Photographing Classic Cars with Film

by | Nov 16, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

The Classic Car Club of America defines “classic” as a fine or distinctive automobile,  domestic or foreign, that was produced between 1925 and 1948.

The above definition of a classic car isn’t universal and some people refer to automobiles such as my (former)  1953 Packard Clipper as a “classic.” The Antique Automobile Club of America, for example, considers vehicles 25 years old or more to be a Classic. And recognizing the increasing interest in cars of later eras, the Vintage Motor Car Club of America instituted the “Chrome Glidden Tour” for cars that were built in the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. So while the definition of classic might vary, I like to think that the “fine or distinctive” aspect of classic cars also extends to the camera that’s used to photograph the cars featured in today’s post.

Because of the increased interest in film photography, my photography how-to blog has had an increasing number of posts about film cameras, the film itself and the labs that process (and many times) scan your film. If this is of interest, check out the previous links as well as use that blog’s search box—that magnifying glass icon—to search for “film photography.”

How I made this photo: I consider the (now discontinued) Zeiss Ikon SW 35mm camera to be a “classic” and its light weight and simplicity of design make it especially useful for the photographer who likes to use wide-angle image lenses that allow you to get close to a car during crowded outdoor shows while letting you fill up the frame and eliminate background distractions.The 90 degree angle-of-view of the Zeiss 21mm Biogon f/2.8 ZM lens let me keep two classic Jaguars i(above) n the same frame and in focus. The Mark V Convertible from the fifties in the foreground and an equally classic E-Type from the sixties in the background.

Exposure tips: When shooting slide film in the Zeiss Ikon SW 35mm set in Automatic mode, it’s a good idea to use the camera’s exposure compensation feature to slightly (one-third to two thirds stop) underexpose black cars or overexpose white cars. Otherwise the in-camera meter will try to make both kinds of cars a middle grey! When shooting negative film, especially color negative film, I like to slightly (about one-third stop) overexpose negative film by rotating the A on the camera’s shutter speed dial next to the desired adjustment that offers plus or minus two stops in one-third stop increments. For museums and collections that allow tripods, I’ll set the camera in manual mode and take an incident reading around the car using a hand-held meter to determine the exposure, whether it;s slide or negative film.

How I made this photo: During the 1950’s Isetta minicars were manufactured under license by BMW. This lovingly restored example is a classic in it’s own right. This photograph and all the others in this story, except as noted, are the full-frame 35mm film image. Using a optical finder that matches the 21mm lens is an important aid in composing your shots because these viewfinders show the area outside the image area allowing for more precise composition.


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