“I Love The Night”

A bleak background during the day can become much more enchanting when the light goes down, and nighttime sets in.

Nighttime photography has a distinctive feel all its own. There is sharper lighting, cleaner delineation between foreground and background, bold highlighting of your subject matter, and so much more. It can be like seeing a groundbreaking black and white noir film from the 1940s or early 50s, and then another movie in bright vivid color. Often the starkness of the black and white is just as impactful—if not more so—than the full-color film.

I’ve done a handful of nighttime exotic car shoots, and for some reason most of them feature Ferraris. Very rarely was any evening shoot pre-planned, and instead came about by serendipity. You are out driving a car all day, and may or may not have completed the shoot already when nighttime starts creeping in. If you are creative in how you view everything around you, including the car you have driven, an entirely new canvas can open up.

Completely Serendipitous

The Texas countryside changed when the light went down. This Ferrari 340 America is a one-off, and won 1951’s Mille Miglia. It was a brute to drive.

A great case study of this occurred a number of years ago in France while visiting a friend who has a world-class collection. I was doing a comparison test on a then-new F360 Modena Spyder with paddle shift transmission, and his 250 Spyder California, to see how far the open-air Ferrari equation had come, and how much it had changed over the previous four decades. At the end of the second day, we went to one of his favorite restaurants, a place on the outskirts of St. Tropez that was right on the beach.

There was a bit of a wait for a table, and as the sun went down and I’m looking at those two cars, the light from the restaurant and back patio melted out into the evening, which illuminated the sand of the beach. Far behind that, you could see the silhouette of hills that were dotted with street and house lights, which is about the time the inspiration bulb lit up in my head and we pulled the two cars into position.

After a long couple of days tearing up rural France comparing these two Ferraris, we found ourselves at this seaside setting for a meal.

Truly Magical

Patrons eating outside on the nearby patio were undoubtedly amused by what was transpiring, and let’s just say the whole scene was so magical that when I sat down to eat my friends were already on their second course. When a shoot comes together like that it’s magic so food can wait. After all, you want to make sure you have it on film—for that’s what was used back then. If I’m remembering correctly that shoot ended up on the cover of more than one magazine.

That same type of serendipity happened in Texas while testing the Mille Miglia winning 1951 Ferrari 340 America. This Michelotti designed and Vignale built Berlinetta was a one-off and a true beast to on the road. This Ferrari was built with a singular purpose: to go flat out over great distances for extended periods of time. It was the overall victor at that year’s MM and didn’t suffer fools gladly. All the controls were heavy and needed some good wrestling to get them to respond, but when you grabbed that car by the scruff of its neck and put the right amount of concentration and effort into it, that Ferrari was one invigorating drive.

An Impeccable Moment

An open garage door at night can lend a sense of mystery to a scene...

All of the road impressions and most of the shoot had been done by the end of the second day, and there we were in the Texas winter countryside, with some snow on the ground and the temperature dropping as evening set in. The light was changing rapidly so all of a sudden what was a fairly plain background got an entirely different look. The chase car was put in position, the high beams were aimed at the Ferrari, and a colored filter was used to accentuate the sky. Bingo! Shot nailed…

An entirely different experience and shoot happened while visiting a good friend in Beverly Hills during the holidays last year. We went out to dinner, and as we sat catching up on cars and life over a scrumptious meal he told me that a Pagani dealership had opened up in town. I suggested we take a look after dinner, and as we pulled up the neighborhood had a very different feel from what one saw during the day. There, in perfect lighting behind glass, were several Pagani Zondas and Huayras, and a number Ferraris, Bugattis and other very high-end exotics that had likely been taken in trade.

The several minutes there quickly became a much bigger idea, and my friend was quite patient as we went from exotic car dealership to exotic/high-end car dealership, me snapping photos only with my phone. That was an utterly intoxicating hour, and someday I will return to capture those same subjects with a proper camera, lens, and tripod…

A nocturnal shoot of an entirely different type started at this Pagani dealership in Beverly Hills. Seeing the cars so ideally lit with nary a person around soon led to an expedition of exotic car dealerships.


The Perfect Setting

Another multiple-car nocturnal shoot happened after photographing three Ferrari Daytona Spyders. This particular collector actually owned five of the 121 Spyders built, and also had a good number of pairs of modern Ferrari supercars—two 288 GTOs, two F50s, two Testarossas and much more. It was night when we returned to the building where most of the collection was housed and, after offloading the Daytonas and putting them away we did a quick but fabulous shoot of the collection, and the curator. One of my favorite shots is seen here, looking through the open door, the darkness of night only broken by that doorway, and the sole light to the left on the wall. All that is missing is Glenn Ford or Robert Mitchum wearing a proper pinstripe suit and fedora, and smoking a cigarette under that light to make it a true film noir setting.

A Bugatti Chiron certainly made for quite the unexpected sight at the Beverly Hills McLaren dealership.

One of the wildest nighttime shoots was putting a fabulously restored Ferrari 250LM in a building under construction. Doing the shoot during the day was out because shadows would have been everywhere, and that would have blanketed the car with dark streaks all over its curvaceous body. We thus waited until the evening, and put the car in the building and used construction lights for proper illumination. Making the whole thing even more fun was it was done on the sly, for the owner of the car and building was out of town. His brother had commissioned me to do a monograph on the collection as a surprise Christmas present…

The True Inspiration

It’s not often one sees a good number of Lamborghinis covered in evening dew.

So what was the inspiration to put these disparate shoots together? Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s one of the biggest rock bands was Blue Oyster Cult. A longtime favorite, several lines from one of their more popular and melodic songs were going through my head when I realize those words seem to encapsulate the magic of these images:

“I love the night.
The day is okay
And the sun can be fun
But I live to see
Those rays slip away…”

Most appropriately, that song’s name is “I Love the Night.” A passion which, in the way of automotive photography, can certainly work wonders from time to time!


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