CUtoday Automotive – Revered automotive photographer Mike Valente drops in for a ‘Cov Con’

By Sean Carson

13.59 – Finally, thanks to Mike Valente for coming in and sharing his thoughts and experiences on getting the perfect image.

13.57 – “Look for a different way to work and a different technique; set yourself aside from everybody else,” Valente’s advice to any aspiring photographer. Interested in all forms of photography and the equipment involved, Valente says he can’t go anywhere without having a camera on him.

13.55 – How to get a good picture on a miserable cloudy day? “Use the atmosphere” says Valente. “Try and keep the camera dry, but make it work for you. If it was bucketing it down we wouldn’t use a tracking shot as the spray would obliterate the cameras and the image. We’d modify it to a panning shot.”

13.52 – “At 300 dpi for a magazine, and by the time the printing has cocked it up for you, you can shoot at five megapixels” believes Valente.

13.50 – “Retouching is a different art” says Valente, and it seems it’s where the money is at with rates of up to £1000 per day for retouching. £350 per day shooting and maybe £100 per day for digital handling is the going rate for a car snapper though – a role Valente prefers to the high paid advertising stuff. “It’s a lot less restrictive and freer. You can bring your own style” says Valente.

13.47 – According to Valente’s experience, apparently it’s illegal to take a photograph in Paris without permission if you’re using a tripod. Bizarre.

13.44 – Valente takes as much equipment as he can carry on location as “the lens you want will either not be right on the shot or be back at the office.”

13.43 – “Lenses are the best thing you can spend money on.” A wide-angle and a long lens are Valente’s two best investments but he believes that any photographer shouldn’t skimp on expenditure when it comes to buying lenses. Camera bodies change but the lenses you can always use.

13.42 – Has Valente ever been asked to tweak an image against his will? “I was asked to combine an action shot into another shot they had for a front cover” reveals Mike – although the two cars weren’t in the same test.

13.39 – How much of a shot is done on the camera and how much is done in Photoshop? “I try to do everything in camera, but changing lenses a lot means the sensor in the camera gets dirty. I have to spot that out on photoshop” says Valente. “Sometimes you’ll want to tweak the colours if it’s a dull day, but you try and keep it as honest as possible. It becomes an illustration otherwise.” Valente is a true purist, no doubt. Mike also highlights that in a studio you might do more in post-production.

13.37 – “You need to know what lenses do and how they are applied to the job you’re using them for.” Vital advice for any aspiring photographer. How does Mike know which lens to use? “Doing it plenty of times and talking to other begrudging photographers” says Valente.

13.35 – Valente says his style is “low angle stuff and shooting lots of detail on long lenses.” Using a 300mm lens, he’ll get a soft background with a nice depth of feel. “I’m fascinated by long lenses and details” reveals Valente, “it’s just something you can get in a panning shot with a shorter lens.”

13.32 – How much of a brief does a super-snapper get? “If I’m working for a manufacturer I’ll get a standard range of shots to take, but I’ll be in control of that” says Valente. In something like an Aston Martin, Valente looks for interesting, fine details and features on the car to get a range of unique shots along with the dynamic action shots as before. “Digitally it’s a lot easier to do as you can see what you’re getting.”

13.30 – Valente on those ‘high-speed panning shots: “Although it’s only moving at about 15 mph, you want that element of blur in the background to give that sense of action.”

13.28 – “We’ll try and get a different coloured car and go to a different location in the region to make our shots look different to Autocar or other magazines.”

13.27 – “You have to go idiotically quickly to make a sportscar shot look rugged but controlled.” Hence the picture of a £200,000 Ferrari in the wall then…

13.26 – “Longer lenses are used to get the cornering shots,” highlights Valente. “You don’t want to be too close to the car, I stand about 200 yards away. Journos do tend to get the red mist and put the cars in the trees” says Mike. His advice: “never turn the traction control off in a Ferrari.” Wise words.

13.23 – “About 30 mph is ideal on a lens about 35mm” is how they shoot those fantastic shots that put the reader in the action. “Slow shutter speeds with a shorter lens give a lovely blur to create the motion” says Mike.

13.22 – Hanging out of a camera vehicle, something Valente terms “idiotic” is how they get the brilliant on-the-move action and tracking shots according to Mike. “Cameras have fallen out, but I’ve not fallen out – it’s worse if you’re doing it from a helicopter.” Rather him than me.

13.19 – A ‘big stick’ is Valente’s favourite tool at the motor shows – to beat people out of shot. “They’re frantic affairs and you only have a small amount of time to cover the floor space and get the work done.” Mike usually gets a shopping list for snaps generally consisting of concept cars and model changes. “It’s easier nowadays as you only have to take memory cards, they don’t take up as much space [as film].”

13.17 – What kit does a modern snapper use? “All 35mm D-SLRs” says Valente. “There’s no real need to shoot pictures for editorial on anything that is larger than a D-SLR.”

13.14 – With the process now digital, “you can always get the result” says Valente. Editing post-production when the shot is ‘in-the-can’ its easier to get the shot you want (compared to film). Mike always shoots his images ‘raw’ leaving any tweaks for the Photoshop.

13.12 – “Things look different through different lenses.” Different techniques give different photos. The key is finding those nice little details to focus upon.

13.09 – Location is key to getting a good shot believes Mike. But what makes a good location? “Usually desperation, but rugged landscapes work” reckons Valente. Something that is applicable to the car in question but when you only have the car for a short period of time, “you have to play it by ear.” Obtaining permission is all important though – “if you know in advance you’re going to get a car, you can plan a background to suit.”

13.07 – With Valente’s love for engineering detail, sympathy for the subject goes a long way to get a good shot. Little details such as nice screw heads and interesting wheel details are what turns Valente on.

13.05 – Haymarket publications was next for Mike, spending seven years at What Car? But what are the skills and abilities that make a good photographer? “A good eye” says Valente. “Seeing things in a different way to other people then capturing it with whatever apparatus you decide to use.”

13.02 – Valente worked in set design – it didn’t last long before he progressed on to a music magazine, shooting bands backstage and cover shoots in a mostly inebriated state. How did Mike cope with taking pictures of the music greats such as BB King? Massively nervous in the presence of greatness Mike said he just “stumbled through.”

13.01 – Mike Valente, superstar car snapper, opens the show talking about his early days in the media.

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1 Comment

Filed under CU Today Automotive, Live Blogs, News

One response to “CUtoday Automotive – Revered automotive photographer Mike Valente drops in for a ‘Cov Con’

  1. Pingback: Mike Valente Conversation « Ashleigh Berryman

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