Learning with Larry Chen: Jay Leno's Garage
Updated: Jul 27, 2019
This was a big one. I've attended a few of the workshops Larry and Canon USA have put together, and every single one of them has been great. And I've taken away something from each one. Going into this I had no idea what to expect really, most of us know Jay Leno has a rather large collection of cars and motorcycles. Many gearheads have seen a lot of this stuff on his Youtube channel. But to actually have to opportunity to physically see this collection was something I just couldn't miss. And being able to do so and bring a camera along to shoot it? With a small group of like minded people? Is this even real? For those who haven't attended one of these workshops and are wondering what it's like hopefully this will give you some insight and help you decide if it's worthwhile (spoiler alert: it definitely is).
I've been excited about all of these workshops, the night before is like Christmas when you're a kid. And having attended a few only makes you more excited because you know there's going to be some absolutely awesome curveball that, no matter how prepared you thought you were, no matter how much you thought you knew how things were going to be, just takes you completely by surprise. So I readied all my things the night before, woke up at some seemingly ridiculous hour, tossed my things in the car and battled early morning rush hour traffic into Burbank. After parking and gathering my things I took the elevator up to the plaza where I was greeted by Jon Lorentz from Canon. Jon has been an instructor along with Larry for previous events and is extremely knowledgeable, and friendly. (You can find Jon on Instagram @jonlorentz to see his work) After a quick 'Hello!' he showed me up to the second floor, the home of Canon USA(also quick note all cameras are welcome, I shoot on Olympus currently and I brought an old Yashica TLR to the last event and a fuji instax camera, and an old polaroid). The doors opened and I made my way down the hall and was greeted by Larry, who pointed me to the kitchen area where I made my way to get some coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I ran into Shane, Leif, and Louis, who all work with Larry shooting photos, videos, and editing, before I settled into the conference room where we'd be given a briefing of what to expect for the upcoming day.
It was a decent sized conference room, filled with somewhere between thirty and forty people at my count, between the students and various staff members. There was enough time to settle in, chat with some of the other attendees, and enjoy your food before things got seriously underway. A rep from Canon came around gave all of us a few goodies, and Larry got up and explained the rules and expectations for the day, pretty important I'd say since this was a pretty big deal that we'd be the first group of people allowed into Jay's Garage to photograph the collection. While this was going on Canon was loaning out equipment to use throughout the day. They have a selection of all the latest bodies, lenses, and gear for you to experiment with if you so please. Larry took questions and went around to everyone individually to see who would like help and who was more comfortable and itching to get going. Another really awesome thing about these workshops is that, even if you have no real idea how to work a camera, and those dials and settings and numbers and letters confuse you, Larry and Jon are more than willing to work with you. They really mean it when they say all skill levels welcome. They'll spend one on one time with you and everyone there and will answer any questions and walk you through settings, composition, gear, editing, anything to help you get some good photos. After all this was done, it was finally time. The most exciting part of the day was here. We grabbed all our things loaded up into a couple of vans and we were on our way.
After a short drive we arrived and we were greeted by Chris. Chris quickly went over the rules once again and then showed us into Jay's workshop. The workshop is quite large, definitely larger than most workshops I've been to. All of the cars get any maintenance and repairs done here. There was also a collection of steam powered cars and bikes here and I wish I would have come back to the workshop later in the day to get some more photos and have a more thorough look around but with so much to see in the actual garage, it was a rush just to shoot everything you could before time was up.
After a quick tour of the shop we made our way into the main attraction, Jay Leno's Garage. As soon as you walk in you're hit with everything all at once. You definitely get that kid in a candy store feeling. Supercars, motorcycles, sports cars, artwork, models, signs. What do you even focus on?
Walking through the shop throughout the day there would always be something I didn't notice the previous four times I passed an area. We were given a tour and a brief overview of some of the cars as we went along. We walked into the room where Jay films episodes for his youtube channel and were greeted to a gigantic softbox rigged up to the ceiling and a Porsche 356 and a Porsche Carrera GT sitting under the lights.
This would be one of our main shooting areas for the day and that in itself was an exciting prospect, and it was hard to tear everyone away to continue the tour. The collection is really incredible, there's something for everyone, ranging from high horsepower builds, Bugattis, Morgans, Citreons, Dusenburgs, Lamborghinis, full on custom builds, restorations, airplane engine powered cars, and a plethora of motorcycles. And when you take an even closer you'll see all kinds of commissioned artwork, lots of it based on old advertisements, old signs, car parts, models, photographs, etc. much of it featuring whatever car you happen to be looking at. It's like being in a museum but it just feels more alive somehow. A living breathing collection, a completely different energy from a museum.
Once we had completed our tour we met up back under the softbox and were split into two roughly equal sized groups and were given our assignments. I joined the group that would stay in the room with the softbox for the first part of the day and the other group left to go shoot throughout the rest of the garage. Larry led our group and we were told to find something interesting within the room and shoot it as if we were doing a feature on it, focusing on details. I immediately set my eye on the Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic in the corner and got to work.
As we shot Larry made the rounds to each and every student to see if they needed help, wanted advice, and to give pointers. He always has something constructive and helpful to add, even if you generally know what you're doing he has a way of pointing you to something that's right in front of your face and making you see it in a different way. He made his way around to me and asked "Well what do you think?" "Absolutely insane.. I don't even know where to begin. There's just so much cool stuff here"
We spent some time shooting around the room and eventually the lights went out and the softbox illuminated the Porsches and we turned our lenses on the two cars center stage. We spent some more time focusing on these cars, getting a variety of wide and long shots in the bag and the cars were swapped for a pair of cars that were similar but so very different.
Replacing the two monochromatic Porsches, were two bright Lamborghinis. First a red Countach was pulled underneath the lightbox, followed shortly by an orange Miura S. And when I say pulled in I mean it. They weren't pushed in to save wear and tear. They came in under their own power, the sounds of the engines echoing off the walls within the garage. For car nuts, just that small detail of hearing these cars added so much to the experience. We spent a long while shooting these two cars underneath the giant lightbank before Larry got us all set up to do some lightpainting.
My experience with lightpainting with Larry has been completely awesome. Rather than what can sometimes be a somewhat sterile look that it seems a lot of publications want, there's a lot more room for experimentation allowed, and it really is all trial and error but, if the last workshop at Galpin Autosports was anything to go by there would be some pretty incredible images that would come from this. As we started to get settings dialed in and got a few shots off, I heard someone say "Jay is here!" I initially thought someone was messing around but about a minute later the man himself, Jay Leno walks in. This cut our first light painting session a bit short but I don't think there was any real complaints.
The Countach was shuffled out and the Miura took center stage. And then we all stood around for a while and talked shop with Jay Leno. Jay was completely happy to answer questions and share stories with all of us and was very gracious the entire time. We learned a lot about various cars throughout the shop. And, highlighting something else here, this definitely isn't just about walking out with a bunch of pretty pictures, it's about the experience. It's cool to say "well look I got to take some cool pictures at Jay Leno's Garage." And that's all well and good, but just chopping it up with Jay and all the likeminded people there is something infinitely cooler.
After shooting off a few frames of the Miura under the lights everyone piled back into the vans and it was back to Canon headquarters for lunch and our first editing session of the day!
Back at Canon, we were served lunch and everyone opened their laptops and got to work. Louis, Lief, Larry, and Shane were all making the rounds looking at peoples work, giving pointers on edits. This is another great part of the workshop; all these guys are completely open to sharing their knowledge with you. Everything from edits, to workflow, what it's like to shoot specific events, etc. From the most basic questions of 'what should I do with this slider?' to more complex edits they're happy to share what they know. They're also just as excited as everyone else in the room about the cars and location and everything else. As the editing session wound down we hopped back into the vans and made our way back for our second shooting session.
We switched groups and I headed out of the room with the giant softbox and got ready to explore the rest of the garage. Louis was on hand for any help or questions anyone might have and we were off! I started by shooting the three wheelers because I love quirky cars. and I made my way through the garage stopping and shooting anything that caught my eyes.
At some point while I was shooting Jay's Tank Car it hit me that I should slow down and look past the cars at all the interesting stuff all over the walls and on the shelves. There's so much awesome artwork, so many cool models, hot wheels, sculptures, photos. Just overwhelming amounts of cool collectibles. I knew if I didn't take time to look at it there would be no way I'd even remember seeing any of it, and I feel like that's like missing an entire layer of the experience.