Rolf Nachbar: How Can I Capture a Perfect Ferrari Red?
Sep 2012 11

What a request for a photo production: “Mr. Nachbar, can you photograph four historic Ferraris for us, for illustration in a big format calendar?”

My heart as an advertising photographer and aficionado of historic cars took a leap after the first sentence already.

The extent of the production and the requirements towards my team and me were defined quickly and clearly: We had to stage four unique Ferraris, manufactured between 1952 and 1970, on location, that should yield a nice twelve-image series for a picture calendar.

As a shoot location we could work with an industrial hangar from the 60s and the private park of the collector and owner of the cars. In order to keep the insurance and production cost under control, we had these unique vehicles, with a value of several million Euros, plus service staff, at our disposal for two days.

When it comes to planning a production like that we try to minimize fortuities and aim for best possible production certainty.

Camera Equipment

Obvious, everything that fits, highest resolution, best possible color depth, as well as a Hasselblad H4D-200Ms with 50 million pixels in single-shot and an incredible 200 million pixels in multi-shot. Also in our bags: brand new polarization filters, nano coated by BW, to control the reflections on the car bodies. A bad filter can easily cancel out the best camera system, so always play it safe there as well.


The simple rule: big location, big light! Regulars for us there are our big Fresnel flash spots by Hensel with up to 8,000 Joule of flash capacity. They prevail even against bright light on a location and provide the strongest color saturation.

Computer and Software

Our MacBook Pros would be close to their limits due to the enormous amount of data from the H4D-200MS, the size of a RAW file is close to one gigabyte after all, so 1,000MB. Since power would always be nearby anywhere on location, we decided for a 27” iMac i7 with 16 Gigs of RAM and a 256GB SSD for Photoshop, Lightroom and Hasselblad Phocus for tethered shooting.

Control and Calibration Tools

No question, the comprehensive package from Datacolor. Spyder4, Cube and CheckR have had their dedicated places in my photo bags from the start. My favorite tool for camera optimization, SpyderLENSCAL, unfortunately makes no sense for the medium format systems, since front and back focus can not be calibrated.

A few days later, after a survey of the vehicles and the location, our fully packed VW Multivan took off early in the morning.

800kg of equipment and a team of four were heading towards Nuremberg for the first day of production. Everything, almost everything can be planned in a good photo production, except for the weather, unfortunately. Cloudy skies and rain were awaiting us on location. Without further ado we changed our plans and went for the shoot in the old industrial hangar first. First on the list was a Ferrari 212 12 cylinder Spyer with a 2 liter engine – a dream in red, there are only three vehicles of this type left in the world. I decided for a low-key image in a dirty corner of the hangar to establish a workshop character in the image. The lighting situation was difficult: mixed light from the flash lights inside and the constantly changing exterior light coming in through the windows from the by then raging storm outside.

In order to homogenize the reflection on the Ferrari’s side, we built a 2.5 by 7 meter large reflector out of wooden slats and white background paper, set up a Fresnel spot with 6.000 Joule capacity as the main light and minimized incidental day light using a short exposure time of 1/400 of a second. Thanks to the Hasselblad’s central shutter, x-sync times of up to 1/800 of a second are possible.

Composition and light were right, contrast and color not yet. Of course it would not have been possible to take an original coating sample from the enormously expensive vintage car back to the studio for color matching. So what to do?

Our team’s workflow here is real simple. While I take care of camera, perspective and lights, an assistant calibrates the shoot computer after transport using a Spyder4 – that way I can be sure to see what my camera captures on the set – of course only within the boundaries of what the screen can display.

Just before finalizing the lighting, when all parameters of the upcoming shot are set, we take a shot on the set with SpyderCHECKR and the SpyderCUBE installed on top of it.
Using the SpyderCUBE, within the shoot software – we were controlling the camera through FireWire from the computer – we set the gray balance and the dynamic range for perfect use of the histogram and brightness gradation.

Afterwards we made sure of a perfect color distribution using SpyderCHECKR. Perfect for me there as a Hasselblad user is Datacolor’s new support for Hasselblad’s shoot and RAW software “Phocus”. With just a few clicks and within seconds, perfect color and contrast settings for the entire session were found.

These are also still comprehensible and editable later on in post production, so nothing is left to chance. The old Ferrari’s distinguished red would be reflected in our images the way we experienced it.

Next up we had a highlight of automobile manufacturing from the 60s in front of our Hasselblad: a Ferrari 250 Lusso Coupe in absolutely pristine condition. We decided to light this star using a real stage light.

The spacious industrial hanger needed to hazily disappear into the darkness of the background, while the Lusso would be standing under the stage light, shining. While the setup was conceivably easy, it was also labor-intensive. Two assistants were taking the leading light, again a Fresnel spot, to about 4.5 meters height, while the other two assistants were positioning our large reflector wall in a 45° angle behind the vehicle in order to compose the reflections on the side. Using polarization filters, the reflections in the windshield and on the giant hood were eliminated. The longer we were working on the lighting, the more the Ferrari began smiling at us – we could not resist it any longer, but had to restrain ourselves, and once again use SpyderCHECKR and SpyderCUBE for this new setup to achieve an optimal result.

At the end of our first day of production we had, not at last due to our controlled workflow, eight motifs with two cars safely stored away.

Hungry, exhausted but happy we left the set and were looking forward to day two and the exterior shots.

Under a sunny sky and in 30 degrees celsius we were heading to the park with two more stars. A yellow Ferrari 250 LWB convertible and a red Dino from 1970 wanted to be staged. Difficult mixed light, composed of flash lights and daylight, were awaiting us outside as well. But the SpyderCHECKR and SpyderCUBE duo guided us well and with color reliability through this exhausting day too, so that we ended production with more motifs then planned for.

My conclusion after this production: Next to creativity and a motivated team, Datacolor’s optimization tools are a life insurance for professional output. They minimize negative surprises, provide time-saving and improve the final outcome significantly.

Picture Credits:

Final Photos: Rolf Nachbar, Reichenberg near Würzburg, Germany

Behind the Scenes Photos: Klaus Bjarner Pedersen, Gaffa Media, Rotkreuz, Switzerland

Video about this production is available from Gaffa Media

At its core, photography is of course about visual communication. There is probably no one who would agree more readily with this viewpoint than Rolf Nachbar, who sees himself first and foremost not as a photographer, but as a messenger of visual communication.