The Photographer’s Car

OK, here’s a post about a vital piece of professional photographic equipment that’s very often overlooked – the Professional Photographer’s Car!  I’m sure I’m not the only professional who has spent quite a bit of time selecting the right vehicle, and then a little more time (and money) to get it functioning in a way that makes my professional career easier.

My 3 main considerations for choosing a car for work are:

  1. A boot big enough to take a lot of stuff, so I’m not always having to put the seats down and have stuff on display.
  2. A car small enough that I can drive around, and park in, central London without too much hassle.
  3. Decent fuel economy, as I do a lot of long distance mileage.

Now, the answer to the first point would often work against the other 2 – it would be very easy to go out and buy an Estate car but it would almost certainly be more thirsty than I would want, and it would be difficult to park and manoeuvre round London.  After a few experiments over the years I think I’ve found the solution.  Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Laurence:

Car
Laurence, or Laurence II to be more precise. Named after the actor Laurence Fox (check initials on licence plate…) not Lawrence of Arabia – that would be weird.

I’m on my second one of these cars, a Peugeot 3008, and I’m blissfully happy with it – an enormous boot, pretty compact and pleasant to drive, and it averages more than 50 miles per gallon.  Sorted.

Now, with that big problem out of the way, we can start looking at what extra bits I carry and how I make use of the storage space to do shoots, and make my job easier

Boot

First off, the main course – filling the boot with gear.  In this shot you can see a typical load for an average job (although there’s no such thing as an average job in my opinion!)  All of this fits in the boot with room to spare.

Car Boot
A boot full of gear. Wherever possible use an assistant to load and unload it….

None of this is rocket science, but obviously put big heavy stuff in first, and on the bottom so it doesn’t crush anything more fragile, and leave vital stuff like the camera bag to hand near the front so it can be grabbed quickly.  I’m probably able to get away with just using the boot about 75% of the time, and only have to put seats down, or lay stuff across the back when I’m carrying backgrounds and the like.

Staying in the boot, there are a few bits and pieces that I’ve added that come in handy.  First off there’s an army issue poncho on the floor of the boot.  This is one of the most versatile pieces of kit I own, it’s been used as a groundsheet, it protects the boot of the car from the daily impact of all the kit, I’ve sheltered kit and people under it many times, and I’ve even slept under it on a handful of occasions when doing shoots with the armed forces.

Car Boot
The boot. Clockwise from top left – the poncho, compressor etc in storage and on display, first aid kit etc, and the poncho being employed by lazy people on a shoot for Nokia a few years ago.

In the side pockets are a plug-in compressor to pump up the tyres, some cinch straps for securing stuff to the roof racks, and a multi battery charger, and on the opposite side a first aid kit, can of de-icer, and bin bags for emergency waterproofing and keeping things neat and tidy on location.

Back Seats

In one passenger door I keep a smock – an old, very battered windproof warm pullover, and in the other door is a lightweight waterproof.  Of course, if I’m heading out on a location shoot I take the right gear, but once in a while I get caught out by the weather, plus I’ve lent them to less prepared people on many occasions!  Beneath the front seats are two storage bins, the left hand one contains a silver foil space blanket, a change of socks and boxer shorts (in a waterproof bag), and a microfibre towel.  The right hand one holds a fire extinguisher.  It’s not a legal requirement to carry one, but I’ve been caught out once in need of one, though thankfully no-one was hurt!

Car Doors
Smock, waterproof, spare clothes etc, fire extinguisher.

Front Seats

In the “cab” I keep a copy of all important documents (driving licence, insurance etc) a notebook, some pens, spare fuses and so on in the glove compartment.  In the huge centre console, besides my ipod (absolutely essential) there is a pouch full of cables and chargers for various gear, an old satnav that doesn’t get used much anymore, 2 bottles of water, 2 cans of energy drink, and several cereal bars.  This console is chilled when the air con’s on, and it’s a godsend in midsummer!

Compartments
Glove compartment, pouch of cables, and centre console.

In Use

Now obviously, I don’t end up using all this gear on every shoot, but sometimes I’m able to work right out of the back of the car and employ it as a base of operations.  Generally this happens when it’s lashing down with rain, and there’s nowhere else to go!  Although I’ve no pictures of it in use, I’ve actually made a “car condom” in the past, by taking a roll of clear plastic, and wrapping it around the open doors of the boot to create extra shelter, as well as rigging the poncho out to make a temporary roof.  When working in the wet, one of the most useful habits I’ve developed is to have strict wet and dry areas within the car – once your hands are wet, and your gear is wet, it can very easily spread everywhere.  If you keep a certain area dry, and make liberal use of towels etc, you should limit this effect somewhat, and keep your precious gear, and your sanity intact!

In Action
Shooting promotional images for the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest at Battersea Power Station. Dean Macey is seen here sheltering from the weather, and stealing the food I keep in the centre console. Also note plastic bags over the flashes, and everything being recruited to keep gear dry!

I appreciate lots of what I’ve suggested is common sense, and in some cases not very photography specific, but I’ve found that if I extend the same level of planning and care to my car as I do my other equipment it makes for a much easier life on location!

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