MINIs on the Dragon 2015

June 07, 2015  •  4 Comments

What a whirlwind adventure that turned into the biggest photography challenge I've ever attempted. For the last few years I've been a vendor doing Glamour Shots for MINIs at MINIs on the Dragon (MOTD). MOTD is a blast and a large gathering of MINI Coopers in the Smokey Mountains. The event is centered around driving the Tail of the Dragon on US 129 and most of the action happens at Fontana Village. For the last few years we would pick out a scenic location, and shoot MINI Coopers there. Rain or shine, cold or hot we were there for certain hours shooting MINIs and getting to know people. It was fun and it was draining. When the weather was bad people didn't show up, sometimes they didn't find us because they were new and didn't understand where we were. I enjoyed it but decided with my knowledge of Photoshop compositing I could give them  more. I could give them fine art of their MINI. 


First I had to figure out how do you shoot in a tent and I also went on a total training binge to understand every photoshop tool for cutting out an object. I taught myself how to remove unwanted reflections from the paint and how to leave in the gloss. I studied MINIs in the sun, the shade, the rain. I looked at how they cast shadows and I looked at their angles. I literally did this for a year in preparation for my big challenge. Then I pulled the trigger, rented a 20' x 30' tent with electricity on Vendor Row. I was terrified, it cost a fair amount to  rent that tent and what would I do if no one showed up??? I decided that I just had to try it and you do it right or you don't do it at all. The biggest challenge was two fold, I really wasn't sure how shooting in a tent would work AND I had to transport all of my gear in a MINI cabrio. My husband has a MINI too, but he was bringing his own motoring gear like a floor jack, detailing supplies and tools.

Ideally I wanted a huge piece of white foam core board for the ceiling but that wasn't going to work out. I opted for a big white tarp to string across the ceiling and bounce light off of. In the end that was a mistake, but it was a good thing that I had taught myself photoshop and how to remove reflections!!!! 

The smartest thing I brought was a big black mesh tarp that I hung as a wall to separate the studio from the gallery. It stopped reflections and made that side of the cars really look good. Note to self, next year all walls will be black mesh.

This was a working vacation so we got there on Sunday, caravanning with a bunch of fellow club members taking the 550 mile trek to NC. Mark and I enjoyed the area, drove the Dragon, explored and ate BBQ for a few days

Here we are at the scenic lookout of the Dragon

Enjoying vacation and having adventuresEnjoying vacation and having adventures. My MINI is the orange one, his is the one with the black roof By Tues my tent was up and ready, I went to check it out, here it is, empty and full of promise. What have I gotten myself into???

The empty tent, oh the promises it held With the help of my husband and friends we erected the wall and set up the gallery. I had pictures printed that were ready for display and a board to help people pick their backgrounds. I had literally about 4 appointments booked, was I scared I was about to lose my shirt? YES!!!

Tent set up and ready for business

Then the magic happened. One of my cabinmates offered to assist and I was happy to take him up on it. I had a different assistant each day. It seems they got into a bit of a competition over who was the best. Here's Craig, assistant number 1 helping a customer enter the tent

That car came out looking like this when it was finished


Craig also made a time lapse of the day of shooting

Business was  good, I managed to cover half of my tent costs.

Second assistant was Sherri and while Craig proved to be a mind reader Sherri brought laughter, chapstick and snacks. She was another amazing assistant. On Friday I had Melissa, she was efficient, friendly and got the job done! She said  I could manage my own chapstick and snacks. The final day was Stephanie, she was cheerful and friendly, Calling in the customers and playing with every dog on vendor row.

Once I got home I had nearly 40 images to composite. I managed to finish them in 3 weeks in a marathon sprint of editing. When I was done I put all of the images in an album here


I'm going to highlight a few images from the event. Each and every image was a piece of my soul working to create something as special as the MINI that I was capturing. 

stormy weatherstormy weatherDark stormy clouds over road






Campo con fiori gialli e con raggi di soleCampo con fiori gialli e con raggi di sole I could probably blog on each of these images. Every one of these MINIs was shot in the tent and composited later in Photoshop. They were all special to me and I learned so much. When I started this venture it was taking me 15 - 20 minutes to cut out a car, I can do it in about 3 minutes now. I can't wait  for next year, I plan to bring some new ideas for ways to show off your MINI as art​




Sherri Wilson(non-registered)
Wow, great blog and even better memories! You are such a talented photographer and the way you captured the spirit of my Flower is breathtaking.
Meredith Sever(non-registered)
You are absolutely amazing and I am so awe inspired by your incredible skill, talent and creativity. I'm blown away by your work. Go get em Ali!
Bruce Troxell(non-registered)
Fantastic story! You captured the utter fear that all of us freelancers have after we first set up shop - my God, what do I do if no one shows up! As someone famous once said, "Fear is a great motivator."

You survived and learned a whole bunch - that's called winning the war!
Your Fellow Rude New Yorker(non-registered)
So glad it work out for your Ali, I know how nervous your were going into this new adventure. Looking forward to seeing what new twist you come up with next year.
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