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Friday, January 11th, 2013

Maternal Road Trip: PCH and Pan Blurs

My mom had less time to kill than my dad when she stopped by last October, so we didn't go farther than Point Mugu, a 45-mile drive up the coast from the 500 Benz's home base in Hollywood.

But two momentous things happened anyway: (1) we saw a green MG Midget in the wild that was almost an exact clone (Spridgets!) of the Austin-Healey Sprite that my mom drove during her college years, and (2) she showed an incredible beginner's aptitude for pan-blur photography.

We found the Midget in the parking lot of Neptune's Net, which is a bizarro biker-gang version of Malibu Seafood. My mom's Sprite was green, too.

You want numbers? I got numbers.

Length (inches): Benz = 176, Midget = 137

Width (inches): Benz = 71, Midget = 55

Wheelbase (inches): Benz = 99, Midget = 80

Curb Weight (pounds): Benz = 4100, Midget = 1600

Horsepower: Benz = 315, Midget = 56 (optimistically)

Torque (pound-feet): Benz = 347, Midget = 62 (optimistically)

It follows that the 500 Benz is 1.37 Midgets long and 1.29 Midgets wide, has a wheelbase of 1.24 Midgets, weighs an astounding 2.56 Midgets, and cranks out a preposterous 5.63 Midgets of horsepower and 5.6 Midgets of torque.

Check this out, though:

Height (inches): Benz = 50.8, Midget = 48.5

Remarkably, the 500 Benz is just 1.05 Midgets tall, which means that, for all intents and purposes, it's a Midget. A point to which I shall return.

Moving right along.

Okay, so then we stopped at my favorite beach, which I'm not going to link to or even identify, because I don't want you to be there next time I go. No offense. Honestly, I'm only including this photo because my mom will love it. Hi Mom!

Then it was off to Encinal Canyon Road, a wonderful creation that curls along the cliffs high above PCH, to do some pan blurs with my Rebel T3i. Bear in mind that, although my mom certainly knows her way around a camera, she had never attempted this particular technique.

Now, about that technique. I'm not sure if "pan blur" is a technical term—Wikipedia hasn't heard of it—but I was introduced to it by the world-class photographers at Edmunds, so it's good enough for me. Basically, you slow down the shutter speed a little and move ("pan") the camera in step with a moving object in the frame. The ideal result for a car, as I understand it, is a crisp front end, a blurred back end, and a blurry background, giving the whole production a dynamic look that no ordinary image could match.

If it were anywhere near as easy as it sounds, there would be a lot fewer terrible car photos on the internet.

This was one of her first attempts:

She was just getting warmed up here, but I like this one because it highlights just how low to the ground this car really is. It's one of the 500 Benz's most unexpected and striking traits. No, the R129 is not a sports car, but it sees eye-to-eye with 'em, and ingress/egress is comparably challenging. Ironically, this makes it a suboptimal selection for retirees, a demographic that's reflexively associated with this car. When I was shopping around, I spoke with one sixty-something R129 seller with a bad back who said he was ditching his "automotive soulmate" because he couldn't get out of it anymore. Interesting, eh?

Alright, back to the show.

Still warming up, but this one's notable for being an excellent reverse pan blur. Look at the back corner of the car—see how it's sharp? And the front of the car is blurry? Like I said, the idea is to get the front of the car in focus and blur the back, but that's assuming that the car is coming toward you. If it's driving away, well, hey, I think this is exactly the result you'd be looking for.

Anyway, then she really got the hang of it. This is my personal favorite:

Even though the car is small, I love how you get a feel for the scale and beauty of the setting. This is the 500 Benz in its natural habitat. Plus, check the front of the car: tack-sharp. And check the rear: blurred and dynamic. I wish she could go back in time and sell it to Mercedes as a press photo for a fat sack of Deutsche Marks.

Another perfect execution here:

Sharp in front, blurred in back, with enough clarity in the background to appreciate the ocean and so forth. Would've been even better if I'd kept the car closer to the center line—a recurring driver error that day.

Finally, here's one that I think even the Edmunds guys would feel fortunate to have captured:

Longtime 500Benz.com readers will recognize this image as a color version of the Introduction's downright iconic lead photo. Getting the whole profile of the car in focus like this at close range is really difficult in my experience, especially if you're not using burst mode—and she wasn't.

Can your mom do that?

posted in: Road Trips  


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