Classic Cars on Black-and-White Film


(first posted 6/23/2015)    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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.