When the first-generation model of a Toyota Prius arrived in a crate from Japan, it took a team of nine to photograph it: five photographers, three object handlers and one conservator.
The team started with a photograph to illustrate the process of the car being taken out of its crate in the UK.
The day before the shoot, photographers Jennie Hills and Kevin Percival spent two hours finding the right spot and setting up the lights.
Mary Freeman, Photography Manager, initially proposed the idea of having racks on both sides of the crate, inspired by the warehouse scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But there was no space in the hangar that would work for this, so Kevin and Jennie improvised.
“On the right, you have this lovely line of classic cars,” Kevin explained, “so you have an automotive history along this side.”
To eliminate reflections in the mirror-like surface of the car, they had to light it as evenly possible. They placed two lights on the left and one on the right, facing the car at a 45-degree angle. A fourth light was placed inside the car.
From the exact same vantage point, they took a second shot where they lit the surroundings, putting some lights behind the racks and using another to light the older cars on the right side.
“Jennie loves this car,” Kevin said, pointing to the blue-grey Lotus. “It’s the same one that was used in a James Bond film.”
Jennie later used Photoshop to combine parts of two photographs to create what looks like a single shot—a technique known as ‘compositing’.
The next part of the shoot involved taking photographs of the car against a black backdrop to record this new addition to the collection in as much detail as possible.
Until work finishes on our new collection management facility at the National Collections Centre, there is no dedicated photographic studio space. Therefore object handlers Ian Wilkes, Helen Brett and Jonathan Hobbs used a forklift to move the car to an area of the hangar with more space for the photography team to work in.
“The final image is a composite of eight different shots,” Jennie said. “The lights had to be moved around to light different parts of the vehicle in sections. We could have done it in one shot if we had the equipment the car industry uses: huge light panels larger than a car.”
The team lit the side of the car, bonnet, headlights, roof, interior and wheels separately. Unsurprisingly the normal black velvet backdrop the team uses was too small to cover everything in the background behind the car, so it had to be moved along with the lights.
The car came wrapped in a very large, white translucent material, which Ian and John took off after opening the crate. Photographer Isidora Bojovic had the idea of using the material to diffuse the light coming from the three strobes lighting the side of the car.
Once the shoot was over, Jennie spent two days editing the photographs and creating the composite images.
To achieve the black floor in the final image, Jennie used a ‘pen’ tool in Photoshop to painstakingly trace around the outer edges of the car and replace the background with pure black.
Discover more about the Prius and other electric cars in the Science Museum Group Collection in this blog post.