Just in from two weeks on Route 66 teaching workshops….both trips were fantastic. Years ago I did an assignment for Nikon on this stretch of road, and I remember thinking…is it really that interesting? What am I going to shoot? Wow, I never imagined how amazing the travel photography was with so many stories and interesting people on this stretch of road. Neon, cowboys, 72 ounce steaks, old cars and more Americana than you can imagine. As expected, everyone on our trips last week had a fantastic time, and they were amazed at all the ‘mother road’ offers.
On our Route 66 West workshop (Albuquerque to Winslow) we stay at many famous hotels, but the most iconic (I think) on this section is the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ. The rooms are tepees. Yes, that’s right, you get to spend the night in a tepee! And every tepee has vintage old cars parked near it, so the photography is over the top. The classic shot is the front of the hotel with the green neon sign above the cars photographed at twilight.
But ever since staying in the Wigwam my first time, I wanted to do something different. There were a few old cars near the tepees that were classic, but they had no light on them. I envisioned an image were I brought the cars back to life at sunset, surrounded by the tepees in the background. A few days ago on our workshop this image became a reality, and everyone in our group got the shot.
The biggest technical challenge was how to light the cars. I knew speedlights would be great since I could tuck them in different places in and around the car. But just how many speedlights did I need? To play it safe, I brought 15 speedlights. Thankfully, I only needed 13 flashes for the image!
Here is how the image was created. First, I knew one important principle I had to follow. I wasn’t just going to illuminate the cars by blasting a bunch of light at them…no character or drama this way. Instead of illuminating the cars, I was going to light these vintage classics. I started with two speedlights under each car…these lights were gelled with deep blue. Next, I added two speedlights in each of the cabs…gelled orange. Then I put a green gelled light between the cars aimed at the side of the more distant car. Next, I added two red gelled flashes aimed at the corners of the car front grills (more pink on the left car). These lights were set at low power to add just a splash of color to the car and silver chrome. Then I decided to give a wheel well a purple punch with another gelled speedlight. And finally I shot a light blue gel at the front of the more distant car to add some pop to the front chrome. 13 speed lights to light the shot…not illuminate it. All flashes were in manual mode and set at various power settings to get the correct exposure. To fire all the lights at once, each flash was connected to a Pocket Wizard transmitter.
It took about two hours to get everything set up. I really like looking at a scene and visualizing how the light will play out. What angle of coverage, what color palate, what the ambient light will be doing. Of course you never really know if it works until you hit the shutter. One click of the shutter and the scene popped to life with colored lights, all blended nicely with the setting sun and iconic tepees. This was one shot that was worth the wait.
We had so much fun on this Route 66 workshop we are doing it again in 2024. I am already imagining an image lighting the cars the same way, but adding an individual light to each distant tepee. That means 18 speelights next time…I can hardly wait!!