Photographing Automobile Engines

Maybe its because of my industrial marketing background, but I love photographing automobile engines. 

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/1250, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/1250, ISO-800

I find the intricate details of braided hoses draw my eye like a magnet…

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 29mm, efov 77mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 29mm, efov 77mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-160

As do chromed engine parts.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 50mm, efov 135mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 50mm, efov 135mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO-160

I love both the complexity and simplicity of mechanical components.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 60mm, efov 163mm, f/5.6, 1/80, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 60mm, efov 163mm, f/5.6, 1/80, ISO-160

Rather than photograph entire engines I much prefer finding specific areas or details on which to focus.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 24mm, efov 65mm, f/8, 1/40, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 24mm, efov 65mm, f/8, 1/40, ISO-800

The gentle sweep of the pair of braided hoses in the above image added flow as well as a sense of order.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 30mm, efov 81mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-800

I do my best to avoid having my reflection in images. I could have taken the two in the above image out in post, but left them in to demonstrate how easy it can be to inadvertently put yourself in a photograph.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 71mm, efov 190mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 71mm, efov 190mm, f/8, 1/1600, ISO-800

When possible I like to include corner exits to help create a feeling of balance and flow with an image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 15mm, efov 41mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 15mm, efov 41mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-160

I change my physical position constantly when photographing engines. Varying my vantage point can help to add drama or make a component look more imposing.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 56mm, efov 151mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 56mm, efov 151mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-800

It is often next to impossible to get everything in focus, so choosing a precise focusing point is critical. Using other elements that are slightly out-of-focus can help to frame the main subject.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-800

I love to find small details like springs and make them the main subject of an image. To me it accentuates how all of the component parts must function seamlessly together if the engine is to properly perform.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 41mm, efov 109mm, f/7.1, 1/125, ISO-1600
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 41mm, efov 109mm, f/7.1, 1/125, ISO-1600

Engines don’t have to be pristine to intrigue me. Showing some real-life oil and grime can add some realism.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-1600
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-1600

Bright colours always draw my attention. When coupled with a braided host, it is simply irresistible to me.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 19mm, efov 51mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO-1600
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 19mm, efov 51mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO-1600

Newer engines sometimes lack visual appeal to me, but add some custom details and its a different story.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-1600
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-1600

I love making a key gauge the ‘hero’ in an image, especially when there are lots of other metallic components in the frame.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 39mm, efov 104mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-1600
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 39mm, efov 104mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-1600

When shooting outdoors I prefer to shoot from the shaded side of an engine compartment so I can avoid harsh lighting. I don’t hesitate to crop part of a component if that will add some drama to an image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO-800

I specifically look for opportunities to capture images of fittings and small components.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/100, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/8, 1/100, ISO-800

When working with automobile engine RAW files in post I often use the black and white sliders more aggressively to help add some punch.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 83mm, efov 224mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 83mm, efov 224mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO-800

This is especially true when working with chrome or metallic main subjects.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 42mm, efov 114mm, f/8, 1/25, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 42mm, efov 114mm, f/8, 1/25, ISO-160

Sometimes a splash of colour in the midst of grey metal and chrome will catch my eye.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 41mm, efov 109mm, f/8, 1/100, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 41mm, efov 109mm, f/8, 1/100, ISO-160

I always look for opportunities to use the coloured reflection from the underside of the front hood of an automobile. The distinctly yellow cast on many of the components in this image were caused by a hood reflection.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO-800

Some images take some contortionist skills to capture. I had to reach as far as I could under the hood with one hand to capture the above image.  I tilted the rear screen on my camera to get approximate framing, then used a horizon adjustment in post to square it up better.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 17mm, efov 46mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 17mm, efov 46mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO-160

On rare occasions it feels like an image finds me. As I walked up to the engine compartment of one car the above photograph leaped out at me. I loved the curve of the hose, the colour of the engine compartment paint, and the simplicity of the image.

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3 thoughts on “Photographing Automobile Engines”

    1. Hi Vern,

      My V2s are still the workhorses of my video business and my ‘go to’ cameras for birds-in-flight and other action photography. I am enjoying the image quality from the 20.8MP BSI sensor in the J5.

      Another reason that I bought a couple of J5s was to prolong the life of my trio of V2s which are great revenue generating tools for me. I’d rather not wear them out taking photographs for articles that feature landscape, flower and street photography images.

      Tom

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