© James Haefner
Client: Road & Track
Contributing Art Director: Todd Kraemer
In the over 30 years that James Haefner has been photographing automobiles, he’s rarely encountered the level of secrecy and security surrounding the 2014 C7 Corvette Stingray. Road & Track tapped the photographer to shoot the vehicle for its February/March issue, and General Motors took every precaution when delivering the Corvette to his Troy, Michigan, studio—including sending two security officers and erecting barriers in the approximately foot-and-a-half gap between the end of the car carrier and the studio’s garage.
Haefner was tasked with photographing the car at various angles for an article, as well as shooting the Corvette inside the actual car carrier for the cover. Haefner says Road & Track’s Editor-in-Chief Larry Webster and Art Director Matt Tierney came up with the idea for the unique cover shot because “they felt that the first look at the car should be the same as when we first saw it—which was as it is, on the truck.”
Logistics: Contributing Art Director Todd Kraemer, who is based in the Detroit area, worked with Haefner on the shoot. For the cover shot, the car carrier was backed up to the studio’s garage door. “We advised General Motors that the first shot was going to be the cover image taken while the vehicle was still on the car carrier and to make sure that the car was loaded with the nose pointed out,” he explains. GM also cleaned out the inside of the car carrier, which Haefner says “was unfortunate,” since a grungy trailer would have been more “realistic and authentic.” As a result of the extra step, the car was two hours late, adding more stress to Haefner’s already “ambitious shot list” of 12 to 13 images that needed to be done in the one-day shoot.
Lighting: Though Haefner has a studio equipped with all manner of lighting, including hot lights, Kino Flos and unique 32-foot-long strip lights, the type of lighting equipment he could use for the cover image was limited because “basically you’re shooting something in a box,” he says.
“My normal workflow is to decide the best approach to defining the shape of the car,” Haefner explains. He ended up using two Mole-Richardson 2,000 Watt Solarspots to cross light the front of the vehicle. The two focusing spotlights were positioned 20 feet away, on either side of the camera, which was on a Cambo studio stand.
However, Haefner says, “Just front lighting the car didn’t create much shape.” So after getting the captures he needed, he turned those lights off and placed a Mole-Richardson 1,000 Watt Solarspot behind the car, pointed toward the carrier’s white ceiling. The ceiling then bounced light onto the hood of the car “and acted somewhat like a muslin flat,” adding definition in the curves of the hood, he explains.
He planned to blend the front-lit and back-lit shots during post. “We aren’t trying to get the car lit in one capture, which is very time consuming,” Haefner says.
Camera: A Mamiya 645 AFD-II camera with a Phase One P45+ back and Mamiya Sekor Zoom AF 55-110mm F4.5 lens (at 105mm) was used for the shoot. Haefner had the camera on a stand, and notes that one of the most important steps in shooting separate plates of the same object for a composited image is making sure the “camera doesn’t move so that all these captures line up pixel for pixel.”
Post-Production: The first capture of the crosslit front of the vehicle and the second capture of the car lit from the rear were merged in post-production.
Haefner handled the post-production work himself. “My normal workflow is to path out the car and many of the components on the car so that I can separate the sheet metal from everything else. Once this is done I can work on shading and color, etc. to bring out the car’s design,” he says.
Despite the precautions taken during the shoot, the Road & Track cover was posted on the website Jalopnik two days before GM announced the 2014 C7 Corvette Stringray at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “There was a leak somewhere, but it wasn’t on our end though—thank god,” Haefner says, adding the images appear to be cell phone shots of the cover. “But by then GM was fairly confident that they’d done all they could,” to keep the highly anticipated car under wraps.
James Haefner Photo Gallery