Take the Wheel: a photography competition on the road.
Six highlights a day.
The road trip. You hit the road and take in the various sights along the way, perhaps bringing home a few memorable snapshots to immortalize the journey. For five of Instagram’s top photographers, the “Take the Wheel” competition wasn’t that simple. With the keys to the brand new CLA in hand, they packed their bags and embarked on a journey of their choice throughout the USA, in hopes of being able to keep this coveted beauty all for themselves. With a worldwide audience to consider, the participants created a visual travel diary with a maximum of six carefully selected images a day.
Battle of “likes”.
This battle of “likes” saw the CLA, which represents the perfect amalgamation of sporty elegance and practical design, being taken to some of the most stunning locations in the country, whether it be a pool party or a foggy shot of the winding Californian coastline. Chris Ozer, the photographer who clocked up the most likes after his five-day stint with the CLA, secured the top prize.
Ozer combines various styles, integrating actual film polaroids with digital snapshots. We caught up with Chris and fellow competitor Alice Gao to find out how they got on and to hear about some of the challenges involved in such a competition.
What was the highlight of the journey for you personally?
Alice: I loved the creative freedom that Mercedes-Benz USA gave us. It made the experience so much more enjoyable knowing that I didn’t have a specific “shot-list”. It was also neat to experience Southern Florida as I had never been before.
What are the biggest challenges you find when it comes to automotive photography?
Alice: Portraying the car in unique angles was challenging since the iPhone lens is so wide. Since most of my photography is very clean and straight, I had a hard time mixing up my angles.
Highlight Highway 1.
Chris: I’m by no means an automotive photography expert but I think the biggest challenge with a car is figuring out what you need. A car is a big subject; that calls for a big location. Fortunately, I had it relatively easy with my location in San Francisco and all the beautiful roads there; a lot of car commercials are shot on Highway 1 but it’s still a challenge because location scouting is really imperative. And you need to have an idea of what your light is going to be doing and where the car will be positioned. Is somebody driving it, are you parking it, how far back are you going, how close are you going? We spent a long time thinking about and planning all of these elements.
Balance between car and atmosphere.
The images often focus on the journey itself and not just the car. How was it balancing the landscape with the inclusion of the CLA?
Alice: For me, it was challenging because Miami and Southern Florida are incredibly flat and there’s not much variety in the landscape. I definitely got sick of palm tree and beach shots, so I had to look to other interesting things about Miami, like city building facades.
Chris: My process for finding balance in the imagery and really telling the story of the journey was to get to as many unique locations as I could, so you could see the progress that was happening. Northern California changes within just a couple of miles, so I tried to capture that and highlight the uniqueness of each spot. Then there’s the technical aspects of telling a story through photography; if you think about a film, you have a tight shot, a wide shot, a medium shot, all the different tools you can use, different ways of composing a frame – so I tried to do as much of that as I could within the given parameters. I spent a lot of time honing the process on the five-day journey.
Searching for a motive.
Did you find location scouting to be an issue, or did you have spots in mind before setting out?
Alice: With a co-pilot, it wasn’t too much of an issue. Most of the time, my co-pilot would drive and I would keep my eyes peeled on the streets and alleys for possible shooting locations. I didn’t have anything in particular in mind – I had a very general list of things I wanted to check out, but definitely no solid itinerary.
How has the use of social media influenced your work?
Alice: I think it’s made me shoot more often. Because I take my phone everywhere, I am always looking for a “shot” now, which I think is great. It keeps me on my toes and producing work daily.
How did you feel your work selection was influenced as you were now sharing with an entirely different audience – and an influential one in terms of the competition?
Alice: I don’t think it was influenced, actually. I realized that the Mercedes-Benz audience wanted solely car shots, but in a way, that might have defeated the point of the campaign, which was to also show the lifestyle aspect of the car.
Feels like “Alice”.
What was the most difficult part about making the selection? How did you decide on your final images?
Alice: I'm very, very picky about what goes on my feed, so I took a ton of shots that never made it.
If I wasn't happy with an image, we'd have to move on and find a new location. The lifestyle shots were easy since I was just posting design/coffee/food/interiors as I normally would, but I found it difficult to make all the car shots still feel like “Alice.”
Next stop: Iceland.
Without geographical restrictions, what would be your ideal road trip to enjoy with the new CLA?
Chris: Driving across Iceland. I’ve never been and it’s one of the top destinations for photographers, and the CLA would just be perfect for that type of landscape.
Thank you both for your time and enjoy your next road trip, Chris!