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Technical


October 2015

Changing gear: moving up to the EOS 5DS

In the fast-paced, high-octane world of automotive photography, you might be surprised to learn that changing opinions takes time. Despite this, top car photographer Dom Romney tells CPN writer Mark Alexander that Canon’s new 5DS is beginning to turn heads...

Capturing the sleek design and aggressive posture of the latest sports cars or 4x4 calls for a special kind of photography. Complete with dramatic light, low angles and plenty of telephoto compression, automotive photography is a niche area that demands precision and artistic flare during high-pressure, big-budget shoots in exotic locations.

© Dom Romney
© Dom Romney

Vauxhall Adam in the studio. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens at 90mm; the exposure was 3.2secs at f/11, ISO 100.

For many, it seems like the perfect job, which it could well be if it weren’t for onerous clients, entrenched views and the vagaries of location shoots in harsh deserts and remote mountain ranges. Working with premier brands such as Range Rover, Jaguar and Rolls Royce, Dom Romney has shown he has the skills to cope with everything automotive photography has to throw at him. Learning his craft in the pit-lane where he would borrow his dad’s camera while he was busy drag racing, Romney fell in love with photography, first applying it in newspapers and then to cars.

“I really enjoy the challenge because it is quite technical,” says the 25-year-old. “It is technically-led rather than being in the right place at the right time.” Capturing the exhilaration of the ride as well as the latest curves and contours is certainly technical. With a full gamut of reflective surfaces to contend with, Romney often opts for 20ft x 20ft reflectors combined with hot lights and polariser filters to light the subject and minimise reflections. But there’s more to shooting a car than just large reflective surfaces and selective lighting.

“The metal work – the shape and lines of the car – has to be clean and really well defined. The paint, especially if it is metallic, has to have that ‘ping’ to it, and it has to have a sense of energy - of being,” he says. “It is very difficult to do that because you’re dealing with an inanimate object but you have to give it some life and a bit of personality. Rather than shooting a car in front of a background, you need the car to interact with its location.”

The EOS advantage

A shoot in Saudi Arabia earlier this year took the intrepid photographer seven hours off road to a barren wasteland where the lunar-esque setting was used as the perfect backdrop to convey the extreme conditions in which a certain 4x4 range excels. More recently and closer to his base in London, Romney got his hands on the 50.6-megapixel EOS 5DS to test its performance against the industry standard medium-format cameras. The results were as dramatic as his Arabian adventure, although he had initial doubts.

“I was a little concerned because it seemed as if we were entering a megapixel race where quality could be sacrificed for pixel density. I was interested to see how Canon got round that issue,” he says. “I was also looking forward to having a camera that I could use for big, billboard-size ad images but with the ruggedness, user interface and lens options you get with the Canon brand. I was quite excited.”

© Dom Romney
© Dom Romney

Behind the scenes in the studio with the Volvo V40. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 17mm; the exposure was 2 seconds at f/13, ISO 100.

To test out the latest full-frame EOS 5DS, Romney ordered a Volvo V40 and booked a studio in Park Lane, London. The controlled environment would be the ideal place to familiarise himself with the new camera. Straight out of the box, the EOS 5DS made an impression. “I’ve only ever used EOS-1D series cameras,” he admits. “The EOS 5DS was the first camera I have held that feels like a 1D, which is the feeling I want. I like the big chunky grip because there is plenty to grab hold off when it’s damp.”

With little in the way of moisture to contend with indoors, Romney says the EOS 5DS produced “impressive” studio results, but says he was keen to take it out on the road. A small country lane on the western border of the Brecon Beacons National Park, outside the village of Trap in Wales provided the ideal spot. “This is where a lot of magazine work takes place,” he says knowingly.

Armed with the same set of Canon lenses, Romney says the EOS 5DS made a faultless transition from studio to outdoors. “In the field, it is exactly what you would expect from a Canon. It’s versatile and you’re not fretting about the rain. It is flawless,” he says. “I wasn’t worried about taking it into a situation where it was going to be worked hard and abused by the weather. It’s reassuring to have a camera that feels like it is going to make it through. If you’re seven hours from the nearest town, you want a camera that will allow you to get the job done, and then get the hell out of Dodge...”

Changing formats

Romney’s obvious relief is borne out of numerous shoots tarnished by the frustration of using temperamental medium format cameras. “The image quality is incredible, but the user interface and the way you work with them is so far behind anything Canon produces; it’s frustrating. They feel like they’ve been built to be used in a studio where it is air conditioned and protected. Advertising photography has moved on a long way from being studio based.”

He continues: “The medium format camera I used crashed every hour. We pulled the batteries out, pulled out the laptop because you have to shoot tethered and then put it back together and tried again. We shot a lot of panoramas so quite often we’d get half way through a panorama and it would crash and we’d have to start again. If you’re in a situation when you are chasing light, it can get stressful.”

© Dom Romney
© Dom Romney

On location with Land Rover. You can see here the size of the reflectors needed to help light a vehicle.

Back in the 35mm body, the high-performance Dual DIGIC 6 processors in the EOS 5DS keep things ticking over nicely. They also produce files that Romney says are comparable with medium format images, begging the question; why stick with medium format?

“Clients are used to medium format being the status quo,” Romney says plainly. “If it was my choice, I would have no hesitation in using an EOS 5DS because it is more than good enough. The concern is when I am shooting for a client, they will have reservations because they don’t understand how close the 5DS is to medium format. They just see a 35mm body rather than a ludicrously expensive medium format system they pay a small fortune to rent for a couple of days.”

He continues: “It is a bizarre world where these people spend between £150,000 and £750,000 on a photoshoot and are happy to spend even more on a medium format camera rather than on a system that is best suited to the task. At the end of the day, they are the people that pay the bills, so if they want to use medium format cameras, we will struggle on with a medium format system. But for me, there is no reason to use it, especially as the EOS 5DS is more than capable of knocking it out the ballpark.”

Romney’s first outing with the EOS 5DS has justified his long-standing policy of packing his Canon kit as an insurance policy, but now he has a camera that can withstand the weather and deliver billboard-size images. His relief is palpable.

“Whenever, I shoot medium format, I never leave home without my Canon bag because I know when everything goes wrong and it’s raining sideways for five days and you are on a six-day shoot, I can drag out my Canon camera and lenses and carry on shooting,” he says simply. “Now, if we can’t use the medium format system, we can use the EOS 5DS and it will give the client the image they need and there won’t be any compromises.”

KITBAG

Don Romney’s equipment

Cameras:

  • EOS-1D X
  • EOS 5DS

Lenses:

  • EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
  • EF24mm f/1.4L II USM
  • EF50mm f/1.2L USM
  • EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
  • EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM
  • EF500mm f/4L IS II USM

Accessories:

  • 3x Speedlite 600EX-RT
  • 3x Speedlite 580EX II
  • Pocket Wizard remote triggers
  • Manfrotto tripods and clamps
  • Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT

Biography: Dom Romney

Dom Romney

UK-born Dom Romney discovered photography at the age of 10 and remembers fondly saving his pocket money to buy a roll of film to take pictures at motoring event he would attend with his family. Leaving school he completed an NVQ in Video Production before doing his NCTJ course in press photography at Sheffield University. In February 2009 he won the Renault MSA Young Motorsport Photographer of the Year Award and since then has gone on to win Gold in the FEP Young Photographer of the Year Awards. Dom was ranked in the top 4 under 25 year old photographers by the UK Picture Editors Guild in 2011 and was named Renault MSA Young Motorsport Photographer of the Year Award for a second time.



Showcase

A behind the scenes look at the complexities of lighting a car in a studio. A floating ceiling bounces light into the car roof and bonnet while black reflectors and ‘flock’ introduce shadows and contrast into highly reflective surfaces.