All Photos © 2004, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved
The biggest challenge when photographing cars at auto shows--indoors or
out--is dealing with cluttered backgrounds. In the past I've used
low angles, high angles and postproduction techniques to blur the setting and
add some zoom-zoom. That approach shifted my focus from the subject to its surroundings,
so I decided to stop worrying and digitally place these show cars into realistic
backgrounds. This technique uses Adobe Photoshop CS, but any image-editing program
with layers capability will work. The rest of the tools are common to other
software or are available as Photoshop compatible plug-ins.
One of the two images that make up this composite image was created with film
while the other was captured digitally. While this mixed media approach caused
me to add one effect (film grain) similar results could be obtained with film-film
images or digital-digital image files.
1. The original background photograph was made on 35mm Kodak
Portra 400 black and white film (C-41 process) with a Horizon 202 panoramic
camera. Having a car in the shot, in this case my GTI 337, let me later re-size
the hot rod's image in relation to the VW, but it's not necessary.
The negative was digitized with an Epson Perfection 4870 scanner using LaserSoft's
SilverFast software, which includes profiles for various manufacturers'
2. The hot rod was photographed with a Canon EOS 1D Mark
II in Raw format, so the first thing I did was tweak the image using Adobe's
Camera Raw. I could have used Canon's Digital Photo Professional software,
but since I was ultimately going to work on background and foreground images
in Photoshop CS, I decided to skip that step. Digital perfectionists might want
to take it.
3. I slightly tweaked the color and density of the hot rod
file using Camera Raw, and made extensive use of Photoshop CS Clone Stamp and
Healing brush to clean the dust and lint my local photo lab (Wal-Mart) adds
to negatives when processing the film. Then I used Levels (Image>Adjustments>Levels)
and Curves (Image>Adjustments>Curves) to adjust the image brightness.
If you're not working with a monitor that has been calibrated, you may
be whistling into the wind on this step and probably all that follow, but what
the heck, go for it.
4. Once the background was in good shape, it's time
to work on the foreground. Photoshop CS Extract command (Filter>Extract)
launches a dialog box giving you all the tools needed, but here's a few
tips that might make the process less stressful. The first step is outlining
the car using the Highlighter tool. Unless you're good at freehand drawing
I suggest you click the Smart Highlighting check box to guide the tool along
areas of varying color or contrast. It's also a good idea to work on an
enlarged section of the image and trace its outline with a small brush using
short easy strokes. (It's easier to undo mistakes this way.) I used my
mouse to outline the car's edges, but you can choose whatever kind of
pointing device works for you. When you're done outlining, select the
Paint Bucket tool and click the middle of the outlined subject to fill it with
color. Your car--or whatever--is now selected.
5. When you click the Extract button, the car is removed
from its background. This process is seldom perfect (for me anyway) so use the
Eraser tool to clean up extraneous background bits and pieces that might have
come along for the ride. At this point I noticed my next challenge: My original
photograph did not include the car's entire shadow, so I would need some
creative artwork to make the shadow whole. But first put the car on a separate
layer. Using the Magic Wand tool I selected the hot rod, then placed it on its
own layer using Command-J (CTRL-J on Windows). This last step may be redundant,
but like my dad, I guess I'm a "belt and suspenders" kind
6. With background and foreground image windows open, drag
the car layer on top of the background. This automatically places the car on
a new layer atop the background image. Next, use that layer's "handles"--be
sure "Show Bounding Box" is clicked in the Options bar--to
re-size and even rotate the car slightly to place it in a realistic position.
Make this step easier by lowering the top layer's Opacity and see through
the car onto the background while making these adjustments.