Wangan Warrior – Shooting The Mazda RX7

The 90’s – weren’t they just such a great time? Responsible for many awesome creations, such as The Lion King, Tamagotchis, Britney Spears, Friends and…ummmm… the Vengaboys. Maybe not that last one. However, the 90’s were also what some considered to be the “golden era” of JDM car design. R34 GTR, MK4 Supra, Nissan S15, Mitsubishi Evo, original Subaru Impreza – all managed to sneak into this 10 year time frame.

But right now, we can’t talk about 90’s JDM legends without mentioning the king of pop-up headlights – the Mazda RX7.

Living in South Africa, there are very few RX7’s around – only a few exist that were imported by some brave individuals, willing to brave the miles of red tape, headaches, and paperwork that it takes to land one of these cars here. Luckily, someone who lives nearby me decided it would be a great idea to import a Mazda RX7, and then import another one a few months afterwards. Because…why not?

This particular RX7 is owned by a friends of mine who goes by the alias of “NelkelJDM”. As you may have guessed, he’s a bit of a JDM fan, currently owning a Nissan R32 GTR, Toyota MR2, this Mazda RX7, another Mazda RX7, and a Lexus IS250. This actual RX7 was imported close to a year ago, but thanks to the incredibly long registration process, it was only considered road legal last week. I told you…importing a car here is a lesson of patience. Anyway, now that the car was legal, we set up a photoshoot at the earliest opportunity.

After meeting up at his house for a quick car wash which was followed by a “restrained” drive around the neighbourhood, it was time to get to the good part – the actual shoot. We had access to a large yard that afforded us the ability to shoot the RX7 from any possible angle, and additionally wouldn’t have to worry about getting asked a million questions from passerbys as to what we were doing.

But first, I hear you asking: how can you get “studio” lighting, in a yard at night, without using an actual studio? Simple – long exposures and light painting. By constantly moving around the car and “painting” it with light, you can get a fairly even light set up, that makes the car look like its been lit by dozens of more professional lights. It’s the same technique that I used to shoot the WTAC Nissan S13, and it works a treat when you manage to get the settings right. Equipment wise, I use a Yongnuo YN360 for the painting process. You can pick one up from B&H for the decent price of only $79 USD – I paid a bit extra and received one with an enormous battery that lasts for hours. Bonus! Originally, I looked at the Westcott Ice Light 2, but that costs precisely 7 times more (yes, 7 TIMES), and quite frankly, does the exact same job that the Yongnuo does.

Sadly, my light painting skills are a little rough, since it’s not something I do very often. While most of the photos look ok, I’m always my own worst enemy when it comes to looking at photos. Thinking “that’s a bit too dark there”, or “should have positioned the camera a bit lower” etc… these are common occurrences. Nearly done with the shoot, we had a selection of useable photos, but none of them had the so-called “pop” – in my opinion. After a bit of thought, I came up with the below…but how?

Well, all of the images with the red streak in the background are a single exposure, and not a composite. To achieve this, I first painted the areas of the car visible to the camera with the regular white light, and then quickly switched the light over to the red display that the Yongnuo offers, and painted the other side. Doing this in one exposure was a bit of a challenge, but it came out well. It certainly adds an extra interesting element into the photos in my opinion…


One of my photos was a full side-on shot that you can see below. I knew that it wouldn’t work as a stand-alone image, but it seemed a waste to just throw it away. So, I decided to try something I haven’t done in ages – photoshopping the subject into an entirely different scene. Worth a try right?

Here’s the original:

And heres the edited one, with a much more interesting background:

Slowly, one by one, I’m ticking off shooting all of the JDM legends. Toyota Supra, Nissan R34 GTR, Nissan S15 Silvia, and now a Mazda RX7…all done. What should come next?


Canon 6D
24-105 f4 L Series lens
Manfrotto tripod
Yongnuo YN360
Lightroom CC / Photoshop CC

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