The fog kept rolling in over the mountains along the Pacific Coast Highway, shrouding some of the spectacular scenery while adding an air of mystery to the surroundings.
Howard Koby and I were hunkered on a small hill beside the road, waiting for the glorious automobiles of the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance to appear before our camera lenses.
Soon, the road came alive with splendor and we got busy shooting, with the sweep of the Pacific Ocean as our backdrop.
His pictures of the tour are consistently magnificent, catching the action from a variety of vantage points along the way and telling the story in still frames.
I was there to learn how Howard puts it all together, his methods of choosing locations and his techniques for capturing the cars in perfect moments of time.
“I have certain locations I like to shoot at where I can get the ocean in the background,” Howard said as we drove south from Carmel. “And some of the beautiful cypress trees framing the photos.
“It’s my favorite event of the week.”
The Pebble Beach Tour is considered by many to be the best and most-accessible event during Monterey Car Week. Held on Thursday each year, the tour takes nearly every historic car to be shown at Sunday’s exclusive Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and puts them back on the road for a 75-mile drive to Big Sur and back.
The best part: It’s absolutely free to anyone who stakes out a piece of ground along the route and watches the cars roar, chug or purr past. These are the same cars that will be on static display at the Pebble Beach Concours, but they are seen in their natural element, being driven on the highway as they were meant to be.
“I always look forward to seeing the big old classics from the ‘30s,” Howard said. “They just look majestic on the Pacific Coast Highway. Some of the open-air ones, they look like the owner packed the whole family in there. A lot of them have on period clothes, and they look great. It makes a beautiful setting. A step back in time.
“The sports cars look great on the road, too, the Ferraris and the Porsches. The sound of the Ferraris zooming by – you can always hear them from a mile or two away. You can always tell a Ferrari sound. It has a certain musical note that’s different from all the others.”
After 20 or so cars went past, there was a break in the action, giving us the opportunity to scout out another vantage down the road. The typical coastal fog was not burning off, though, which meant that colors would be muted.
“The fog will dictate where I pull off the road,” he said. “Many years I’ve used the fog as an element in the photographs. It’s typical in Monterey to have fog in the morning.
“Getting the cypress trees in the background with the fog rolling is usually a very beautiful shot.”
As I ride shotgun, Howard talks aloud about how he’s searching for the best spots. One pro trick: Watch in the rear-view mirror for the best scenic backdrops, and then pull over and walk back to set up your photos.
“I look for pan shots and shots where they’re making curves, getting the ocean in the background,” he explained. “And we’re looking for locations without telephone poles in the background.”
Pan shots, he noted, are crucial when shooting an action event such as the tour.
“As a car sweeps by, you follow the car with the camera and shoot at somewhat of a slow shutter speed to blur out the background and get the wheels spinning,” Howard said. “It’s important to get the wheels spinning. If you shoot too fast, it’s going to freeze the wheels and the car’s going to look static.
“When you pan shoot, you have to shoot no faster than 250th of a second. Usually at 125, the wheels are spinning quite nicely.”
Since the fog hasn’t let up, Howard said he needs to make adjustments for the subdued lighting.
“It’s overcast gray so we’re going to bump the ASA up,” he said. “I’m going to bump it up to 640 so I can shoot high speed. This Nikon camera shoots up to 10 frames per second, so we’ll see what we can get.”
Oh yeah, Howard came well-equipped for this assignment. He calls his camera “the Big Gun.”
“It’s a Nikon V500 with a zoom lens of 28 to 300 zoom,” he noted. “So I have everything covered with this lens.”
Of course, most shooters will not have this level of professional equipment, including me. But Howard patiently explained as we stood along the road how to adjust my much-lesser camera for best results.
Like in real estate, however, the three most important things are location, location, location. At the end of the day, you want to have a wide variety of photos shot at different angles and backdrops.
“It’s nice to get a spot where there are four or five different angles,” Howard said. “You don’t want 40, 50 shots of different cars from the same angle.
“So this last spot we were at, we were able to do shots coming right at us, dead on with the cypress trees in the background. We were able to do some pan shots from high above looking at the ocean.
“The ocean’s not blue because it’s so overcast, but it’s still beautiful. If the mist had burned away, we would have had blue sky, blue ocean and crashing waves. But we’ll take what we can get. It’s very worthwhile.”
Our last stop was at the classic location for photographing the Pebble Beach Tour, the lovely Bixby Bridge so often seen in travel brochures. Built in 1932, the arched concrete structure looks terrific when classic cars are on it.
We caught the tour on the return trip going north across the bridge. Howard pretty much always gets some shots at this location from a number of vantage points that show off the bridge’s beauty, the natural surroundings and the great cars.
Although Howard pointed out some of the lofty spots from which had shot the scene in the past, on this day we were situated just at the north end of the bridge along the roadway. But as always, Howard’s photos look just right.
“It’s always a nice shot getting them coming across the bridge,” he said in a classic understatement.
Because of health concerns, the Tour wrapped up at about noon instead of making the usual open-to-the-public lunch stop in downtown Carmel.
So we headed back to the Journal’s temporary headquarters in Seaside to sort through the photos to find the best ones and, in my case, to write this story.