As a resident of the North Wales countryside, big cities with crowded communities aren’t very familiar to me. I once said to my girlfriend that I’d never want to live in a city like London because I’m too much of a country bumpkin. Though that doesn’t necessarily say that I don’t like them. The big cities are actually rather beautiful places at the right moment. I definitely discovered this after the Rattanak Kiri team kindly invited me to a night-time photo shoot in Birmingham with a very nice Jaguar XE alongside pro photographer Ross Jukes (a very nice guy!!).
So it was a very cold February evening and I headed for the capital of the Midlands after ignoring most of the missus’s family saying I’m crazy for doing so. Arriving in Birmingham I wasn’t expecting at least 5 lanes of carriageway and traffic jams at 8pm. Once the sun goes down, the city lights up with all the billboards and big towers glowing with the starry sky looking over.
After some sightseeing – well, truth be told, getting lost in Birmingham – I met up with the team and the new XE.
Jaguar XE – The Head-Turner
The Jaguar XE is the new saloon, which can satisfy anybody and can be afforded by anybody. When the XE came out, I wasn’t obsessed by it. I was still looking at XJ’s back then and was more focused on the BMW 3 Series or the Audi A4. But what Jaguar is doing is making a head-turner, a car that can compete with the German rivals. A rest-bite then after building growling F-Types and beastly XJ’s and XF’s and, of course, the XC-75. The model we had to play with was the XE SE, the cheapest of the XE pack. The budget XE you might say. This was a diesel so we had more of a cruising model on our hands. The 163ps, 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder engine can produce a modest 0-60 in 7.8 seconds and a top speed of around 130mph. If that’s not your thing then there are more powerful XE’s to choose, but this model seemed okay to me. This model can also run up to 80mpg so a trip from North to South of the UK would seem fairly comfortable. I only got a 5 minute view of the interior and it seemed not amazing but reasonable for the right customer and the back seemed slightly cramped but still nice.
But let’s get back to the photo shoot and me being anti-social most of the time. I was very comfortable chatting to the Rattanak Kiri team; the team are positive, humorous and friendly people and very easy to get on with. So a great start!
Getting Started In The City
I was taken to some very interesting spots across the city such as empty multi-story car parks, derelict buildings and some of the more modern parts of the city. I’m used to derelict bomb factories or old mansions in the countryside but not in a big crowded city.
Ross and I got started immediately getting photographs. Even though there was a lot of city lighting, it was still very dark so I was glad I left the tripod in the boot for a few weeks. I mostly stuck to low angle shots because I wanted to get some of the cityscape in the background and of course the starry sky was gorgeous. Ross got the set up of the XE spot on, so I was capable of getting the right angles thanks to his quick thinking.
The funniest thing about the shoot was we used my Ford KA as a camera car, which is probably a first in the automotive media world. With videographer Dan Barnett in the passenger seat and Ross compressed right in the boot, with the seats down, the KA turned out to be not too bad as an alternative. Though I did have to take it gently whilst producing tracking shots. When getting photos with Ross in the front, I had to take the KA to the limit to keep up with the diesel Jag. Oh well, it’s not the first time I’ve thought my 1.3-litre KA was a Ford GT. I also didn’t want Dan and Ross to start yelling at me after just 5 minutes after we got to know each other, so at times I had to drive gently just in case the KA chucked Ross out. I’ll also mention Dan uses his skateboard to get some of his moving shots, which seemed like a very swell idea in my opinion.
A lot of the time due to the time we had available, I had to leave the tripod and take some of the shots by hand. This meant upping the ISO to the max. I’ve never been a fan of doing this kind of thing, but in a way it created a nice effect with some of the moving shots, especially when looking through some of the photos later on. The best photos with the ISO were of when the Jag was driving through more of the livelier parts of the city, driving past all the bars and restaurants and at times some of the Canary Wharf parts of Birmingham.
Running around the city and heading to these different destinations gave me a lot to see. The cityscape of Birmingham was incredibly beautiful in the dark. The modern building we photographed really does stand out and because it was getting late, we were all able to embrace the beauty of Birmingham at night without all the busy traffic.
The best photos came from under this railway bridge where the road was bricked and there was very impressive lighting. Again, I had my tripod on hand so I was able to compose the shot in my way. I did have to go handheld with some of the shots of the badges and the interior. I wasn’t pleased with all the grain but the photos came out okay with a bit of TLC.
Finally, the cherry on the cake was this old abandoned factory hidden away in the depths of Birmingham city centre next to a train station and a BT Tower. We had a go at lightening up the XE as it was of course pitch black. Most photographers use ice lights as a method to light up the cars for a photograph. Ross and I had a cheaper alternative and cost about £150 less than an ice light. We basically used an LED bar light, which cost £10 and had the same kind of performance but a hell of a lot cheaper. We used many methods to photograph the car while lit up but left light trails which are very hard to remove. However, one method we discovered was if we place the light further away and set the shutter speed lower, the car will be lit up without leaving any light trail reflections on the car. The photos turned out rather well. But unfortunately the best photos did have the light trails. But this gave us something to think about if we ever had to do a night-time shoot again.
Conclusion Of The Shoot
So to sum up then, the shoot was enjoyable, interesting and in ways rather educational. For starters, meeting the Rattanak Kiri team and Ross Jukes was brilliant. They are very nice people indeed. Wandering around Birmingham at night with a Jaguar brought me a lot of insight into the city life and cityscape photography. With the city being quiet it gave me a lot of time to get to know the sights of the city. I only visit cities when they’re crowded or in rush hour. Coincidentally, I visited London only a few days before so I was very worn out with being in the city. So I was very glad it was quiet about. It’s given me more of an insight into the city culture. Many cities across the UK and not just London can be as pretty as the landscapes of Snowdonia. And when it comes to photographing cars, the city landscapes can mix in very nicely. I will look forward to photographing more cars in the city in the future.
My Thoughts On The Jaguar XE
As for the Jaguar XE, well after being around it for a few hours I understood why it was built. I think it’s a car that we’ve been waiting for. I think it’s good that Jaguar have took a small step back and made a car suitable for everyone. Apart from it being slightly cramped there’s not much wrong with it. The looks are good as well as the interior. It’s great for economy and is a nice cruiser. I’d probably go for the XE Sport version but that’s because I’m too much of a petrol-head. Is it better than a BMW 3 series or an A4? Well, that I guess depends what kind of person you are. They’re all rather similar in some aspects. But remember this holds the Jaguar badge. A badge that holds a legacy of what Britain were capable of. It’s a very proud title. When you hear the name, there’s always the impression that hard work was put into it to make it stand out. They did with the XE and I look forward to what they’ll be able to make out of it. In other words I hope an XE-R or XE-RS will appear in the near future. And a note to Rattanak Kiri, if you get hold of one, I shall be there!