (the crowd was dense and I'm shooting around spectators here). Success Rating: Lucked Out (focused, nice light).

 A late night parking lot shot (I love this blown Packard) that could have been sharp and dynamic, had I known what I was doing. Success Rating: Waste of Time (unfocused, harsh light from streetlamp).

Amateur attempt at an artsy shot. I thought I nailed this '49 Caddy mill (in a '34 coupe), until I saw it on the monitor. Success Rating: Puke-on your-shoes Ugly (unfocused, noisy, and poorly lit by passing headlights).

Race tracks are the toughest places on earth to get a clean shot. Especially when you're crewing on the car, as I was here, at Champion Raceway. This is a standard snapshot, like you'd find in someone's family vacation photo album. Nothing unique here, except that I shot the dark side of the car! Success Rating: So-So (I'm okay with So-So - about half a step from "not bad").

A real photographer, like Paul Sadler, bribes his way onto an overhead crane to bag a properly lit image with a sanitary background. The only distraction here is the shadow at upper right, which can be cropped or Photoshopped out. Success Rating: Hammered It! A+. (Speaking of hammering, Doctor Lockjaw and I punched the louvers in that top.) (Paul Sadler photo)

I was the backup test monkey for the first two seasons that the 7-11 recreation competed (still in primer here). I don't recall who took this photo at Woodburn Drag Strip. It was a nice shot, before I "improved" it, one bored day. This image captures the final split second of high velocity serenity before all hell broke loose and the Safety Crew ultimately helped me hand-push the coupe out of a field. Success Rating: Ruining a real photographer's work is unforgivable. I don't deserve to own a camera. I'm gonna go live in a hole. (Unknown Photographer)


Kids, don't be like Stoopid Scotty! You don't even want to go down that road. To help you avoid the same sorry fate, we've brought in a well-versed professional to explain the proper approach to photography. And there's no need to feel intimidated, as the instructor is none other than your old pal, Motormouth Ray! That's right - the voice of east coast hot rodding belongs to a lifelong photographer. Ray even had a real professional photographer on the Motor Mouth Radio Hour last week, so he knows whereof he speaks. Hit it, Ray! (Kids: Print this out and keep it in your camera bag!)

I’m not going to get into the fine-thread nuts & bolts of taking better pictures here, because it would read like an optics dissertation. Instead, I’ll pass along information that everyone can use and put into service, kinda like the “Photography for Dummies” book would do. Like degreeing a cam or file-fitting piston rings, it can be read about, or watched on You Tube, but the best way to master the skills involved is to sit with someone who knows more than you do, then get out there and do it yourself.

Whether you’re taking pictures with a small format “point and shoot” camera, or wielding a full size DSLR rig, the basics are the same, and most of the tricks involved apply to using either type of hardware. I’ll make the assumption that you already have a camera and pretty much know how to use it…...

Some of the cameras in my house. (iPhone photo by Jenny Guarino)

Okay, so there you are - sitting in the garage, stroking and staring at your camera, and asking it, “Why can’t you give me images like I see in the magazines?” Since cameras can’t talk (yet - SG), you’ll be waiting quite a while for an answer, so I suggest you pick up the owner’s manual that came with your rig, visit the manufacturer's website, or better yet, take an Adult Education class at a local High School (remember the place where you cut all those classes?) .    

Any photo-gearhead worth his weight in megapixels will tell you that the first thing you need to do in order to get a good picture is to have good clean composition. That means NOT having a lot of clutter in the photo along with the subject, NOT allowing phone poles or other objects to be seen behind your subject, and to be mindful of lighting and reflections. One of my favorite tricks is to take a series of at least three pictures of a vehicle I’m interested in, starting with a wide shot ¾ view of the front, then I move to the rear of the car and do the same, and finally a close-up of a distinguishing feature. After that, I may take another five or six shots showing details, but those first three will usually get the point across.

When I began getting serious about taking better pictures in the 80’s, I noticed that a poster hanging on my wall showed one of the biggest no-no’s in car photography: There was a phone pole sticking up through the engine of the subject car! I swore then to start paying attention to composition in my pictures. 

Car shows and cruise nights present one of the biggest problems for taking good pictures, with so many people walking around - usually in and out of your frame! The trick here is to be patient, or come back when the smoke bomb you set off three isles over attracts the masses and leaves the ’29 Model A with the blown Ranger engine you’ve been drooling over sitting all alone.
Besides wandering people, harsh light is going to be the next problem you’ll face in outdoor photography. Believe it or not, using the flash is one way to counter the sun…..more on this trick later on.

Any modern camera offers a variety of settings to help you take a good picture. Light and shutter speed are the two you can control the easiest - shutter speed being how fast the camera’s shutter (that closes over the “film”) blinks when you push the button.        

So, about that owner’s manual we were looking for in the sock drawer... Once you’ve found it, you’ll want to see if your camera has any of a number of specialty “Scene” or other pre-set exposure settings. These settings select the variables needed for best picture with the given amount of light, and unlike the “average exposure” looked for in “Auto” mode, this is where the camera’s electronics can make you look like you really know what you’re doing!

Among those settings, you’ll find examples like this: Night Scene, Night Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candlelight, Sunset, Fireworks, Food, Documents, Pet and Portrait modes. Camera manufacturers use a variety of terminology, but the effects are the same and you’re going to love the outcome. There’s quite a lot of know-how that goes into these settings and your camera just paid for itself by giving you these shortcuts. Try this experiment: Go out to your garage and turn on the lights. Set your camera as you normally would (in Auto mode), and snap a picture of your toolbox. Now select the “Indoor” then the “Candlelight” scene modes and take the same picture. See a difference? The latter modes probably had the camera using a longer shutter speed, and at the very worst, your picture will be very blurry. This is the time to employ our friend, the tripod (No, not that freak of nature you saw in a movie when you were in the Navy, either!). If you got a blurry image, then you just learned why having enough light is so important, but the warmer tones of the second and third pictures are what I’m getting at here - with a different setting, you can change the mood of the scene measurably. This was only an experiment. I encourage you to do this in all sorts of situations where creativity can really pay off.   

We all know that light is what enables a camera to “see” the subject, and the amount of light can make or break a good image. Like the Three Bears, not enough light is called Underexposure, too much light is Overexposure, and somewhere in the middle is where it’s just right! We’ve always been taught to have a nice average light quality in our pictures, but there are times when a little darker or a little lighter image really makes a striking impression. Those "Scene" modes we talked about will adjust the camera for you, adjusting the amount of light, shutter speed, and the camera’s sensitivity to the light (also called ISO rating). 

My '65 GTO in well lit hibernation.

You may think that bright sunny days are the best times to take good pictures of cars, when in actuality, an overcast day is the best. The reason for this is that the cloud cover provides a natural filter for the sun that softens the glare and harshness your pictures would have without it. This is why the pros use large sheets held overhead to cover their subject, or they move inside where they have total control over the lighting. Advanced tip: Your camera has an exposure control (marked as EV) to allow more or less exposure of a given subject…read up on it.  

Most everyone uses the flash indoors, but what about using it outside? I’m a big fan of natural light pictures, but when you’re trying to shoot in bright sunlight and you want to capture a detail in an engine compartment or an interior that has shadow on it, you’re going to be grateful you learned how to use your flash to fill in the dark spots. “Fill Flash” isn’t available in all point-and-shoot camera’s, but if you select the option that makes it fire with every picture (then get a little closer to your intended target), you’ll see how using a flash outside can make a dark image passable. Learn to take many pictures of the same subject using different camera settings, since what you see on that small LCD screen isn’t how it looks once it’s on a monitor, or in print. Remember, digital film is real cheap, so shoot away!!

This example is a bit over-done, but you can easily see the difference with and without fill flash. 

Even a mediocre photographer can take better pictures by paying attention to composition and light, but if you’re seeing that you’re not at the level you want to be at with your pictures, look closely at how the pros do it and steal from them (not their cameras, just their ideas). Here’s a few tips that I think you’re going to like: Instead of standing in front of that ’57 Chevy and snapping the usual wide shot from your standing viewpoint, set the camera to its widest angle lens setting, then crouch down close to the car and use the headlight as your central point of focus. You’ll see the fender and grill flare out in front of you, and those beautiful body lines will jump at you like never before! Go around to the back of the car and once again, kneel down close and use the taillight as your central focus point and see what the quarter panel and deck lid look like….crazy, right? It’s all about making the camera do what you want it to do, and once you start playing around with angles and light, you’re going to be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Bonus assignment: Once your comfort level with your camera rises, I want you to try some night shots WITHOUT using the flash. Most cameras are sensitive enough in the “Night Landscape" or "Night Portrait” modes that with a small tripod, you can capture some killer images. Try this, park the car in an empty lot, turn on the parking and interior dome lights and walk about ten feet away from it. Shoot the angles you like, using the "Night" as well as the "Candlelight" modes. One note of caution here: You’ll have better results if you also set the camera’s timer to release the shutter for you, as camera shake is sure to ruin a low light image more than bad composition will.

This shot was set up in the street in front of my house by pro photographer Rob Tannenbaum, using diffused light boxes at three corners of the scene. (Congrats on finally getting your Fiat into the blog, Ray. I knew you'd eventually find a way to sneak it in. - SG)

This night shot illustrates the use of a camera setting other than "Auto", which would have triggered the flash and ruined the way the available light played off the trees. I dig how blue the sky came out, and this was shot as I was leaving work at 9:00 PM. To the naked eye, it wasn't that blue, but a slower shutter speed allowed the camera to "see" what was really there.

Go out there and experiment. What are you still doing here, anyway? Beat it! Feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like some constructive criticism, but be aware that I’ll tell it like it is and not sugar coat my answers. If I really like your pictures, I’ll share some of mine with you, because seeing someone else’s work is a good way to move forward with your own.

Ray Guarino

Whew... Thanks Ray! Lots of good info here. We'll need a while to digest this... But right now, we're late to a party!

When we celebrate something at SGE, we don't screw around. Cancel your appointments, hold all calls, and put your bail bondsman on speed-dial. It's Photography Fiesta time!

(Photos found online)

Some friends of SGE even submitted images as party favors:

A tip of the lens cap to our friends at Bangshift.com! (Photo courtesy of Bangshift)

Spike Kilmer's dog. Really. (Spike Kilmer shot)

Golden Boy freelancer Kleet Norris sent a self portrait and this intriguing light study. (Kleet Norris shots)

Top Fuel homeboy Don Ewald presents his image of Randy Walls' Funny Car inferno. (Don Ewald shot)

And Steve Reyes himself sends his best from Famoso's fire-up road! (Shot by Don Ewald)

Thank you, photographers of Earth, for mastering a science that reveals our true selves with unblinking honesty.




You may recall the brothers from Shedd, Oregon from their earlier appearance on this blog (see BANNED! THE LINDSAY BROS. ROADSTERS). The Lindsays (Bob and Jim) showed us the right way to build and enjoy correct appearing Altereds that can hold their own with modern competitors. Here's a quick refresher:

Since its last SGE appearance, Bob's Model A has been crowned the World's Fastest Y-block...

... and Jim's alky-injected Hemi T went into semi-retirement when he ran out of room for trophies on his rural acreage. (Scotty shots)

Well... Northwest rodding legend Marty Strode recently alerted me to his late start on Jim Lindsay's Modified Roadster contender, aimed at the 2014 Speed Week.

The frame is already coming together nicely on Marty's chassis jig: "We started laying down the (170" wheelbase) frame on 9-22-13. The engine, trans and rearend will be mounted on swing arm suspension. I did it that way because Roy Fjastad suggested it, and it will make it easy to swap in different powertrains." 

The rear-engine approach works well in the Modified Roadster class. Jim will enhance the flathead horsepower with a one humanpower boost under the "hood". There's no shame at all in employing a fiberglass body on the salt. Hey, is Jim holding a rare Imperial Speed iteration of a Chassis Research butterfly there?

Rear-mounted ballast comes in the form of this Dennis Murray-built flatty, which will soon sport a GMC 6-71 blower and fuel injection. Murray predicts 180+ speeds from the side-valve mill. Justin Brenneman at B&B Speed Shop will perform final assembly and tuning duties.

Nothin' but trouble. L-R: Justin Brenneman, Jim Lindsay, body/paint guy Aaron McClinton, and Marty Strode. If you know these characters, you know what to expect on the salt, which tends to bring out the mischievous, even in the most conservative of personalities. If you don't know these guys - well, you've been warned. Side note: Jim Lindsay's first book - a hot rod novel - will be released soon! Stay tuned for updates. (Photos courtesy of Marty Strode)

In an effort to stave off boredom in the shop, Marty has been building a new parts chaser. This '40 Ford pickup should keep him off the street for a while - until he turns the key. And '40s look great push-starting Modified Roadsters at Bonneville. (Photos courtesy of Marty Strode)

SIDE BAR: One more Forrest Gumpism: I lucked into a crewmember position on the Fry/Tardel Salt 'n' Peppers Nash (everyone calls it the Chili Pepper) when my friend George Carlson owned the car. I even got to make a pass in it. Our best runs with the blown alky flathead were in the 140 - 145 range . When George sold the Nash to Dennis Murray, Dennis waved his magic wrench over it and has been running 175s ever since. That's how good Dennis Murray is. Marty Strode proclaims, "Dennis is - in my opinion - one of the smartest, most accomplished people out there." Nuff said.




Motormouth Ray hit eBay again last week and found yet another gem being kicked out of Jesse James' bottomless garage. This item makes Jesse's previous offerings look downright pedestrian. Bonus: It fits on your coffee table!

This ultimate steampunk sculpture is a brand new Rotec R-2800 7-cylinder radial aircraft engine. It makes 110 horses at 3,600 RPM from 172 cubic inches and looks oh-so-cool doing it. God only knows what demented plan Jesse had for this contraption. On Halloween, bidding was at $7,600. You need this. I could see it in my brother's bubbletop Karman Ghia. And I'd like a matching pair for myself - one for each roller skate. (Photos courtesy of Motormouth Ray)

Or you could take a more sensible route, like this pragmatic approach. (Photo courtesy of Motorcycle USA.com)



Brothers fighting brothers in the Civil War. Automobiles running horses off the road. Ladies' hemlines above their ankles! The whole world seems to have gone slam out of its mind since last week's announcement of a majority vote to decide whether squirrels or toolboxes should inhabit SGE's coveted final feature spot. After an endless week of lobbying and campaigning, the votes poured in over the weekend and the Oregon Election Commission has worked non-stop for the last 72 hours to tally the final count. More proof that your vote matters.

The results have just been verified by CNN, who's early projections (based on random exit polling) have proven to be on target. The winner, by a landslide vote of 1-0 (submitted by our own Saint Shellski), is "Squirrels with Toolboxes". I'll do my best to find photos to fit that bill. Or maybe we'll move on to something else. Meanwhile, here's a couple of appropriate squirrels for this Special Issue...

Squirrels vs toolboxes, Canon vs Nikon, passion vs apathy. Where does it all end?