A model car in the garage

Model Maker and Photographer Simon Carter. A Story of Power and Scale.

Portrait of Simon Carter

Simon Carter’s passion has been decades in the making. Starting with model making as a boy, then motor racing and now a career as a professional photographer, it was only when he had the time to bring these skills together, that he was able to create and photograph the miniature world of motorsport he’d always imagined. Sitting next to his stunning collection of model formula cars, we’re struck by the scale of the task he’s given himself. It’s a story of inventing a world and then stepping into it.

Could you tell us a little about what inspired you to start creating and shooting miniature models?

Growing up in the 60s I, like a lot of other kids, spent hours making models of WWII tanks. It was only when I recently discovered these in my attic, I realised I could bring all my interests and my skills together to create something completely unique.

How do you start building an exact replica of a racing car?

They’re based on kits that were produced in the 1970’s and 80’s and are no longer in production, so tracking them down is a little tricky. As if this isn’t hard enough, I modify them to make sure the vehicles are mechanically accurate, with working suspension, doors, bonnet and boot lids. I then add the dust, burns, and scratches that you’d see on a real racing car. This is why it takes me about three months to build each one.

When you’re building your sets, are you thinking about them as a car enthusiast or a photographer?

A bit of both really. I create my sets in the same way as any photography or film set would be constructed. This means that even at this stage, I’m thinking about the angles I’ll need so that I can get the images that I’m after. It’s not just about recreating what feels like a racing garage it’s about making a set I can shoot in.

Set up of model garage

©Simon Carter

How do you approach the photography once the cars and the set are ready?

From the very beginning I’ve insisted that all my images look as if a racing enthusiast has just stepped into one of these garages, and when no one’s looking, manages to get a few cheeky shots.

To do this, I have to imagine that I’m only 6” tall. As this miniature photographer I have only three angles that I can shoot from; standing, crouching forward and kneeling on one knee.

Flicking through your images they all feel like they’re outside, even though we now know that’s not the case. How do you this?

Light. It’s all about using natural light. I could possibly retouch this effect, but I prefer to create everything in-camera.

Does your experience as a professional photographer help?

I light these sets in the same way that I used to light actual cars when I was a professional photographer. Which means bouncing light off surfaces, rather than pointing directly at the car. This gives the cars’ paintwork a glossy effect that you only get outside. But sometimes knowing too much can be a hindrance. After all, I’m trying to create a series that looks like they’ve been taken by an amateur. So I have to remind myself to do things that I know aren’t right.

Model car in garage

©Simon Carter

If someone’s looking to get into tabletop photography, is there any special kit that they need?

To give you an idea of how low tech it is, when I’m shooting, I fix the camera so that I can move everything on-set a millimetre at a time until it’s perfect. To do this I use a supermarket vegetable bag with two handfuls of rice as a 'sandbag' to balance the camera on. It’s the best way as there’s no room for mini-tripods and anyway, the camera would be too high and the angle would be wrong.

So what’s next?

I’m thinking my next challenge has got to be to an American garage. That’ll tie me up for a couple of years.

If you’re feeling inspired, see the full range of Simon Carter’s world of miniature motorsport.

Simon’s Kit Bag

Cameras:

Canon EOS 5D

Canon Sure Shot 35mm AF-7

Lenses:

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Answers edited for clarity and pacing.



Interview credit: Written by Mark Blaylock