Hemmels entirely strips and rebuilds genuine 1950’s-70s iconic classic Mercedes-Benz cars – notably the 300SL, 280SL and 190SL models – to brand new condition for clients who are scattered all across the world. Luckily for Shawn, he gets to capture their year-long rebuild process before venturing out to photograph the bespoke classics at stunning marinas, iconic locations, the Mercedes-Benz World Museum and in some cases an airport runway.
With as many as 30 or more cars being worked on by 50 specialists at any one time, no day is ever the same. The fact that each rebuild takes as long as a year from start-to-finish means that each car is in a different stage of the process day-to-day and week-to-week. Throughout this meticulous rebuild process everything is documented visually in the form of photography.
Capturing the Rebuild Process
As the original classic is sourced from the USA, Europe, Asia or wherever in the world the most suitable donor car happens to be, the journey begins – and so does its photographic journey.
As the car is carefully stripped back to the bare metal and completely dismantled, engine included, it’s captured. As the body is beautifully crafted to perfection before being painted in the color of the client’s choice, it’s captured. As each part of the leather interior is hand-stitched, again in the finish and color of each client’s choice, and as each shimmering piece of chrome is painstakingly fitted, it’s all captured.
While photographing each part of the process, Shawn is looking to tell the story that’s leading the car to a new lease of life. He’s looking for interesting details unique to the model and different angles that best show off the 4000 hours of craftsmanship that go into each car. These photographs are uploaded to a private online portal so that clients are able to view the latest work that has taken place on their vehicle.
“As the car is rebuilt, especially towards the latter stages, everything becomes classic car eye-candy. I try to use as much natural light as possible, sometimes that means asking the guys to raise the shutters so I can get the right sort of shine on an engine, or enough light to catch a part of the leather dashboard being fitted.”
It’s about telling the story, but it’s also about increasing the excitement levels for the client. Photographing the car being painted one month, then shooting shiny new chrome and glass windows being fitted the next shows that the day of completion is getting closer. Shawn aims to bring glossy paint finishes to life with the use of reflections, while interior leathers and dashboard woods are shot with a shallow depth of field so that you can almost reach out and feel the texture.
Then comes the glamorous final shoot. With 30 or so cars a year hitting completion it means Shawn tends to be out and about on location with a car to capture it in all of its glory at least once every couple of weeks. The beautiful vistas within South Wales are often used, as this is close to Cardiff, the city where both Shawn and Hemmels are based. Though with classic car shows and luxury exhibitions taking place throughout the year in places like London, Monaco, Sydney and Los Angeles to name a few, it can sometimes mean shoots taking place a little further afield.
All of the images are then imported into Lightroom for post-production editing.
“I shoot everything in RAW format, so there is some basic editing that needs to be carried out on each image. For the final on-location shoots, I try to get as much right in-camera as I possibly can, so much of the editing process is then focused on marrying the right sort of vibe with each shot.
Usually this means a quick play around with highlights, shadows and contrast for the restoration shots. For the final on-location shoots I’ll dive a little deeper into Lightroom by playing around with split tones and colors to see what sort of combinations work best with that particular car and paint color.”
Shawn doesn’t use any presets, instead treating each image individually, tweaking things to its specific need so that the final result successfully portrays the wow-factor of the car.
A Photo Book to Relive the Story
To accompany their pristine Mercedes-Benz classic the client is also presented with a professional photo book that relays the entire story in photographic form. Something that’s useful for showing off to friends or to leave on the coffee table and enjoy on the occasional Sunday morning.
“As excited as the client is about eventually enjoying the finished product, they also absolutely love the journey it takes to get there and being able to enjoy the whole thing visually is a huge part of that. It’s what makes the photography such an important aspect”, says Shawn.