Automotive Photography: It’s Kinda Complicated

An interesting thought came to my mind last night about photography and it all started from the fact that I have a shoot with Mike and his Ghia this evening. Weird combination of thoughts – I know… But the reason why is because Mike is a fellow dSLR-wielding, car-loving fanatic like myself. Cars and the automotive scene in general make us giddy like little school boys, and photography helps us meet new people and craft our own skill. Now the thought that loomed over my last night was “how can I get better at photography?” and the reason why it’s been on my mind for the last 12 hours is because a part of me is anxious to shoot Mike’s car and the other part of me is nervous that I won’t shoot it “right”.

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Then I got to thinking – there’s no wrong or right way to photograph – it is all personal preference and style. Ever since I picked up my first Canon XT SLR, I’ve always wanted to create amazing images. The first person to ever inspire me was Easton Chang – those of you that are into automotive photography probably know who I am talking about…¬† I had wallpapers of his shots of the Mugen RSX on my desktop for months, rotating between the Pioneer NSX, J’s Racing S2000, and the R34 Skyline. Those 4 images were the pinnacle of automotive photography for me – my source of inspiration and awe. I remember even staring at them for unhealthy lengths of time, wondering how he got that shot – oblivious to the fact that post-processing even existed¬† back then.

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Every time I would go out and shoot, I would try and mimic the way that Easton shot and it failed every damn time. There was not a chance in hell I was ever going to shoot like him so that dream died fast. I did, however, always compare my shots to fellow photographers that I looked up to, and even then I got disappointed. That’s where my mistake was – comparing myself to someone with a different style other than my own. I quickly realized that in order to separate myself from people and to prevent myself from getting disappointed, I had to find my own way of shooting. It truly is an art and anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Ask any amateur photographer what they’re biggest challenge is and they’ll probably tell you that it’s finding their own style and making use of composition and all the other things regular, non-camera geeks are unaware of.

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Even today, I look to other photographers for inspiration… Something that I can take and merge with my own style to create something unique – almost like a signature. When you look at certain shots, you know right away who shot it if they’ve been shooting long enough. Style has everything to do with photography – some use a lot of contrast, some use a lot of vignetting, and the list goes on…

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Photography is two things to me: A hobby and a passion. I separate the two because there are people that are passionate about shooting – they do it because they truly love it and want to create. Then there are people that shoot because it’s fun to do. I respect both, but I admire the ones that do it as a passion because they will do whatever it takes to get the best possible shot, they aren’t satisfied with everything and are the harshest critics on themselves. Hobbyists will post every single 128 photos that they shot all over the world wide web, while you’ll only ever see a few shots from the latter. There is something satisfying in one great shot that you can’t get from 128 shots. The key to becoming better at something is to be happy, but never satisfied… It can’t be more true for photography.

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I’ve come to the point where I’m not comparing myself to others and when you finally get to that point, your own style will start to come out. The way you want colours to look, the feel of the picture, the composition you want to have. Everything just naturally comes when you’ve absorbed enough influence and experience to shoot the way you love. Sounds corny as hell… But nowadays – that’s what people want in a photographer. They want uniqueness in a shot and the only way to do that is to develop it first.

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How do you develop uniqueness, you ask? You shoot and you shoot and you don’t stop until you get the same feeling that the owner would get looking at their own car. That’s where all of this originally came from – the fear that I would not be able to shoot a fellow photographer/car enthusiasts car in the best way that I could. Mike’s car will be the first one that I shoot where the he (the owner) is fully capable of doing their own photoshoot (which is why I’m so anxious). Mike mentioned that he felt the same way back when he shot my LS460…

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I guess the difference is that I was excited to see the outcome of a photoshoot of MY OWN car. More often than not, my car is just in the background and hardly gets noticed. Having it as the subject for once made it super exciting for me. I was even more stoked when I saw what Mike came up with… I guess that’s the commonality between photographers – we look to each other for inspiration because we more than likely would never shoot the same way.

When you push the shutter button and you look at the preview and you say “shit, that was a good shot”. You want to strive for that.

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You want to create that feeling in an owner where they say “Damn, I shouldn’t have sold that”. (Pictures can do that)

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At the end of the day, you want to make a great looking car look as good as it deserves.

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Happy shooting!

How To: Photoshop a Rolling Shot

So now you know how to take a rolling shot… Let’s learn how to just fake one completely!

It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted up my rendition on “how to take a rolling shot” and since I’ve posted it, it’s been my top post every single day since then, and even today. To date, it’s got 5,596 hits and I think that’s pretty helpful if even 10% of those hits got something out of it. Here it is again if you want to reference it: How To: Take Rolling Shots. Ever since it got so much attention, I’ve been wanting to share some other tips and/or tricks that might help but to be honest, I don’t have many tricks up my sleeve. I like to shoot so that I don’t have to do a lot of “fixing” but I do want to try and learn new techniques to help me get better. Sometimes being able to visually manipulate a photo can make it more interesting to look at, or give it that “wow” factor.

One thing that I’ve used once or twice (literally) out of necessity is rendering a shot of a car to make it look like it’s rolling. It works great if you have a rolling shot and didn’t get enough wheel spin or background blur as well. For illustrative purposes, I’ll use a “less than ideal” photo just to demonstrate the techniques better and in the easiest way I can. Once you practice with this technique, it becomes easier to translate them over to other types of photos.

I’m working with Adobe Photoshop CS5.1 only – I don’t work in any other program because I find that CS5 does exactly what I need it to do. I’ve tried working within Lightroom but it personally wasn’t for me. These techniques are fairly simple and if you’re comfortable in photoshop, you’ll be able to get this in one shot.

IMG_0254 copyHere is the original shot that we’ll work with. It’s stationary, exactly parallel with the camera and the background is fairly simple to work with.

IMG_0254 copy1The next thing I did to simplify things is I just cloned out the ground a bit to make it simple. The curb kind of made it look weird and uneven so I wanted to take it off.

Notice that I didn’t spend much time on it because it won’t matter much in the later steps. Just make it look clean and do it to the rest of the background if you feel it’s needed.

IMG_0254 copy2The next thing you want to do is select the car only. There are a few ways to do this. You can use the polygonal lasso tool, the magnetic selection tool, or you can just highlight around the car to get the most accurate selection. You’ll find yourself with a headache after a few tries with either of the first two options, so I highly suggest the latter route…

Simply press “Q” on your keyboard and select the brush. This puts you in quick mask mode. When you start “painting” on the picture, it should start painting a translucent, neon pink/red on your picture. This is what you want. You can adjust your brush size as you get closer to the car to get as close as you need. This gets down to 1 pixel so if you need to get into tight spots (between wing stands, wheel wells, bumpers, etc). The best thing is if you accidentally “paint” over a part of the car, simply press “X” and paint over the area you need to correct. This will get rid of the pink/red selection.

IMG_0254 copy3Take your time as you get closer to the car… The more time you spend selecting around the car properly, the better results you’ll get at the end. Here is a shot of the full background selected around the car. You’ll notice that as you start to do this, you might want to leave more of the car’s shadow as part of the “unpainted” part so that it doesn’t look disconnected in your final image.

In this example, I painted over the shadow so you could see what it looks like when that happens…

IMG_0254 copy4When you are happy with your selection, press “Q” again and it should select the car – your marker will outline the car.

IMG_0254 copy5Simply copy (CTRL +C) and then paste (CTRL +V) right after. What that does is it allows you to separate the car from the background for use later. The image should look exactly the same – the only thing that you’ll notice is that you’ll now have an extra layer in your layer window. (Bottom right window on my screen).

IMG_0254 copy6The next step is to simulate the background movement. In your layer window, select the “Background” layer or your original layer if it’s not called “Background” and navigate to your filter menu. Filter > Blur > Motion Blur.

IMG_0254 copy7Selecting that will bring up an option window. In this window, you have the option to adjust the angle and the distance. The angle should always match the direction that the car is moving or the direction you want the viewer to “feel”. The distance is totally subjective – it should look like it’s blurred enough. Not too much or else it’ll look fake, but not too little or it won’t do much in terms of creating a sense of movement.

In this example, my angle is “0” and my distance is “250”. It’ll simulate what it looks like as you play with it. Once you’re happy with what you have, click “OK”.

IMG_0254 copy8The next step is to make the wheels look like they’re spinning. This particular step is important because that’s what makes a rolling shot look so good. This step can also be used in real rolling shots where you need MORE wheel spin.

What you wanna do is select your elliptical marquee tool to select the wheel AND tire. It’s important that you don’t forget the tire – lots of people only select the wheel and think that the tire doesn’t spin either. We need to create the full effect as best we can. In this image, you can see everything I can select of the wheel and tire is selected.

IMG_0254 copy9Navigate up to your filter menu again. Filter > Blur > Radial Blur.

IMG_0254 copy10The radial blur does exactly what it’s named. It creates a radiused blur around your selection. You want to choose “Spin” and “Best” usually. The blur center in this case should remain as default – that is centered. This works because the car is exactly parallel to the camera.

However, if the car was angled or off center, then you would have to adjust the blur center accordingly.

Do this for both wheels.

IMG_0254 copy11OK! We are almost there – we have the background moving, we have the wheels moving and it’s looking good! Just a few more things to make it look a little better…

1) The T1R big brake kit is no longer visible.

2) There is a ghost image from the blur that was created.

IMG_0254 copy12For Jackie’s car, I know he has a big brake kit and I know it’s T1R so it was easy for me to find. When you use radial blur, it doesn’t retain the original details behind the wheel like you would see in a real rolling shot. So, just to try and retain the “realistic” feeling, we’ll put the BBK in there.

I found this image and I used the same quick mask method as I did above. However, when you press “Q” when you’re complete, you need to invert the selection so that you select only the brake and not the other stuff you don’t want. Just go Select > Inverse.

After I selected, I copied it and pasted it on to the image.

IMG_0254 copy13Once you paste it, you need to go Edit > Free Transform so that you can adjust the size of the caliper to match the original brake as close as you can. Just position it where it needs to be.

IMG_0254 copy14This is what it should look like. So far so good.

IMG_0254 copy15The next step is another important step because we don’t want to just have the brake sit on top of the wheel, we need to make it look like it sits BEHIND the wheel now.

To do this, simply play with the opacity in the layer window… This will differ every time because lighting will be different. I also adjusted the brightness and contrast to get it a little darker to make it look like it was “shaded”. The process is the same every time, but the values (opacity, brightness, levels, contrast) will almost always be different in each situation depending on the lighting of your original shot.

IMG_0254 copy16The next step is to get rid of the ghost car image that you see behind and in front of the car from when we used the motion blur. Again, not something you typically see in a real rolling shot, so let’s try our best to get rid of it.

What I did was I opened up the original image in a separate window and I just cloned the car out. Again, notice that I did not spend a lot of time making sure it was perfect or ensuring that lines lined up or anything. All we need to do is get the car out of the shot.

Once you’re happy with your result, simply apply the motion blur effect again – the same values you used earlier should still be there. All you need to do is click “OK”.

Now once the image is motion blurred, just take your rectangle marquee selection tool and select the full background. Once you select it, copy and paste it as a new layer into your original working file.

IMG_0254 copy17Once you paste it, it’ll paste as the top layer. You’ll need to drag and drop it down so that it’s the second last layer/on top of your “Background” layer in your layers window. You can see that in my screenshot above. You can see now that the ghost car image is no longer there! Voila!

There are a few things with this image that I wanted to illustrate though…

1) Because I did not select the shadow, it looks like the car is floating on nothing on the rear tire. This is why your selection step is crucial. You want to select everything you need for the later steps. The key is to think about how you want the end image to look like and do your pre-work accordingly.

2) This image had a background that was very close to the car and had quite a bit of detail in it. The closer the background is to the car, the harder it is to make it look more realistic. One exception to this is if your background is one or two simple colors – like a simple grey wall or a non-reflective surface. If the background had been a farm with a bunch of houses, etc it makes it more difficult to look realistic until you get really good with different techniques.

3) I did a quick job on the selection to show what happens when you don’t slow down and zoom in to carefully select. It looks like the car has been cut out and placed in the shot. That’s the last thing you want because you want to create the most realistic effect you can – your selection process will determine this.

4) No driver – so it takes away from the fact that it should look real. Had a person been sitting in there, it would’ve made it a little more believable. It’s best to work with an angle that is slightly off centered so that some of the harder details to hide aren’t so bad.

IMG_0254 copy18The final output image – I had to do some post processing to make it look a little more presentable. I tried to manually add in the shadow especially near the rear wheel. I blurred the car around the edges a bit to “hide” a little of the separation but you can easily see the separation the most at the front bumper. Overall, it helps to demonstrate the techniques properly for you to translate into your own images.

The best thing about this is that you can make a pretty standard picture look a little bit more exciting with some effort on your end.

Arif’s Honda Civic EK 2.0 – AKA Hollie

Hump day post!!

Last weekend we finally got out to shoot Arif’s car, and it was in the plan for a while but by Arif’s request, he wanted more of a “Fall-y” shoot so we waited a little longer until the leaves got a little more yellow and the weather was less “Summer-y” I guess you could say. Also wanted to give Arif a shoot because he hooked me up with the sweet JDM mirror for my FRS – so that just goes to show you if you buy me a mirror, you’ll get a photoshoot.

I think the last time I shot Arif’s car was wayyy back in 2009 or something like that when I also still had my Civic. He had just got his TE37’s, and I was really just getting into photography. Most will probably recognize his car because it’s been in the game for a long time and he’s changing pieces here and there to change it up every year. He’s one of the few that have stuck with the same platform and has built it up to something that everyone knows today. The only other person that comes to mind right now as I write this is Ryan O’Hara and his EP3 that I posted not too long ago.

But back to the point about Arif wanting a “Fall-y” shoot – I decided to try something a little different this time with the photos. When I shoot and edit, I usually try and stick to a natural look – meaning that I don’t really do much except maybe try and make the wheels pop a little more or clone out a sign if it’s distracting. Other than that, many of my photos are untouched because I am a fan of working as best as I can with the environment and light to get a good picture. That’s not to say that I’m not a fan of highly processed photos (not HDR) because that’s cool too… I just never tried to do it. Anyway, what I’ve done for this post is I’ve edited a few of the pictures twice – the first one you’ll see is straight from the camera in terms of colour, contrast, etc. The second picture I tried to go a little more processed – I “made” it look more like Fall, I enhanced the contrast and shadows while making the whites pop a little more. Keep in mind, I don’t usually do it and I want to try to see if I can go that route to see if it’s something that I like… But I thought I’d explain first before you scroll through the pics and wonder what the hell is going on.

Bonus pictures for Arif and his choosing too…

I’ll start with a shot from the last time his car was seen through my lens.

Arif's Honda Civic EK 2.0

White on white – TE37’s with the CTR wing on Paul @ Garage Box’s wing brackets/risers.

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And let’s bring it forward to today with some slight changes…

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The day started off with JC picking my ass up again. (Thanks sir)

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The same cockpit I take a picture of every photoshoot. The only difference is that he actually opened the Junction Produce Hello Kitty air freshener this time and it doesn’t smell as good as you’d expect… Oh well.

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While waiting in the lot for Arif to arrive, we decided to try and get some shots near the birds but they kept moving away as we got closer so that was a bust.

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Random shot. I like the look of the front bumper here.

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And off we go – Arif right behind us.

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So here is where the dual pictures will start. Let me know what you think of the before and after and which ones you like better!

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Arif has always <3’d the haters.

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A shot requested by Arif to send into Red Bull… Some Bokeh action.

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Side profile shot. I’m digging the look of the Seeker wing now even though I love the riser look on the CTR wing.

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More wheel pop. More Pumpkin Spice Latte colours.

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Here’s a good shot of another one of his new additions – newly retrofitted headlights which look quite good.

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More #PSL.

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Head on.

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I ended up liking this picture more and the more I look at them, the more I like the second, more processed pictures… Gives it a good look, especially on white.

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We decided to have a Instagram competition… Didn’t know what we were really competing on but we had one. Here we see a wild Arif furiously adding hashtags to his Instagram post.

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And over to your right, we see a wild JC picking the best filter for his photo.

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Then over here, because we’re in the middle of butt-fuck-nowhere, I’m trying to send my shit to Instagram and it’s not sending because I’m not on Canada’s largest network. Took me a good 5 minutes to send it.

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In the meantime, Arif has already got 5 likes, JC still can’t decide on a filter and I’m pissed because my shit won’t send.

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That’s not a fake sun BTW. I don’t do fake sun flares.

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I do enhance them though. I like this one more.

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JC still can’t pick a damn filter, Arif is reading all his hashtags and I’m wondering why the hell there’s no coverage out here.

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Interior shot.

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A close up look of his CE28’s

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With #PSL filter. (Kidding – I don’t call it that).

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By now, my picture sent and we were good to go. JC still hadn’t picked his filter.

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I like this shot and in both edits, it looks like his hood is Carbon-Kevlar, and it’s not so don’t be confused.

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Shot of his engine…

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Some work that Screamin’ Paintworks did for Arif a while back was get rid of the “D” and the “C” to make it say “OH VTEC”. Not something you would generally notice if you didn’t look carefully…

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Closer shot of the Seeker wing.

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With the edit…

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I was indifferent about this edit – but that doesn’t matter right now, look at Arif’s car.

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This shot just makes it look so warm… Which it was. This was also one of the last rolling shots down that strip. I got a few more but I decided not to post them just yet (sorry Arif) and I’ll save them for a little later… :)

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On the way home, JC got the feels as we saw a kitted Corolla roll up but then we saw that it was clearly confused. Hard to tell in the picture but the tail lights looked like Swarovski’d out (which isn’t cool).

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Then we got in front and saw that he was trying to be like a Mazda 3 up front. Ah… I’ll never understand…

Happy hump day!

Two Mann Studios: Diana and Jason

Wanted to spam this everywhere. We just got the link to this last night and we were so stoked about it because it’s been about 2 months since we’ve gotten to see anything from the wedding. Erika and Lanny have finally finished all of our photos and just put together a quick slideshow for us and it is absolutely amazing.
If you’re looking for wedding photographers – look no further… Erika and Lanny are as good as it gets. I was extremely picky when choosing a photographer because I wanted to make sure they captured photos the way we (I) wanted and they delivered 100%.

I’ll let the pictures/video speak for itself… Brings back some good memories.

Scott’s Honda S2000 – Batmobile: Work In Progress

Finally!! I can’t believe the last post was on September 19th… I feel like I just posted that yesterday.

Been a crazy few weeks trying to get stuff done… It’s always around month end where things get hectic and there’s always a bunch of errands to run. I was up in Edmonton this past week for work and I wanted to shoot someone’s car while I was there. I really want to try and get out to shoot cars in different places because it doesn’t happen often. In particular, I want to head out to Vancouver and Toronto to shoot their local talent – which IMO is far superior than ours. I may be biased though because I’m so used to what our city has to offer or I just never see it enough.

I’ll be blunt – Edmonton is bland. There’s nothing to do except go to West Edmonton Mall, eat, or drive on their shitty roads. However, there are a few tuners there that pop their head out once in a while… I’ve been following Scott and his S2000 project for a while, and even before that, he was working on his GE8 Fit. Scott’s project appeals to me simply because it is different – it isn’t going in the same direction as a lot of the S2000 builds you see lately – no stance to make her dance, no “low as you can go” deal, not that I hate it or anything, but it’s cool to shoot something different.

Right now Scott is kind of in the awkward stage of his build – where he’s waiting for some key parts but he still wants to drive it. It happens sometimes and you just love the car so much that you don’t care that it’s missing it, you just want to drive it. Fortunately enough for the sake of me shooting his car, he’s missing his front fenders which coincidentally make it look quite aggressive given the amount of tire he’s rolling on. That’s what I like about Scott’s car – it looks different, not by design, but because of function and the lack of parts needed to complete it.

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We’ll start off with this roller as the sun set…

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A view from the hotel room – which isn’t all that special. Where we stayed it was mostly industrial-type areas, so this is pretty much all you get for as far as you can see

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Chillin’ watching The Big Bang Theory waiting for Scott…

That was the catch for a photoshoot – I needed to be picked up from the hotel and if they wanted rolling shots, they needed to bring a friend. Scott was happy enough to do both so he got both haha

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Wasted no time and we were on our way.

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Now for some detail shots of his S2000…

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Up close. You can see all the tire and it’s “actually” touching the ground.

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335’s out back with CG rear over fenders. I love wide tires.

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A shot from the side sans front fenders… It gives it quite an aggressive look which is what appealed to me the most.

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From the back you can see there is very minimal camber and a lot of contact patch. Just looks so aggressive.

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The CCW’s in full black are also quite a rare sight to see… You usually only see the classics in full polish.

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His front end is pretty track-inspired as well with the splitter, brake cooling ducts in the bumper…

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Scott also created vents in his hood on his own which turned out quite nicely as well.

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Another shot of his vents – you can take a peak underneath too

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All that gloss.

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A shot of the rear. He’s actually on stock suspension with springs – it ends up working quite well because of how meaty his tire is…. The ride is quite comfortable.

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Sun flare pictures!!

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Another from the back. My favourite view.

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A little blurry, but I still liked it…

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Thanks again to Scott for giving me the opportunity to shoot this and say I’ve shot a car in Edmonton… My camera hasn’t really been anywhere else to shoot cars but I’m hoping to do more of it soon…

I got a couple more shoots coming up shortly so the blog won’t be so stale in a few days… Stay tuned.


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