Using Extension Tubes to Photograph Auto Details

This article discusses using extension tubes to photograph auto details, and shares a range of sample images. I recently went to the annual PoultryFest event in Smithville Ontario. It features an antique and custom car show, which is a great place to capture some images of automotive details.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 48mm, efov 129.6mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-800, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

I’ve always found doing some close-up photography of antique and custom cars to be an enjoyable experience. It allows me to see details, like the metal air filter grill in the image above, that I would not normally even notice.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 57mm, efov 154mm, f/8, 1/640, ISO-800, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

Some things, like the weld on a radiator, can become a bit of a guessing game with friends.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 49mm, efov 132.3mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-400, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

As you can imagine, the owners of the display cars take a lot of pride in their creations, going to great lengths to keep their vehicles in tip top shape. Close-up photographs made possible by using extension tubes reveal how hard it can be to keep show vehicles clean!

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 53mm, efov 143mm, f/5.6, 1/200, ISO-1600, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

I love to find small, mechanical details to photograph with extension tubes. The care and attention to details demonstrated by owners of show vehicles can be quite extraordinary.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 62mm, efov 167.4mm, f/7.1, 1/2500, ISO-1600, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

The lighting on the various vehicles on display can vary tremendously, and on occasion I can become so focused on photographing small details, that I sometimes forget to check my camera settings.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 86mm, efov 232.2.6mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-400, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

I always look for interesting light and reflections on the many chromed parts that are often used on the show cars.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 86mm, efov 232.2mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO-800, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

Quite often a particular highlight is only noticeable from a very specific angle. This often necessitates reaching inside an engine cavity with my camera, while making sure not to touch any exterior surface of the show vehicle.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 40mm, efov 108mm, f/7.1, 1/50, ISO-800, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

Metal braided hoses can often make wonderful photographic subjects. I love the intricacy of the metal weaving. While I always prefer to present my images as 100% captures, this type of subject matter can call for some cropping from time to time.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 83mm, efov 224.1mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-800, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

Circular shapes such as filler caps, can make great close-up photography subjects. When composing such images, I look for lighting that helps to highlight the main subject, and other elements that can add a feeling of depth to my images.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 46mm, efov 124.2mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-400, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

Finding dark backgrounds can help create high contrast close-up images. In these cases I often use shadow and black sliders in post to further darken the background.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 90mm, efov 243mm, f/9, 1/40, ISO-400, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

I always use Aperture priority with single point auto-focus and a dedicated ISO when doing close-up photography with my Nikon 1 gear.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 40mm, efov 108mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-400, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

As you can see in the above two photographs, close-up images of steering wheels can make for some interesting captures.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 1100m, efov 297mm, f/7.1, 1/125, ISO-800, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

Due to all of the chromed components and other reflective surfaces found on show cars it can be extremely difficult to avoid capturing yourself in some of your images. As long as these instances are not too distracting I don’t bother trying to remove them in post.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 64mm, efov 172.8mm, f/9, 1/400, ISO-400, 21mm MOVO extension tube used.

In situations where the image has a lot of details, I will typically choose a single focus point that draws the viewer’s eye. In the image above it was the thread of the bolt.

The next time you are planning to go to a display of automobiles, you may want to consider taking some extension tubes or a macro lens with you. You may see the display vehicles in a completely different way than you have in the past!

Technical Note:
All images in this article were captured hand-held in available light, using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All photographs used in this article were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro 11, CS6, and the Nik Collection.

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6 thoughts on “Using Extension Tubes to Photograph Auto Details”

  1. Hi Tom,

    Great you pointed me here as I have not visited your personal site for sometime as I’ve been shuttling to and from Mindanao for work. Love the images! That’s the thing with macro work — the details are intriguing in themselves that taken in isolation can become another thing altogether in a guessing game with the viewer. One day soon, I’ll follow your lead and get some extension tubes to do more macro work.

    Regards,

    Oggie R

  2. Great idea, Tom. Most auto shows are so crowded and cramped, it is hard to get any meaningful pics of the entries. I’ll certainly be giving this a shot next time I attend one.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the article Marty! It is great fun to capture these kinds of images and this approach certainly can provide a different perspective when viewing vehicles.
      Tom

  3. You found some interesting forms and textures by getting in real close! I like to look close at rusting metal objects.

    By the way, did you get any strange looks from any of the vehicle owners while you were getting in so close?

    1. Hi Joni,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the images!

      When at these types of events it is always a good idea to ask for permission from the car owners before capturing any images. Many of the owners were intrigued with me being in so close while capturing images. I always show owners some of the photographs I create of their vehicles. The vast majority tell me that they haven’t seen their vehicles captured using this style of photography.

      Tom

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