Behind the scenes of Aarons NHRA portrait shoot

At the beginning of January I made my first flight of the year up to Indianapolis to shoot portraits of the 2012 Aarons NHRA drivers.

The two NHRA drivers for Aarons in 2012 are Antron Brown in top fuel and Matt Hagan in his funny car. The two drivers are both teammates at Don Schumacher Racing so the location for the shoot would take place in the DSR shop in Brownsburg, IN.

During my flight to Indianapolis we would fly right past the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I always try and carry a camera onboard with me just for situations like this.

In the first pic, below, you can see the Speedway at the bottom and up in the top left of the shot you can see downtown Indianapolis.

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1000th, Manual

As luck would have it the plane would bank again and give me an even closer angle as we prepared to land. That pic looks like I was actually in the air to shoot aerials of the track. I love dumb luck!

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f4, 1/1000th, Aperture Priority

Day One:

The first objective of the shoot was to shoot some car shots where Aarons graphic designers could easily cut the car out of the shot for use in advertising. While it was reassuring to know I didn’t have to worry about the backgrounds as much, I still wanted the shots to look cool outta the camera.

Shooting something as big as a car requires a good lighting tech. Luckily I was referred to a local photographer named Matt Bowen, who would be on hand to help make my shoot go smoothly.

Below is a view of what the setup looked without the strobes firing.

Photo by Matt Bowen

By turning on the strobes on the white wall but none on the car I was able to produce the below silhouette shot of Matt Hagans Aarons funny car.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f6.3, 1/250th, Manual

With all the strobes on this was the look of the shots, below.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 400iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

With all the lights off except a soft box held directly over the car this is what the shot looked like…

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 200iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

The next day we would have to shoot drivers with their cars so we tested our lighting setup with a person in it. I am not afraid to be in front of the camera so I pretended to be Hagan (below) so we could get the setup ready for the drivers.

Photo by Matt Bowen

After finishing up the car shots with the funny car it was time to shoot the much longer and harder to shoot dragster.

Going into the shoot I thought it would be impossible to light a 25 ft car with just a few lights but its amazing how little light you need when the room you’re shooting in is nearly all white with plenty of bounce lighting going on. Below, Matt makes an adjustment on the main light.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 400iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

Below, a rear three quarter view of the Aarons dragster driven by Antron Brown.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 320iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

With all the car shooting occurring on Sunday while the shop was closed it was up to us to get the cars moved around for the various angles I needed to shoot. I got a nice trial by fire on how to operate a top fuel dolly for moving the nose of the car around. Without that dolly it would be like the scene in Austin Powers where he tries to do a u-turn in the golf cart in the hallway

Photo by Matt Bowen

At the end of day one I would put the two cars close together and fire off a couple overall shots with both cars.

Nikon D3S, 12-24mm, 320iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

Nikon D3S, 12-24mm, 250iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

Day Two:

Day two would begin bright and early with Antron Brown in the house.

The day two objective was to get a few shots of each driver with their car followed by shots of them on a white backdrop for use in life sized cardboard stand ups.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

Shooting Antron is always easy… and more importantly fun. Fun photos are easy to come by with Antron, below.

Nikon D3S, 24-700mm, 100iso, f8, 1/250th, Manual

After some of the standard lit shots of Antron, we switched up the light set up to do some artsy shots.

In the below photo of the setup it looks like a normal shot but with the lights powered up and my exposure turned down it would produce some cooler looking shots.

Photo by Matt Bowen

Here are a few examples of the moody dark shots…

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f9, 1/250th, Manual

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 100iso, f11, 1/250th, Manual

In the corner of the shop we set up a small full length studio to accomplish the main objective of the shoot…

First up was Antron solo for some shots.

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

After all of Antrons solo shots we brought Hagan in for some group shots, below.

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

At one point we did a few shots of the two drivers face to face. It looked like a fight was about to break out so I jumped in the middle to prevent bruises on my two models…

Photo by Matt Bowen

Below is one of my favorite shots of the shoot as in the middle of shooting Antron turned to the sized and let out a big yawn as Hagan looked on.

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

Below, Matt bends down for a shot to allow Antron to be the tall one.

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

After finishing up the group shots it was time to shoot Matt Hagan by himself, below.

Photo by Matt Bowen

The 2011 funny car champion smiles for the camera, below.

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

Here is a wide photo of the corner of the shop where we did the portrait stuff, below.

Nikon D3S, 12-24mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/250th, Manual

The last objective of the shoot was to get some shots of Hagan with his car.

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f14, 1/250th, Manual

I ended up shooting several poses with Matt and his car…

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

Nikon D3S, 24-70mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/250th, Manual

That wraps up the shoot.

Prior to landing home in Phoenix I was able to get the below photo of downtown Phoenix (bottom left) with mountainous terrain all around.

Nikon D3S, 70-200mm, 250iso, f3.5, 1/3200th, Aperture Priority

That wraps up my first travel shoot of what will surely be a busy 2012!

I have a Facebook page devoted my photography where I routinely share my favorite photos from each shoot as well as favorite photos from the past. Click the below banner to check it out. Be sure to “like” the page so you can be kept up to date on all the events I am doing!

2 Responses to “Behind the scenes of Aarons NHRA portrait shoot”

  1. Jimmy Jones says:


    Great stuff as always. It’s nice to see how you work during these shoots. As someone that is trying to reach your level, I appreciate you sharing this with everyone. Not all photogs are as open as you are!

    Jimmy Jones
    Bryant, AR

  2. [...] Continue reading and see more photos of the portrait shoot on Mark’s blog. [...]

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