If you are going to absorb a piece of photography advice from someone you could do a lot worse than Ansel Adams’ often quoted “You don’t take a photograph, you make it”. With that in mind I teamed up with good friend and talented photographer Darren Skidmore to fake a desert drag race… in Peterborough!
From the outset we knew the photograph itself was never going to the the final product so care needed to be taken to light it correctly. As the final composite was going to be set in the desert sun, we needed to fill in the shadows with some flash.
This was the set up:
There is an Elinchrom Quadra pack about 10 feet behind each car at half power pumping light into the shadows to give that high noon look, resulting in this image. The double shadows are something that need to be addressed in post production.
When shooting at a car show held on an agricultural showground you are never going to have a clean background to work with. Cutting the straight edges of the cars out in Photoshop wouldn’t pose much of a problem so we concentrated on timing the shots so there we no people intersecting with Hayley.
With that, it’s over to Photoshop. Admittedly there are a few layers here but they can be easy broken down into 4 groups covering the road and background, the cars, the shadows and the tyre smoke. Most are just masked layers to drop in elements from various source photographs with a few curves adjustment layers to balance colours.
Big thanks go to Darren for taking the shot, Hayley for getting our idea, Performance Direct for their support and hospitality all weekend and of course Pip Hitchcock and Lee Freeman for building such awesome cars.
Enough talk, here’s the final image. We’d love to hear what you think.
I was confined to an exhibition hall because a monsoon had descended on Peterborough Arena and the rest of the show I was at was rained off. Not exactly conducive to photography but hey, I like a challenge and that challenge came from ‘Maxxis babe’ Sarah. Something like “Go on then, come up with an idea!” “Give me an hour” was my reply.
I walked the hall but came up with nothing interesting. The place was rammed as a some of the outside parts of Modified National had squeezed inside. The atmosphere was great with everyone trying to make the best of it but there was barely room to move.
The only real option for a location was the Maxxis VW van but just shooting the girls with it in front of the Maxxis truck under the orange hall lighting wasn’t going to cut it. So I came up with the concept of the girls traveling the UK with this as their tour bus in a sixties, Summer Holiday style.
So here’s the original image. Everything but the bus is underexposed almost making it look like a composite already. Ideally I’d have preferred the bus on a plain or at least a simpler background but I had to work with what I had.
Obviously there was going to be a fair bit of compositing involved but the first job was to get the lighting right. The only light in the hall was coming from the high ceiling lights so the inside of the bus was dark and gloomy. If I dropped that onto a bright sunny background it was going to look very wrong. So, with the idea explained to the girls, out came the flashes.
The first is tucked away in the glovebox in front of Amy, camera right. It was set to a wide angle and feathered over towards Sarah on the left to even out the exposure. It’s not perfect but it’s close enough to pull back in post production.
Lana, Nickie and Danni in the back (seriously rocking the 60’s vibe by the way!) were lit with the second flash. It’s sat on the floor firing up towards the panel behind the front seats to make a nice big light source. Being a heavily modified van, this panel was covered in orange audio amplifiers so there was a MacGuver moment when some of the sticker sheets the girls were giving out we’re used to cover the amps and make a white reflector. Without this, the colour cast would have been very strong, especially with the amount of orange Lycra in the shot!
After a few test shots I knew I had the interior lit just right but the front of the bus was far too dark so a third flash is sat on the floor facing upwards hitting the front with just a wink of fill.
After using almost every Photoshop selection technique I know I had a finished layer mask.
Applying that to the original shot gave me a nicely lit, floating bus, ready to drop onto a suitably sunny background found on a stock library.
A quick Google for an Austin Powers font and a touch of the Warp tool and the image was done.
Yes, it’s ridiculous, cheesy and hammy but it shows the sun can still shine in an exhibition hall in rainy Peterborough.
I have been watching a lot of the free YouTube videos created by Aaron Nace and the Phlearn.com team recently and I’ve been feeling inspired to push what I do in Photoshop a bit further. My goal with this shot, taken this weekend, was to go full-on Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster.
Just down the road from me is this view, where the marina ends and the Severn Estuary begins with a huge industrial area making a suitably dystopian background. This is the scene as is, shot at 2.5 seconds with an aperture of f/7.1 to add a subtle starburst effect to each light source. Because of the low light I was locked down on a tripod to avoid any motion blur.
With a few different exposures of the same composition in the can to chose from later, it was time to bring my ever-patient other half Helen into the scene. Despite the life boat keeping station just offshore she got into the role and threw a few “Oh my God! Aliens!” poses.
Lighting was about as basic as it gets. I was using an Elinchrom Quadra with a 7″ reflector and a 30° grid but it was on such low power I could have easily achieved the look with a speed light and a Honl grid or even something a little more Strobist. You can see the light in the above image, about nine feet in the air to camera right. One of the beauties of shooting from a tripod is you can easily remove things like light stands from an image by shooting multiple exposures and using layer masks in Photoshop.
Speaking of Photoshop, this is where the real heavy lifting with this image was done. As planned. This wasn’t a case of fixing what I could, and should, have got right in camera. This was about adding a specific look and this is where the techniques I picked up from Aaron came in.
There are three main Photoshop edits here.
I won’t make this into a full tutorial as Phlearn have already done a fantastic job but I’ll give a quick outline of each step.
Step 1: Colour Grading
Until recently I have done any split toning of my images in Lightroom. Split toning means adding a different colour to you shadows and highlights. In this case I went for a cool greeny blue in the dark areas of the image and a warm yellowy orange in the highlights using Solid Colour adjustment layers and the Blend If options in Photoshop’s Layer Styles.
Step 2: Beam of light
This is just a selection drawn with the polygonal lasso tool on a new layer, filled with white and Gaussian blurred. The thing that that makes it more believable is the fact it done on three layers, each is a slightly narrower, slightly brighter, slightly less blurred beam.
Step 3: Clouds around the light sources
Light is invisible. You only see it when in interacts with something else and when talking about alien tractor beams over water this is going to be mist. I created this with Photoshop’s Render Clouds feature, Gaussian blurred them a little then painted them in around each source of light with a layer mask to make the beam a little more solid and convincing.
So all in all, about 10 minutes to set up, another 10 to shoot and a couple of hours in Photoshop but the majority of the work went in to planning and pre-visualising the image before even leaving the house.
I’d love to hear what you think of the final image. Am I wielding Photoshop like a scalpel or a sledgehammer?