How to photograph a car

See how Barry Chignell works through several post processing steps to complete his car image.

|  Transport
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Words and images by Barry Chignell of Free Photo Resources.

You can see more of Barry's car photography tips in part one of his article.

Skoda in car park

I chose a multi storey car park for the shot in this tutorial, I went on my own and had previously cleaned the car.  Time of shoot was 8am on a Sunday.

  • Camera
  • 17-70mm lens
  • Tripod
  • Photomatix
  • Photoshop
As my car is bright red I chose the car park for the neutral colours and for the ‘urban’ look it would give the image. I went to the upper most floor that was not outside in case people started arriving and filling up the lower floors.

Next I chose a spot that contained a bit of colour and detail but not so much as to draw attention from the car. I reversed the car in and deliberately didn’t park in a space as this looks a bit weird and boring. I also left the wheel on the side of the car I was shooting from turned into the car, to capture the alloy wheel fully.

Next I took three bracketed shots of the car in Aperture priority (f/12) using the camera’s self timer to avoid camera shake.

Bracket shot 1 Bracket shot 2
Bracket shot 3  

I took plenty of photos from all different angles and this was my personal favourite from the shoot.  I deliberately included the two pillars on either side of the car to frame the shot.

Post Processing:

Open Photomatix

In Photomatix I processed the 3 images after exporting them from the camera’s PC software as 16 bit TIFF files. I chose to ‘Align Images’ but if you have used a tripod then this is not necessary.

Once processed the first preview looks like the one below:

Shot after first bit of processing in Photomatix

This is nothing like the photo that will be produced so do not worry at this point.

Tone Mapping

Click on the Tone Mapping button to begin the fun! I used the following settings:

Details Enhancer -

  • Strength – 100
  • Colour Saturation – 50
  • Light Smoothing – second check box from the right
  • Luminosity – 10
Tone tab -
  • White Point – 1.517%
  • Black Point – 5%
  • Gamma – 0.93
Colour tab -
  • All left at 0
Micro tab -
  • Micro Contrast – 10
  • Micro Smoothing –  1
Shadow/Highlight tab -
  • Highlight Smoothing – 0
  • Shadow Smoothing – 0
  • Shadow Clipping – 50

The '360 degree image' check box was left un-ticked.

Shot after  processing in Photomatix

Make the image 'pop'

As you can see the image looks a bit grainy and the car does not really stand out from the background yet.  To get the car to ‘pop’ out from the background I did the following in Photoshop:
  1. Sharpen the image by going to Filter>Sharpen>Sharpen
  2. Then sharpen the edges - Filter>Sharpen>Sharpen Edges
  3. Add a layer
  4. Select Blur>Gaussian Blur from the filter drop down and set the opacity of the layer to 50%.
  5. Create a Layer Mask by clicking on the icon on the layers palette that looks like a square with a circle in it.
  6. Select the brush tool and choose a brush with a soft edge, make sure the colour of the brush is set to black.
  7. Now, when you paint on a layer mask with black it actually removes that part of the layer, so what we are doing here is painting the car and any other areas of the photo that you wish to sharpen up (pre Gaussian Blur). In my example I painted the car and the signs behind it and to the right.
  8. I then added another layer and in the layer style drop down I selected ‘Soft Light’, I then set the opacity of the layer to about 45%, this darkens the image and increases the contrast so be careful not to overdo it!
Final image:

Final shot after processing of the Skoda in a cark park

To see more of Barry's car photography tips click on the link to read part one of his tutorial.

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