Classic Cars on Black-and-White Film

01

Every year, I go to the Mecum Spring Classic car auction in Indianapolis to photograph the cars. I always take my digital camera and a pocketful of extra batteries; I take upwards of a thousand digital photos there every year. But I usually take a film camera along too, loaded with black-and-white film. This year, I used my camera to move in close and study styling details. Iconic details, like this tail light on a 1963 Ford Galaxie.

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And the tail lights on this 1970 Chevy Camaro. Chevy’s round tail lights were always the height of cool, whether on a Camaro or a Malibu or an Impala.

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I also have a thing for headlights. Their design is clean and pleasing on this 1965 Porsche 356C.

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And who doesn’t love the delightful, delicate binnacle on this 1956 Continental?

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Pontiac’s front-end treatment on its 1967 full-sizers took a different tack, dropping the then de rigueur round lenses into dramatic, sculpted pockets.

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And for 1939, Ford placed its headlights in an upside-down teardrop shape.

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Staying with that ’39 Ford for a minute, the prow promises V8 power.

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But that Ford V8 badge whispers where this V8 badge from a 1955 Plymouth boasts at top volume.

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I’m pretty sure I snapped this Forward Look badge on the flank of that same 1955 Plymouth. What a great design.

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Badging remains a favorite subject for my camera lens. I make a cameo appearance in this photo of a 1960 Pontiac Catalina.

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Bold serifed letters in the hub of this 1966 Ford Mustang say that this car means business.

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Sometimes I step back a little bit to take in more of a car, without capturing it all. I wanted to study the lines of this 1963 Corvette from this angle.

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Right next to it was this 1966 (I think) Corvette, with its one-piece backlight. I’m partial to the split window for looks, but I’m sure that if I drove one of these I’d prefer this car for its better rear visibility.

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The light played deliciously off this 1960 Rambler’s snout, and my camera captured it beautifully.

Pentax_ME

Here’s the camera I used to shoot all of these photos: my circa-1977 Pentax ME. I used a 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax lens with Kodak T-Max 400 film – a fast lens with fast film because I was shooting primarily inside in available light, and needed all the light-gathering ability I could get. The pictured f/2 lens is a couple stops slower — that is, it lets in less light — and would have made some of these shots a lot harder, if not impossible, to get.

People sometimes ask me how to get started in film photography, and I always tell them to pick up a 1970s Pentax SLR body and a 50mm SMC Pentax lens on eBay. You can pick up a kit like that for well under $100; well under $50 if you are patient. They’re unsung bargains – try pricing classic Nikon film SLRs and you’ll see what I mean. And the Pentax lenses are first rate.