Shooting Classic Cars with Classic Cameras

Story by Sarah Young • Photography by Douglas Ogden

Douglas Ogden believes that vintage cars should be photographed with vintage cameras. In his search for timeless images, he has been visiting California events with his analog gear in tow. Where most photographers have embraced the latest digital gadgets, Doug makes do with equipment that was cutting-edge decades ago—back when carburetors reigned over air and fuel, and when light beamed through lenses and burned images into celluloid. He shared some of his images with us, along with a few of the thousand words behind each one.

Behind the Viewfinder

Classic Motorsports: Where did the idea come from to shoot vintage cars with vintage cameras?

Douglas Ogden: Like many camera users these days, I was a point-and-click kid—until my good friend John Brown gave me a 1950s Kodak Brownie Hawkeye to play with. The experience was mind-bending: only 12 shots, no delete function or auto focus—not even a reminder to wind the film, for that matter—and the viewfinder image is backwards to boot. Needless to say, it has been downhill from there.

CMS: How would you describe the look your photos achieve?

DO: My ultimate goal is an ageless image: 1958? 2012? The biggest thing I find with black-and-white film is the degree of “true black” in the image. When converting a digital color image to black and white, it seems to result in endless tones of gray.

CMS: Why not just fake it with Photoshop?

DO: Frankly, I’m too lazy. Like many, I live in front of the computer screen. I shoot to relax; my effort and concentration go into the creation of the image. With 12 shots per roll, I try to make every one count.

CMS: What equipment are you using?

DO: Mainly I shoot a 1957 Rolleiflex 2.8F K7D. I also carry the aforementioned Brownie Hawkeye, a 1936 Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta folding camera, and recently I was given a 1940s 4x5-format Crown Graphic. The Crown Graphic is a completely different ball of wax, as you compose your image upside down and backwards! The image is seen uncorrected through the lens on the viewscreen at the back of the camera.

CMS: How hard is it to find and process this film these days?

DO: Film is easy enough to find online. As for development, luckily within about a 30-minute drive I have two shops that can develop oddball-format film.

CMS: What are your future plans?

DO: Getting my ’49 MG back on the road so I can drive it to and from events. My next camera goal is to acquire a camera with a vertical focal plane shutter. This will allow me to recreate the images in the style of Jacques Henri Lartigue and the really early automotive photographers. When shooting a moving subject, the vertical-plane shutter will create a “speed lean” effect due to the shutter traveling from the bottom of the image to the top. Basically, as the subject travels across the film, the camera is capturing the subject at different moments in time: The lower part of the vehicle is captured first, but since the subject is moving, the upper portion of the vehicle is captured fractions of a second later and in a physically different location on the film.

Next, I want to hop on a plane to jolly ol’ England and photograph the pre-WWI race car guys going toe to toe. In the meantime, I’ll be heading to events to get in more practice and take pictures of great events and wonderful old cars.

CMS: What resources do you recommend for readers interested in learning about vintage photography and taking their own photos?

DO: Well, I learned through trial by fire and by picking up period literature on how to use the equipment. Used book stores always have old camera books. Most of my gear has been found via craigslist and local camera stores, mainly as I like to touch things before I buy them. 

YouTube.com is very useful, as there are many vintage camera users who have uploaded videos showing everything from how to reroll film to how to load and shoot various cameras.

Go to the local camera shop, even though digital is pervasive. Most likely there will be someone there who will talk film and help out (and there may even be a secret stash of old film stuff there!). But if that is not an option, for a start from complete scratch, I would use Flickr.com and start searching for vintage camera threads. This way there is a visual sense of what the camera looks like and what that piece of equipment can accomplish. Then begin to search the Internet for that camera. 

Really the biggest part to understand is the currently available film formats. There are some super-neat cameras out there that film is just not available for.

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Comments
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wspohn
wspohn Dork
2/17/20 10:26 a.m.

I was a film photographer both on land and under water for decades before digital came about but I would never go back again. The freedom that being able to shoot as much as you want to try and get exactly the right shot, without incurring pretty hefty processing bills is worth it alone.

dougie
dougie Reader
3/9/20 11:12 p.m.
wspohn said:

I was a film photographer both on land and under water for decades before digital came about but I would never go back again. The freedom that being able to shoot as much as you want to try and get exactly the right shot, without incurring pretty hefty processing bills is worth it alone.

Shooting with film is like living a classic car. If you enjoy that new car smell, stay with your digital......

wspohn
wspohn Dork
3/10/20 11:07 a.m.

I grant you that being able to shoot unlimited shots with zero cost often makes one a sloppy photographer that just crops digitally when a quick shot doesn't properly frame an image, but that isn't necessarily so. I still take just as much time setting up a shot and do a fair bit of work using a tripod or monopod.

And for those fast shots (cars, wildlife etc.) the image stabilization available on some new digital cameras is a definite advantage.

sir_mike
sir_mike New Reader
3/12/20 9:53 a.m.

  While I only shoot color film I still use my 1974 vintage Yashica 35mm.So old it has screw mount lenses.Get a lot of comments when people see me using it.I'm to old to switch...

MadScientistMatt
MadScientistMatt PowerDork
3/12/20 12:36 p.m.

I have Cannon SLRs in both film and digital format, and I don't see myself going back to the film SLR. The experience there is not all that different from digital other than the limited number of pictures one can take. For that matter, none of the film cameras I've owned really seem like they'd be something I'd want to go back to; they have either been SLRs with similar levels of equipment to a modern DSLR, or cheap point and shoot models. But if I could see myself getting interested in a high end camera design that was old enough to be significantly different in both the experience of using it and how the pictures turned out. The vertical plane focal shutter, for example.

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