Through My Lens: SEMA 2018

The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show holds a very special place in my heart. Before I really started my career as an automotive journalist, I had the opportunity to attend the SEMA Show. My first time there, I fell in love with the cars and experienced a rush of excitement that reinforced why I wanted to dedicate my life to automotive journalism. Two weeks later I had a full-time position doing what I love, and two years later I made it onto SEMA’s 35 Under 35 list.

Each year is a different experience and in its own way thrilling. This year I was at the helm of Power & Performance, and running around the SEMA Show floor more than ever before. While I did not get to walk around and enjoy the moment very much, I was able to snag a few images as I walked, or ran, from meeting to meeting. Each of the photos I selected represents a moment, a car I loved seeing, or a picture I  found to be visually appealing.

Here are some of my 2018 highlights:

The Golden Era of American Muscle 

Nikon D750, 300.0 mm f/4.5 lens | ISO 720, 1/40 sec @ ƒ/4.5

If you ask classic muscle car fans what they love most about domestic cars from 1964-1974, they might mention things like horsepower output and torque figures, they may comment on the exhaust notes, aggressive hood scoops, bright colors and cool graphics, and “burnout” will also be mentioned — because that’s what muscle cars do.

Some said, “big, badass Hemi-powered stoplight racers and track-oriented GT350s? Nah, we’ll never see those again.”

Nikon D750, 35.0 mm f/1.8 lens | ISO 320, 1/100 sec @ ƒ/1.8

Today’s muscle cars, like the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro in “Shock Yellow” pictured here, offer vastly superior performance while retaining all of the ingredients that made the original era such a unique moment in time. OEM’s have applied modern technology to make muscle cars in this era safer and more fuel efficient than their 50-year-old counterparts. They also provide cool features like launch control and line-lock, which you know, makes burnouts even easier.

What I love most about these two photos is that the cars are similarly colored, and each has those elements that make a muscle car unique and stand out. I also love the old man, almost matching the car, taking a photo of the information display.

It’s Lit 

Nikon D750, 300.0 mm f/4.5 | ISO 125, 1/160 sec @ ƒ/4.5

What I love about this image is the lighting. I took this photo in the morning before a lot of people got to the show and before the sun had risen high enough where it would have been blocked by the roof. The BMW looks killer but what makes this image “fun” to me, is the red S550 pocking out from behind it with neon tire stickers.

All Of The Carbon Fiber 

Nikon D750, 35.0 mm f/1.8 lens | ISO 320, 1/160 sec @ ƒ/1.8

I am pretty open with my thoughts that the S550 Mustang lacks the Mustang spirit. To me, as an enthusiast, it’s kay. That said, there is something about the GT350 styling that gets me going. Those who know me, also know I love carbon fiber. It’s really no surprise I would be all over the carbon fiber Speedkore GT350 at the Ford display.

What I like about this image is that it showcases the GT350’s aggressive styling with an overall dark and moody tone.

Nikon D750, 35.0 mm f/1.8 lens | ISO 320, 1/80 sec @ ƒ/1.8

“Forged carbon fiber” is one of the hot trends going around right now. For those who are unfamiliar, forged carbon has more of a marble pattern look to it, and it is said to be weaker than the traditional weave, pictured here. What I love about this image is that the clarity makes it striking and you can see the attention to detail that went into how the woven carbon fiber was laid to create these body panels.

That Wrap Though 

Nikon D750, 300.0 mm f/4.5 | ISO 125, 1/200 sec @ ƒ/4.5

I love the image, and I love the car. This Z06 Corvette belongs to a friend of mine from Phoenix who has shown cars at SEMA for a few years now. Each time, his car is coincidentally displayed in the same general area,  and each year his car features a stunning wrap.

What I love most about this photo is that it is an accurate representation of how the car looks in real life, it captures the same brilliant color and always had someone around it.

@Guac_Zilla 

Nikon D750, 300.0 mm f/4.5 | ISO 125, 1/60 sec @ ƒ/4.5

Without a doubt, this is my favorite image from SEMA 2018. Pictured is the @Guac_Zilla GT-R owned by Tanner Fox. A lot of patience was required to capture this moment as it was nearing lunch time and so many people stepped into the frame which required me to wait for the perfect moment patiently.

Drifting with Ford Out Front

Nikon D750, 300.0 mm f/4.5 lens | ISO 100, 1/125 sec @ ƒ/5.0

One of my favorite things to shoot is drifting. For me, its about capturing the moment and capturing the speed and angle to show the performance of the car and driver. At the SEMA Show, the course driven by Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chelsea Denofa was relatively short and didn’t allow the drivers to gain too much speed. As a spectator, it was challenging to get the right angle, and I was three rows deep behind other people watching the event.

I captured this photo on the final day of SEMA as the show was coming to an end. Shortly after this, Vaughn Gittin Jr. jumped his drift car. My picture of that came out blurry and unusable, but it was pretty incredible to see.

The Legend Continues

Nikon D750, 35.0 mm f/1.8 lens | ISO 320, 1/200 @ ƒ/1.8

During the show, Ford premiered the latest Ford GT, the Carbon Series. A good friend of mine manages the Media for Ford North America, and he allowed me to stand behind the ropes with a mostly uninterrupted view of the reveal.

What I love about this moment is that I captured something that truly no one else did. I was the only photographer in the area when this happened and I feel incredibly honored to have had the opportunity.

Photo gallery

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About the author

Nicole Ellan James

As an automotive journalist and avid car enthusiast, Nicole Ellan James has a passion for automotive that is reflected in every aspect of her lifestyle. Follow Nicole on Instagram and Facebook - @nicoleeellan
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