A Photographer’s Guide to Car Week in Monterey, California

Ah, car week. Revving engines, gleaming chrome, throngs of automotive aficionados, and a complete range of events packed into every day, from pricey and exclusive gatherings to public downtown cruises, all offering plenty of photographic fun. Where are the best value photo-opportunities? What events are also just plain fun to experience? What kind of gear is best?

(Regarding gear: These three shots are from a Samsung Galaxy S5 – ye olde phone camera – the best gear is ALWAYS the camera you have with you. If you are packing an SLR kit, a wider-angle lens will work well at most of the more intimate events I note below, while a zoom or telephoto lens is an excellent tool for capturing races at the track.)

After living in the Monterey, California area for 14 years, I’ve seen nearly every car week event at least once, and I’ve learned a lot about photographing the larger scenes and delightful details of this car culture cacophony. Getting a traditional clean-shot of a car with no distractions in the background is tricky at nearly every event, and my single biggest piece of advice is to get comfortable with what the environment offers; as you’ll see in the photos below, the light during car week in Monterey is likely to range from overcast skies with diffuse daylight, to bright midday sun, to dusky dark urban street scenes, all packed with moving crowds of spectators. Be patient, be polite, and experiment with the added visual interest of the events themselves.

If you can afford to splurge on tickets and access to the headlining events, such as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, by all means, enjoy the show. For a free look at the same cars with the bonus of seeing them in motion, catch the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance which winds its way through several cities and scenic roads of Monterey County.

For a gorgeous and competitive spread of fine automobiles, a free-to-the-public option is the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours on the Avenue, which allows attendees to get up close to the cars, speak with the owners, and watch the awards ceremony all in the quaint downtown setting of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The crowds can be thick at this event, and patience is key.

If homegrown hot-rods and the latest supercars are more your speed, Exotics on the Row is an accessible and fun event, held in the evening on Cannery Row. This gathering offers low-light photography enthusiasts a scene rich with glowing headlights and colorful Monterey nightlife, all free and walkable.

Around town, there will be an endless parade of interesting cars passing on the street, and adjacent to any event center or hotel hosting a car week auction, simply watching some of the rarest cars in the world get unloaded from transport trucks for their big moment can be a great photo-op. These shots are best found in the lead-up to the main week of events, or during the week following.

Finally, what has always proven to be a photographic goldmine, packed with unusual, interesting, and amazing cars with the added bonus of seeing many of them race around one of the most dynamic tracks in the world, is the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

Laguna Seca classic car races
Vintage and classic cars ready to race at Laguna Seca racetrack in Monterey, California during the annual Reunion events of car week.

This is the event I’ve attended the most, and no matter which day one chooses to attend, a stroll around the paddock will provide even the most casual automotive photography enthusiast with plenty of colorful race activity and historic racecars.

Owners and drivers are happy to talk about their beloved vehicles and nothing beats a shot or two of the infamous Laguna Seca Corkscrew full of rumbling vintage cars barreling toward the finish line. Again, be patient, the paddock can be full of people taking it all in, and the most rewarding shots can come after waiting for a crowd to pass.

Over the years I’ve accumulated an extensive library of Car Week photography, all of which can be found in the Automobilia section of apkphotography.com. I will be cruising many of these events again this year, hoping to see some familiar automotive friends and new exciting cars.

I post frequently to Instagram during the week, please follow @photoapk for more inside angles on this amazing time of year in Monterey, and feel free to leave a comment if you’ve got any questions or advice to share.

 

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