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Why Muscle Car Engines Photograph So Well

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

So when does a cars' engine bay turn into something beautiful...? Kind of a trick question right, since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there's a reason that at every car show you'll ever go to the hoods are always up. There's a fundamental, more human reason, as to why that is. The muscle car side of our brains - and yes that is a scientifically proven place in the motor-cortex* - is wired to recognize speed, power, and torque.

When I walk a car show I'm not just looking at cars and taking pictures - that's boring. I look at what people notice about these cars, and the majority of eyes go right for the engine. I start to see people, young and old, go into a hypnotic phase where you can see them either going back in time to a car they used to own or thinking about a car they dream about one day parking in their garage.

When you look at an engine bay that has so much detail behind it it's difficult not to spend as much time staring at it to burn that image into your brain. I've seen hundreds of different ways to "dress up" a radiator hose. From custom chrome piping to ribbed hose covers - and they have all been beautiful. The same goes for valve covers, pulley's, distributors, gauges.....the list is endless.

The fun parts is when the camera comes out to photograph them. It really is a storytelling moment when the shutter button is pressed. So what do you know to focus on? You can just point your camera and snap off a few pictures and walk away, that's the easy way. That approach doesn't really capture the soul of the engine bay. What I do is always talk with the owner - get a better understanding of what was going on during the build - what important little details were put there and why.

Take for example this wonderful Camaro engine bay - The 396 motor has so much detail, color, and love. Talking with the owner you start to appreciate the time and effort that goes into this, and the thought process behind it. What I wanted to focus on what the details in the chrome, make sure to capture and enhance every little detail.

Chevy Camaro SS 396 Engine - Original

What better way to do that with this motor than a black and white (sepia based) image. Using the dodge/burn effect the smaller details can be highlighted better and expanded. For example the CHEVROLET wording on the valve cover, the alternator and belt, and the radiator hose just to name a few. I took the engine and made it even bigger than what the original image had - then blurred out the background. When printed out (2ft x 3ft) the effect is amazing, the engine looks like it's floating.

At the end of the day you're capturing someone's countless hours of work - late nights, long weekends, and early mornings. What I try to portray in my engine bay images is just that - so when we do look at these images we can really see just how much work goes into making these engine bays great to win them Best Of Show for that week.


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