Looking In From Outside – the Tortured Saga Of Car Interior Shots. Part One.


For all the concern we pay to the sleek outer looks of our cars – and the thousands of dollars we spend on the bigger body and the more powerful turbo supercharged flux capacitor…the interior is still where it’s at.

Or rather, it’s where we’re at. Nearly all the time we spend driving the car or riding it is done from the inside. Indeed there is a school of auto-philosophy that says that the modern car is such a cookie-cutter job – and the mechanics are all so uniformly successful – that we need never even glance at the shell of the thing. All our taste, aesthetic judgement, and physical good is wrapped up in how the seats feel and whether we can reach the drinks holder and the electric window tab quickly. The design of the windows may mean that we literally never see the exterior of the car while we are inside-  it could be fuzzy purple for all we know.

Not an inaccurate assessment – I can barely see the metallic green of my Suzuki Swift when seated and driving unless I lean around a lot and look into the rear-view mirrors. It is almost like the situation of the American cars of the late 50’s where you need a repeater or flag at the end of the fender to gain orientation for parking or reversing. Perhaps we should concentrate more on the interiors…

I have always sought to do this in illustrating the cars I see at the various shows I attend – if I feature a special car in a post I will nearly always have a shot of the front seat and dash in it. Every hot rodder or custom builder has a basic structure to work on but the artistry that goes on top of this is of infinite variety. Likewise the stock styles – they change with the years and with the country of origin but they are all interesting – in some cases mysterious as well.

At a car show or museum – and certainly out on the street – there is an unwritten rule for photographers: do not enter into the car unbidden. The exterior is there for all to see and if the builder does not want it seen they are free to keep it home locked in the garage. But once it is out on public show, it is only on visual show – not to be handled. Keep off is good manners.

Okay – if the owner decides to leave one or more of the front windows rolled down the thing is fairly easy. If the windows are rolled up it becomes harder. If they are tinted windows or have accumulated a layer of grime it becomes even more difficult.

The electronic flash is generally the answer – that and a wide-angle lens. If you can project light into the interior and if the lens sees enough of it you can get a good illustration. Today’s cameras and flashes can be configured to work in harmony to achieve this – it is called TTL – and you may never realise just how difficult a thing is to do.

But there are pitfalls – we’ll cover them in the second part. Stayed tuned.

Heading Image: That’s a fine ’39 but you’d never know it from this terrible picture I took. Fingers, grass, and the flash all feature more than the interior of the Chevy.

Final picture: Better. A Willys coupe that you can definitely see. Count the gauges.




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