Mike McConnell’s Subaru-Powered 1968 Karmann Ghia

This was a long overdue photoshoot – Mike and I have been talking about getting together to shoot his Karmann Ghia for probably a year now since he started building it, and ever since then there has always been something that comes up – he needed to tune it, I had an appointment, something needed a slight fixing, I got caught up in other things… The list goes on. I can’t even count how many times we’ve gone back and forth about postponing our shoots. Anyway – we finally met up and with the daylight fading fast, we had to move quick.

Mike’s car is definitely something to see in person – it breaks necks left, right, and center. This is the first Karmann Ghia I’ve ever seen and before I met Mike, I never would’ve known what it was… It is older than me by almost 2 decades! The work that has been put into this thing and seeing the progress over Instagram is amazing and I’m glad I got a chance to capture this through my lens. As my Instagram caption stated – it is probably the craziest car to ever come through my lens to date. It’s hard not to respect and admire this car after watching it evolve through pictures from day 1.

I’ll add in some details as we go – as I’m sure you’re all wondering about it. Admittedly, though – I did not get all the shots I wanted to… It was a chilly night, we were losing sun extremely fast and we had no strobes to back us up if we needed it. All of these were shivering, handheld shots…

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JC and I met up, Mike came shortly after and had just washed his car, he hopped out and quickly dried the windows with his sleeve and off we went.

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On our way there, we had awesome light – not harsh and very calm – made for perfect color in the clouds and it definitely helped in bringing out the “classic” feel in the photos.

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Immediately you’ll notice how damn slammed Mike’s car is – and it isn’t bagged either like you would expect. This is all static and Mike drives with no fucks given – that’s what I loved about this whole shoot – it was very care free and “do what you need to get the shot”.

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One thing you also might not know just by looking at the pictures is that this car has been painted by Jesse – Mike’s partner-in-crime, if you will in building this car. This was actually Jesse’s car originally but Mike ended up taking it over and with the help of Jesse and his family, they built it into what it is today. I suppose you could say that Jesse is still building the dream, but with Mike at the wheel.

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Another interesting thing to note is that Mike is rocking a set of Porsche “phone dial” wheels – 15×6 in the front and 16×8 in the back. Behind those sit some nice disc brakes as well…

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Under that hatch (which I am regretting not getting a chance to show you guys) is a stock 2.2 turbo Subaru Legacy engine… This paired with a Haltech sprint 500 stand alone ECU from VEX gives it the power it needs to get going. There is currently no intercooler so he runs the risk of running hot but that is probably in the works for next year.

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There are some distinct points that stand out on the car but to me, they are more like beauty marks rather than imperfections. And it works well on a car like this – it gives it character. Funny how as things age, imperfections turn into “character”. I’m sure you won’t disagree…

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Another unique part of Mike’s car is the roof – again, painted by Jesse. There are lot of unique touches on the car that really make Mike’s car stand out and that’s huge these days. You really have to take risks in order to stand out, but you have to be willing to take the potential criticism that comes with it – good or bad. I think this is actually one of the highlights and I enjoy it a lot…

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Kind of a rare shot of the master and the project… Especially when you’re a photographer yourself; it’s rare to have a shot of your own work.

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JC’s car over to the side like usual under that nice sky.

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This shot reminded me of a scene from a gangster movie – don’t ask me which one, it just does.

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A shot to see the lines of the car. Truly one of a kind.

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One other thing to note about Mike’s car is that all the paint work that was done was done with a rattle can. Mike then polished the car to blend the new and old paint together. I would say after looking at it that it would be a tough task to point out exactly where that is… By no means is it a paint booth/professional job but I don’t think that was the intention – Mike’s intention was really just to take a car that is unique and do something crazy and different with it with what they had, and finally get it to the point where it was driveable and they could just enjoy their fruits of labor.

Shooting a car with brand new parts and paint is one thing, but shooting a car where sweat and tears are a must in order to get to a stage of being able to say “finally” is different. There’s more appreciation and more of those moments where you’re standing there admiring the work more than the car at times. You get that feeling with Mike’s Karmann Ghia and it’s a rare feeling.

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A shot to see just how low Mike rolls… There were a few times that we saw sparks fly out from the back and the car is just so low that rocks don’t even get a chance to go under it, it’ll just shoot out the side of the car. Just a little note of caution if you’re driving beside Mike :)

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Another shot that better shows how low it is. This road was relatively flat and to someone like me, it’s a great road with little issues. But for Mike, he scraped… And he loved it.

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Mad tuck. Even most bagged guys can’t get that much tuck.

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A nice shot of the rear and his exhaust set up. Under that trunk is a beautiful Subaru 2.2L turbo engine – once again, a thing I regret not being able to capture. But not to worry… I’ll get it the next time we go out for sure.

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The roller I posted up on Instagram that same night.

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Low shots compliment Mike’s Ghia well just because it hugs the road so tight and we all know how good cars look when they’re slammed AND rolling.

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One last shot of the many rollers we took that night that I decided to save for the long winter months. I loved a lot of these shots because we could see the moon so clearly and what better way to capture a beautiful car on a beautiful night.

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We ended up stopping back at our rendezvous point and I had to get a few more shots. Even as we sat in the lot, it was breaking necks – and rightfully so…

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That exhaust!!

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One last shot to leave you all with for a nice and happy Halloween.

This shoot was honestly one of my more stressful shoots because as I mentioned – Mike is a photographer too, and while I was not really losing sleep over what he thought of shooting the car, I wanted to make sure that he loved the photos OF his car. I say this because in many ways, Mike is more than capable of shooting and capturing his own car so that’s where he asked me to step in and take it from a different perspective. I think for the most part, I captured it well even though I didn’t get all the shots I wanted, but at the same time it wasn’t a failed shoot (I do consider some of my shoots failed sometimes).

Thanks for coming out Mike! And I know Jesse is reading this – sorry we missed you! Next time, we’ll make sure we all come out together and do some epic shooting – DUB Dynasty style. Thanks (again and again) to JC for making the trek all the way out to the boonies to get this shoot in the bag with me.

Have a happy Halloween!

And So It Begins…

I parked the FRS a week earlier just cause I don’t think I’ll have any time next week to do it and it was warm enough to wash and dry properly without getting chilly hands on Saturday. It ended up being perfect timing though – the weather is cold, it snowed a bit last night and I think I was just ready to put it in the corner after hitting 10,000KM on Friday.

So I’ve got it up on jack stands, stock wheels off, and it’s ready for some new legs and shoes. I’m hoping to complete all of the suspension pieces over winter and work on it little by little. I want to replace as much, if not all of the arms, links, and bushings if possible and get it on the ground and ready for next year. I also test fitted the TE37’s to see how they looked. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of it, I like how black and red all go together nicely, but it’s just too much red for me… Who knows, I might still do it for one season and like most people said on Instagram – once it’s on the ground and lowered, it should look decent… I’m honestly thinking of just going back to basics with a gloss black or white with OG Volk stickers, or if I’m looking to do a colour, I was thinking of doing a nice dark candy Purple, again with OG Volk stickers. We’ll see…

Anyway – some shots to show what I mean…

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Diana actually took these shots – which BTW turned out pretty decent. Now she thinks she can come on photoshoots and actually shoot to for some reason…

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She took this one too

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Then she got bored and left. So much for wanting to be my partner in crime…

Anyway – huge wheel gap, but it looks decent…

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My favourite shot.

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A shot from the rear quarter. Tough to tell how the fitment is but it should be fairly flush. No mexi for me… On the stock suspension, the inside of the wheel hits pretty close.

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And a shot of the front wheel. Everything is so clean. I love it!

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And the two winter beaters. Diana’s car is beat in general – we need to get rid of that thing and upgrade. The Civic on the other hand will forever be the best winter car. 160,000KM and still going strong. Anyway – hopefully in the coming months, I’ll slowly be getting parts in and whenever it warms up, I’ll be wrenching. Putting the car away for the winter is bittersweet – it’s sad that you can’t drive it, but it’s exciting cause it’s going to be like a brand new car next year!

PS – winter blows.

Almond’s Brand Spankin’ New BMW M3

There is something about the high performance and iconic cars that will just never go away. Maybe it’s the craft or the presence, or quite possibly the combination of the two – but you can’t ignore it even if you tried. I’ve shot all of Almond’s cars since I’ve known him – from his Mercedes G500 AKA gangster mobile to his now ex-girlfriend BMW 335i. Almond didn’t do anything horrible by any means, cause he cheated on his 335i with her younger, hotter, and better-dressed sister. Isn’t that what men would call “winning”? In other words, an upgrade from someone who isn’t performing as good as you’d like anymore is reasonable, isn’t it? Sure, Almond dressed his 335 up in fancy shoes, gave her a nice purr, and even got her a nice tune to strut her stuff more confidently, but at the end of the day it’ll never be an M3…

Which brings me to my next point… The M3, like I first mentioned, demands attention when you’re around it. It’s one thing to see it in pictures and in commercials, but you really have to be near one, to hear one, to see it ripping away from you to really appreciate all that it is. Almond posts many pictures of it on Instagram and I would too if I owned one. There is something pictures can’t capture, but I tried my best to at least capture the beauty of it and perhaps even a little of its presence.

Even with this being a last minute photoshoot, the stars aligned for us that day and we got some incredible photos. Thanks again to Almond for coming out on such short notice and to JC for coming all the way out of the hood over our neck of the woods to play.

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We’ll start it off with probably one of my favourite photos of that evening. The sun was just setting, the fall colours and the orange sunset in the back made the white pop… And usually (as you may know) I hate shooting black on white, but it didn’t bother me one bit that night. It was an awesome shoot.

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Anyway rewind a bit to the meetup – we decided to meet somewhere more central – Symon’s Valley Ranch. A nice secluded and fairly dead area to just chill. It has been a while since I met up with JC, so it was good to get out.

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Every line on the M3 is just so thoughtfully crafted. No matter what angle you look at it from, it looks good.

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The carbon fiber roof – can’t forget about that…

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The front grill and lower fascia especially is my favourite.

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The new headlights are also a nice change.

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The seats are awesome too. This emblem lights up when the doors open…

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And of course the interior tastefully sports a hefty amount of carbon fiber in all the right places.

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Carbon dash trim.

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The odometer is nice and clean as well with a nice little LCD screen down in the middle and digitally lighted gauges.

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A nice shot of the front portion of the car. The sedan looks way better than the coupe IMO and the way the rear flares blend with the doors is really nice.

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A look at the fitment and stance. Not bad for stock!

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Kind of a side shot…

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Head on. This looks the best.

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The blue big brake kit stands out perfectly behind his wheels and on a white car.

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The rear section of the M3 also looks amazing – complimenting lines from the front. The shark fin is also a great touch.

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JC not knowing what to do so he just held out the lens. As you can see, it was also an awesome night to shoot. It was a bit chilly, but beautiful nonetheless.

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Details come a long way and if you take the time to really look for them, you can appreciate them. Here you can see one of the many cameras mounted on the car to help with parking and get a birds eye view from the inside.

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M3 badging in the most obvious places and also in some easily missed spots as well…

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A closer shot of the headlights. You can take a closer look at how sharp the details are and no corners are cut. The halos still remain but never look tacky on a BMW…

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One final group shot before going our separate ways… JC also back on his stock wheels ready for winter. Me and my stock POS…

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Actually I lied – this is my favourite shot and that’s why I decided to put this last… This was actually one of my favourite shoots lately. Everything worked out perfectly… Almond’s already got some plans for the M3 so I don’t doubt we’ll be seeing this again soon. We’ll see!

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.

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