Location selection is a key part of any photoshoot planning process. In the case of car photography and marketing, the environment of the car must appeal to the target audience and compliment the subject vehicle. It sets the context of the image, can tip the odds of an advertisement conversion, and oftentimes dictates the entire marketing approach. A CUV commuting through a busy urban jungle speaks a different story than one whipping through twists in the forest. Safe to say, the final set of photos used in a vehicle’s media release are certainly not drawn out of a hat!
The media release of the 2019 Hyundai Veloster took place in Austin Texas, where I’ve lived most of my life. Of the roughly 150 media photos, I recognized about half the set taken in the live-music capital of the world. Knowing that these carefully selected photos represent the energy and vision of Hyundai’s new product (with a dash of “Keep Austin of Weird”), I thought it would be a great experiment to search for the exact locations and learn a bit more into how they were captured. For the rest of this article, I’ll include the original photo from Hyundai and include the matched location in Google Maps. Enjoy!
Let’s start in the heart of Austin. The landing page for the Veloster in the USA website shows the first shot front and center known as the ‘hero’ image. The hatchback is approaching an intersection amidst some modern buildings, certainly a nice urban context. This particular corner is found in Downtown Austin on 2nd street and Guadalupe, right in front of the Urban Outfitters. As seen in the photographer’s Instagram story, Anton Watts and his crew used a camera rig to get the unique waist-chest level angle. Interesting to see they used a transparent mount extending away from the rear, perhaps to aid in post-processing.
Next we have lifestyle shots with the subject approaching the car at Trinity and 6th street in front of the white-brick building. This was initially challenging to find, but if you closely inspect the parking meter, it is tagged zone 1, which points us to the green downtown area in the image above. This makes the haystack a bit smaller, but if you closely at the wooden door, you can just barely make out an incriminating “500” and “inity”. A Google map search for 500 and Trinity gives us Trinity street, well within parking zone 1, and just a bit of additional searching in the area gives us the scene.
Another lifestyle shot, this was probably taken right around the same time as the above. It’s just a bit further up the street – take a look at the distinct red bricks that decorate a few of the intersections of 6th street. It’s unclear whether Hyundai decided to close out this intersection like the hero shot, or if it was taken with open public access.
This one is easy. Based off the angle of the shadows, it looks like sometime in the mid to late morning. A peek at the exif shows it was indeed captured at around 10am. This is pretty late into the day and we would expect some traffic on the streets, so it’s likely Watts and his crew were granted some street closure time.
This one was actually not included in the media release photos linked above, but was found on a photo production company’s website. The name wasn’t edited-out of the shot, so this one wasn’t difficult to find. It’s a pretty busy road, so for Hyundai’s shot, they probably closed-down the street and asked nicely with a large wallet to borrow the venue.
Another iconic Austin landmark. The Vic Mathias center in the background is the give-away along with the cross-structuring design of the bridge. Based on the EXIF, the photographer was using a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens shooting wide-open. This seems to be a creative choice to throw as much of the surrounding structures out-of-focus. Because the car wasn’t moving (we don’t see a driver in the car), the 1/6400s shutter speed was likely for shooting wide-open midday, probably necessitating a 6 or 10 stop neutral density filter to lower the exposure. There is vignetting around the edges of the photo which is either an artistic choice or an artifact from the ND filter vignetting.
These three are taken in the same place but feel more interesting. For one, we have the overhead roll shot, probably accomplished by either using a camera-arm chase car or by using a rig mounted on the vehicle. The EXIF data tells us the photographer used a shutter speed of 1/500s at 35mm focal length. This doesn’t seem slow enough to obtain significant motion blur, and the street’s speed limit is only about 25 or 30mph. Perhaps a quick succession of shots were taken while moving and then merged in Photoshop – the car stays in the same spot each frame, allowing the context to blur-out but the car to stay sharp. If the camera is indeed strapped to a wobbling and shaking rig at 35mm focal length, it would be imperative to use a quick shutter speed to freeze the action and prevent a shaky image. On the other hand, this unrelated photo shot at 1/500s of some champagne exiting a bottle shows the alcohol blurred as it pops out of the bottle, and science has shown a champagne cork shooting-off at around 25mph – perhaps 1/500s is adequate for blur!
The second and third aren’t as straightforward. The EXIF of the second photo tells us it was taken with a completely different camera (a medium-format Phase One IQ250) and also processed using Photoshop rather than GIMP. Watts seems to use the Phase One for some specialized rigged shots as will be seen later on. For this one, the extreme low angle suggests maybe a camera car leading with a rig mounting the Phase One, allowing shutter drag to achieve motion blur.
The third is presumably a Photoshop composite of the second image with a newer photo. This shot only appears in the official Veloster brochure rather than the released set. The scene presents a nice shot of the high performance trim Veloster N driving alongside our familiar red model. The biggest giveaway is the N driver donning a white racing helmet, hardly the attire one would wear to an urban-based photoshoot.
This was shot right on 108 E 7th Street. EXIF tells us this shot was taken the next day in the early morning. Shutter speed at 1/30s for some motion blur, with a rather heavy vignetting as the most apparent post-processing. An ND filter was also probably used to achieve the 1/30s shutter. 7th street is a multi-lane one-way street, so a chase car could be used, or something like a rig from the first shot.
This one is shot on 6th street in front of the Austin landmark Driskell hotel. A nice and low 1/20s shutter speed and a low angle suggests use of a stabilized rig.
A continuation of the previous shot. Here we see almost the exact angle, so it’s almost certain the photographer is using the same stabilized rig.
Continuing from the previous shots, after the subject car winds its way through 6th street, turns left onto Congress, and heads south, we get this shot from a similar angle and shutter speed. This one is taken right off of the Ann Richard bridge facing southwest.
The next several photos are shot a few months later in May, now with a different photographer. These shots take place a few days before the media release on May 16th, 2018. Here we see the iconic graffiti park. Sadly, this park is now off-limits due to change in property management deciding to turn it into housing units. You can see the park is fenced off in the Google map. In the media photo, look closely at the top and you can see the motion blur of some visitors, suggesting a long-exposure, which is confirmed by the 10 second shutter speed. The EXIF declares a flash-fire, which seems to explain the lighting on the wheels. Maybe a triggered multi-light setup?
Here we have another shot taken at 8pm on the same day as the previous. This one is taken in front of the Hotel Van Zandt on Davis Street in the Rainey district, which seemed to be the host hotel for the media release. We also get a good look at the license plate and we see that it’s a California registered vehicle under New Vehicle Distributor plates. The image itself is interesting. The lighting on the right side of the car looks a bit off, almost like a long exposure light paint. However according to the EXIF, there was no flash fired and the 3/5s exposure is not long enough for painting. I suspect some vehicle headlight or lighting setup illuminating the side of the car.
The next shot takes us to 5th street’s Mean Eyed Cat. It’s shot late at around 2:30am. It’s a 10s exposure, probably with some light-painting on the darker wheels. There’s quite a bit of shadow recovery throughout the scene but it isn’t too overdone.
Another shot of the hotel in the morning on Davis street. The intersection and building in the background match-up with the photo.
The iconic Austin backdrop. Not much to dig into other than the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 getting some usage.
The iconic greetings from Austin mural found at 1720 S 1st Street. A nice, clean shot.
The obligatory cockpit shot taken in the Lamar Union Plaza, right in front of the Alamo Drafthouse. This is another one taken on the Phase One IQ250, probably by Watts. The lighting on the seats and dash don’t seem to match the the overcast lighting and there isn’t any exposure information included in this EXIF, so it’s not immediately clear what’s being done here.
This shot is also in the Lamar Union Plaza in front of the Optique eye-wear store. It’s another one taken by Watts but this time on a full-frame Canon 5D MkIV. While it’s not a flashy shot, the EXIF reveals Watts decided to manually expose this scene. He selects a 1/60s shutter speed, f/5.6 aperture, and ISO100. Perhaps it’s a coincidence but these exposure settings are only about 1-stop of light off from the Heavy-Overcast 5.6 rule of exposure.
Ironically, the next few shots have some of the least identifying details, but given that the folks at Hyundai wanted to show-off the improved driving dynamics, it wasn’t a bad guess to start looking at Lime Creek road…
Lime Creek is one of my favorite driving roads in Austin. It has a delightful mix of fast bends mixed with numerous tight, hairpin turns. Go on a weekend, and you’ll often pass-by other driving enthusiasts sharing the road. This shot can actually be found by searching 9476 Lime Creek Rd. – look for the three signs circled in red.
Another shot of Lime Creek, this one right at the exit of a turn located 30°27’38.9″N 97°54’23.0″W. The wear patches on the yellow paint and the road seem to match with the media shot.
This one is shot at the same turn. The two drivers probably did a few runs in the section in order to get some varying angles. Notice the tree and the warning reflector, as well as the same wear patterns on the road.
I reached out to Bruce on Instagram, asking if how he was able to pull-off this series of motion blurred shots. His response – “[a] very smooth road, solid camera mount, good driver maintaining a steady distance.” Thanks Bruce!
This shot has a great view of the downtown skyline. After a bit of searching and matching some landmarks on the horizon, I’m quite confident it’s the Shepherd Mountain Office Park on Courtyard Drive. Thanks to Billy Rehbock’s Review for this photo and location.
The iconic 360 bridge, these were shot at the boat load dock below the bridge.
County Line seems to be were the journalists were either treated to lunch or was a meeting point for swapping cars. This shot was taken right in front of the restaurant sign at the 2222 location (The County Line sign at the Bee Cave location isn’t next to the parking lot).
Shots not in Austin?
The next few shots I was convinced they were just taken in some obscure part of Austin that I wasn’t familiar with. After all, Austin also had towering highway overpasses and hip urban cityscapes. It wasn’t until I had checked Watts’s Instagram did I learn these were shot in LA.
Under the assumption that everything was taken in Austin, these next few looked similar to the 71 & I-35 highway overpasses in Austin. But it’s confirmed that the early photos were taken in the LA area using a heavily modified Porsche Cayenne chase car in the highway system on LA (the company that rents the chase car). But where exactly? As it turns out, this particular freeway segment has already seen some screen time in the 2016 film La La Land (and possibly dozens of other films).
Aesthetically, I love this and the following shot. It’s suave, trendy, and fits the car nicely into the “night-life” vibe. In particular, the neon signs are a great touch. But for the life of me I could not find anywhere in Austin that fit the scene. Technically speaking, the image also looked way too clean – find me a bar in the late-hours with only three people milling outside. There was also a light trail in the back which was odd, considering a long exposure would blur any of the people moving in the scene. In full curiosity mode, I tried looking up one of the neon signs that read “Mama Luna’s” – maybe it was a real restaurant. There were a few cities that had similar-sounding restaurants but none fit the scene. Searching by images, I stumbled upon the actual neon sign, available for rent by a company called Nights of Neon located in LA. Searching on their website lead me to the other neon signs. It’s clear now that the entire scene was hand-constructed.
Given that everything has been shot in the LA area, I wasn’t too surprised to see Watts’ Instagram post, where he reveals the scenes were shot in a LA backlot. I couldn’t find the exact location, but the Universal Studio backlot has numerous “New York” style facades that match the style in the media release.
Who were the photographers?
Be sure to check out Watts and Benedict’s portfolios, two very accomplished industry photographers.
After reading through some of the published reviews, I was a bit surprised to learn that many of the guests did not have a strictly automotive background, but rather comprised of a wide spectrum of Hyundai’s desired target audience. Perhaps this has always been the default marketing process – cover as many lifestyles and walks-of-life as possible to increase your product exposure. After reading through some of their reviews, it was clear that the guests were given a preselected route and given suggestions for photo-ops. This seemed like a prudent decision to assist non-automotive background reviewers with the fairly critical process of location selection.
This little research project was not only a fun way to pass some time, but it was also a good exercise in working backwards from a finished product and breaking it down to the basics. Of course, without directly reaching-out to the photographers, all I will have are assumptions and guesses in the path to final product. If anything, I’ve picked-up some new places to explore when this coronavirus finally blows over.
The entire set from the media press event can be found here.