“Obviously, a lot of the stuff I did was black-and-white,” he says, “and even now, if I look at an image I’m going to shoot, I pretty much know in my head what I’m going to do before I do it. I reverse-engineer it. And I still think of it in black-and-white, grade 1, 2, 3 or 4, which is very unusual. I think it comes from printing. If you talk to anyone that has printed at a reasonable level, they get very obsessive about the blacks, ‘That’s not deep enough,’ or ‘It’s not warm enough.’ And I just think that less is more. When you’re doing cars, you don’t need everything brightly lit. It needs to be opulent, it needs to be slightly mysterious. And you don’t need to see the entire car, you don’t need to see the entire interior.
“Say you’re doing the interior of a Corvette,” Wallace continues. “It’s a sports car, it’s a luxury car and it’s a cockpit. It wants to be a dark, opulent, luxurious place with lots of toys. I don’t like to overlight things. When I’m doing the overall statics for the cars, I know a lot of guys will stick them in a studio and just stick them in front of an infinity cove. In the last 12 months, I’ve shot once in a studio. I just don’t think cars belong in studios. I’d rather shoot them out in the environment where they belong.”
Shooting on location, both indoors and out, Wallace attends to his lighting like an old-school studio pro. “I have done stuff in a factory, where cars are literally getting built around me,” he says, “and I’m in a clear bit of floor in the middle shooting a wheel or something. And people go, ‘Wow, did you take it off and did you have it in a studio?’ And I’m like, no, if I actually did a behind-the-scenes shot, you wouldn’t believe where I did it. It’s light. Light is an amazing thing. But you’ve got to understand what you can do with it. I basically taught myself how to light cars, and I’m still learning all the time.”
To create his signature deep shadows with selective highlights, Wallace uses strip lights positioned close to the car. “A softbox is very soft light, and it spreads,” Wallace says. “Well, yeah, because inherently that’s what softboxes do. But what not many people realize is, you can change the properties of the light very easily by doing certain things. Everyone gets obsessed with the position of a light, but there are two other dimensions to light they don’t often think about. One is the power output. They think, ‘Well, if I just get the right exposure, then that’s the correct power output,’ which is fine, but obviously, there’s a sliding scale. You know, you can put that light on very low power and turn it into a wider aperture, and you’re still going to get the same exposure, but you’re going to get a different dynamic. And the other is the proximity of the light, how close the light is to the subject. For a lot of stuff I shoot, the light is very close, the power is very high and you get a very punchy light. You’ve still got an evenness, but you’ve got a harder light. And with a harder light and a much harsher exposure, you get natural depth, and shadows start to appear. And then you just expose for the highlights, and everything just naturally falls into very deep shadow, and what’s going to go between the highlights and the deep shadow is a very quick falloff, quite a dramatic falloff. And, yeah, some of it you can’t do on a DSLR because you can only sync at 1/250, so there’s the added bonus to shooting medium format in the fact that you can sync at 1/1000 at ƒ/32 and take your ISO down to 25, so you really can get the power pushing through.”