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Have you ever wondered how to shoot Pin-up photography? Wait no longer! David Perry is the guru for Hot Rod/Pinup photography. David brings to you everything about the garage gal pin-up model except for the smell of oil and perfume. David is all about pure culture—the grit and the sweat—not the glitzy clean part, there is no Hollywood here. He puts a unique spin on real-life objects and elements such as welding torches, jack stands, and tools, cigarettes, tattoos and of course, the hot rod and the pinup…only pure culture.

David shows how to use continuous cool light with a reflector in a three-light setup to create amazing, sexy results. Plus this lesson is the DEBUT OF VIDEO ON WEB PHOTO SCHOOL!!! You will love this lesson!

(Most images can be clicked for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  • David's Background

  • The Location

  • The Model
The Cars

  • The Lights

  • The Camera
The Music

  • The Action

  • Posing
  • Additional Shots

Equipment Used:


Web Photo School is pleased to present renowned hot rod pin-up photographer David Perry to the Pro Showcase!
Learn more about him and view his work on the Photoflex Pro Showcase.

Visit his personal website: www.davidperrystudio.com

David's Background
I was born in Denver, Colorado in 1959. When I was 10, my uncle gave me an 8mm movie camera and showed me how to make animated movies. I grew up in Arcadia, California in the 1970s, playing guitar in bands and absorbing nearby Hollywood culture. After studying photography at Art Center College of Design, I opened my first photo studio in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles in 1986. By 1991, I had begun documenting and romanticizing the emerging underground hot rod and pin-up culture in California.

My photographs have been exhibited, collected and published worldwide. Books include Hot Rod, Bordertown, Hot Rod Pin-ups I & II, Billy F Gibbons Rock + Roll Gearhead, and Hot Rod Kings. Clients include Apple, Polaris, Toyota, Custom Chrome, Corvette, Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, Auto Moto Wines and Comme des Garcons.

In This Lesson...
In this lesson, I explain how I create a "hot rod pin-up". I lit this session with three Photoflex StarLite QL heads with CoolStars (a 150w daylight balanced fluorescent light with a 450w output), three SilverDome nxt soft boxes, and a medium silver/gold reflector. I chose these lights because they work perfect for both stills and video. They're daylight balanced and mobile. These lights run cool, so it's a significant advantage over tungsten hot lights.

When shooting pinups, the main things to consider are location, model, car, camera, lighting, music, editing, and post digital.

The Video
Click on either links below to view the video that accompanies this lesson.

Low Resolution Video
[Recommended for slower internet connections.]

High Resolution Video
[Recommended for high-speed internet connections only.]

The Location
Most car guys love having their "baby" photographed. You can meet car guys at car shows, on the Internet, and at the racetrack. When I first started photographing hot rod culture in 1991, I would just go to races and meet the owners of the cars I really dug. Honestly, in all the time I’ve been photographing shops and hot rods, no one has declined being photographed.

It's important to keep in mind that as a photographer, you're in someone else's sacred place, where there's expensive perfect paint jobs on irreplaceable cars, and you need to be careful bringing in light stands and other photo gear. Shops can be dangerous, too, so keep sharp. Shops are also dirty, so bring wipes, towels, a Mexican blanket for your gear & one to lie on while shooting horizontally on your back. Consider the models comfort and safety!

The Model
Models can be found everywhere, so search out people that intrigue you and cast your own pin-ups to suit your taste. I prefer undiscovered gems with an authenticity to them. I don't look for any retro aspect to the models because I create my look using wardrobe, makeup and hair. And I like to use contemporary styles. The hot rod pinup is open to any interpretation, so it serves you to try and create something original. For this portrait, I used pinup model Amber Dawn. [figure 1]

Figure 1

Figure 2

The Cars
It's the cars that make these types of shoots different from your typical glamor shoots. You need to find the best, understand what makes them special, and use your environment to complete the look. I generally arrive and tell the owner not to sweep up. I add empties and garbage to add interesting elements to the photo. To me, this is what the hot rod culture is all about. The grime and dirt are part of the process, and I love that. [figure 2]

The Lights
Here's a good basic lighting setup: three lights in a triangle, positioned around the model. [figure 3]

Figure 3

Lighting is essential to the process for these types of shoots. Models need to be flattered and adored with soft glowing light. Shadows are tough on a gal, especially if the lighting and model are not perfect. I often use artificial lights, blended with ambient light.

I start with my three Starlites in a triangle setup. KEY light, FILL light and RIM/HAIR light.

The KEY light is placed by the camera and faces the model. I look at the nose shadow and make sure the light is slightly above the model’s head. You want to see a catch light in the model’s eyes, and for the nose shadow not to touch the lips. Also the key light intensity needs to be fairly even from head to toe. A model’s legs need to be lit, so sometimes a fill underneath helps.

Next, put a FILL light about one and a half times the distance from the model, not to overpower, but to compliment the KEY light.

The RIM/HAIR light can be a little tricky to position, as you don't want it to appear in the shot, yet you do want it behind the model in order to create a rim light. This light is often placed high and pointed down. I like to add colored gels to the FILL and RIM lights to create more mood to the scene. These gels will also cut the lights’ intensity a bit. [figure 4]

Figure 4


The Camera
As for cameras, I stopped using film about four years ago and haven't looked back since. I shoot with a Canon 20D with 2 lenses, a 14-70mm wide angle and a 24-90mm portrait lens. This keeps things simple. I usually shoot with a wide, down-low angle. If you shoot at a wide angle, you can create different results from the lens distortion. This session was shot with a focal length of 17mm, The exposure was around f/8 at 1/13th of a second, with an ISO setting of 400. Note that it's a good idea to use a tripod at these settings to avoid blurring.

The Music
Music should be present at your shoot if possible. Select music that sets a mood and that will keep the model and yourself inspired. Make sure that it's not so loud, though, that you have to shout as you give direction. Bring a boom box and make some mixes for your shoots. It works.

The Action
With the lights set up and the camera settings locked in, I was able to have Amber begin posing and try different looks for the results. Her wardrobe was a mix of vintage pinup and modern sensibility. After a few test shots and a slight tweak in the position of the lights, we got some nice results. Don’t be afraid to make subtle changes in the lighting. Move a light to the left, raise one higher or lower. It’s all an experiment. [figure 5]

Figure 5


For variety, I had Amber pose with some props here wasn’t a pretty, sugar-sweet result. Instead, I wanted it to be a little gritty. [figures 6 and 7]

Figure 6


Figure 7


Additional Shots
I typically ask the model to bring a number of outfits so that we can create different looks. Sometimes the one outfit that you think will look amazing doesn’t, so back-ups are necessary. Plus, if the model is building her portfolio, the more the merrier. Here’s a few additional looks. [figure 8]

Figure 8

Next, I moved the setup to a different car. I still used the three-point or triangle light setup -- two on the camera-side of the car, and one behind to help light up the interior of the car. This is a classic pinup look, posing in the car. [figures 9 and 10]

Figure 9


Figure 10


Figure 11


Okay, so when everything is in the can -- er, I mean on the disc -- you can pack up and get back to your cave, ready to edit. I personally believe you're only as good as your worst shot, so be ruthless when editing. THE shot will let itself be known to you. And just because you can shoot 10,000 snaps, that doesn't mean you need to share all of them.

As for digital imaging, I use Photoshop, and that's where the final magic happens. I go for skin tone first, then saturate the wardrobe, eyes, lips, shoes and a bit of the flesh, and then finally de-saturate the background. I keep pieces of color and texture of the car as well. Don't go overboard, though. I prefer skin texture over the airbrushed look.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this inside look at hot rod pinup photography. As you can see, it doesn't need to be overly complicated. Just remember to experiment and have fun!

Roddin' Regards, David Perry


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