Shooting MPACT 2019

A magical shoot happened the day before the event, but MPACT 2019 held plenty of magic itself.

Take a walk with me through the pits, down the track, and in the garages for a tour of some truly unique rides.

BMW M3
A BMW M3 at sunset by the garages. A quick one before shooting Sue’s M2.
toyota-supra-mark4
A classic.
bmw-m3-lineup
A lineup of BMWs show off their vendor’s gear.
bmw-m3-lineup-morning
Morning is the best time to walk the pits.
m3-racing
Speed and Powa! As Clarkson would say.
bmw-e46-m3-vert
A BMW E46 M3 sits near the fence.
nissan-r35-gtr
Where there is smoke, there is Godzilla.
bmw-m4-gts
The mighty BMW M4 GT-S. I designed the original voucher that went along with these cars.
bmw-m2-black-and-white
Some selective coloring is applied here. Just make 2 layers, and mask out the parts you’d like to keep the color on in Photoshop.
bmw-lime-m2
It’s a wrap! But a convincing one.
bmw-f10-m5
M5 and clear blue sky. Life is good.
bmw-e92-m3
I miss my E92, and these cars look great despite hitting the 10-year old mark.
bmw-e46-m3
MPACT’s own E46 M3 parked in the middle of the action.
bmw-1m
A rare BMW 1M parked near pit row.
bmw-m5-v10
The E60 M5 features that sweet, sweet V-10 that will never come again.
nissan-gtr-camo
Behold Godzilla in all his glory.
bmw-m5-garage
I love the F10, and these cars still look modern to me.
bmw-m2-pit-row
The NYC BMW M2 in the garages.
bmw-m2-nyc-garage
The NYC BMW M2 in the garages.
bmw-nyc-m2
The BMW M2 I shot for BMW NYC had a new wrap on it.
BMW M3 BBS wheel display
The BBS wheel display always features some multi-spokes.

How I shot it – the BMW M3.

BMW M3
Shot by a fence, with aperture at f/4, gives us the blurred foreground and background.

A question I often get asked is “How do I get the entire car sharp while blurring everything else?” The short answer is, you don’t, but you can fake it! The long(ish) answer follows.

Getting a nice bokeh, or soft background, requires you to lower your aperture, usually to the lowest setting your lens has. Shooting a portrait at f/1.8 will give you that contrast of sharp face and blurred background (or foreground). But a car isn’t a face; it’s much bigger. If you try to shoot a car at 1.8, and you tell the camera to focus on the front, you’ll usually get the back half soft and falling out of focus.

But the background looks so good!

There are 2 ways to combat this. First, if you’re shooting free-hand, raise your aperture to around 4 or 5.6. If your lens is sharp enough, and you’re shooting raw, you’ll get a sharp enough car. Zooming in will reveal it getting softer towards the back, but only the trained eye would see this, and only if you’re looking for it. All of Sue’s shots were taken at f/4.

Did you bring your tripod? Then take it a step further with multiple exposures. First, pick your spot, set up the car, and set the aperture to its lowest setting. Fire a shot for the background out of focus. Next, move your aperture up to f/9 or f/10, refocus the image on the car itself, and fire a second shot. Check your lighting here, as a higher aperture requires a longer exposure. The entire image will be in focus. With these 2 shots, you can combine them in post for a sharp car, and blurred background.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.

Tutorial: 4 Rules for Adding Lens Flair – Gulf Porsche 911 GT3

Knowing when and where to add some lens flair to your images can make the difference between having them look dramatic or fake. This post will go into retouching  in a realistic lens flair, even though this image was shot during mid-morning, with the sun already high.

What you’ll need:

  • Lens flair kit, available here: Lens Flair
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Eye balls

Lighting and realism

Before we even pull up Photoshop, I want to point out correct lighting. If you’re shooting in a natural environment, like we are here, then you must match the lighting the shot has. In this case, it’s coming from the open garage doors, and the side of the 911 facing us is in shadow. Perfect for adding in some flair. If you had a car outside and you shot with your back facing the sun, then you would not add flair to that shot – the section of car facing you car would be lit, so adding a flair behind the car would not be realistic.

To add your flair, drag the image to your canvas and turn the blending mode to “Screen”, then position where you like. That’s all there is to it.

That Heavenly look

Imagine yourself standing in a dark tunnel with a bright light in the distance. You might find that you can’t look directly at it – your eyes can’t adjust with such high contrast. You find yourself squinting, that in turn causes your vision to blur, and you see a white “halo” around the light spot.

Modern camera are good enough to not usually have this issue, but it can be a desired effect when adding a lens flair. A photograph isn’t what the camera sees, but what you want the viewers eyes to see as if they were really there.

To add the halo, add a new layer, then choose your air brush and make the circumference large enough to cover the area you want to paint, in this case, the garage door. Make the foreground color white, then tap the brush just once for a large white circle. Now, reduce the opacity to about 30-40% – now you have that hazy blurred effect. Since we have multiple doors, I made a new layer for each white circle – sometimes different areas need different opacity, and you want the ability to move each individually, so avoid painting all on the same layer.

On occasion, I will add a haze to the image by duplicating my layers and combining them into one flat layer. Then, I will go to FILTER > BLUR > Gaussian Blur, and make the value around 7.0 or so. The image will look pretty blurry. Reduce the opacity to around 20% so the layer underneath comes through. This is useful for a “misty” look – perhaps by a body of water.

Where to put the flair

Lens flare is caused by a bright light source shining into the lens that has its light reflected and scattered inside the lens causing a wash out or a flare artifact. Could be the sun, an overhead light, or even a car headlight. Flairs are usually even more dramatic when something is partially blocking them, like a cloud, or in this case, the car itself.

It could go anywhere – on the top of the open door, or perhaps the rear door by the BMW – but placing it here makes it a focal point of the image, and draws your eye to the car itself.

Wash the sky

Finally, take a look at the sky here – it’s totally blown out, with no definition. No clouds, blue sky, or anything to give away the time of day. If you’re adding flair to an image, and the flair is supposed to replicate the sun, make sure you can’t tell what time of day it is (unless the image is the appropriate sunset time). Even the BMW and tent are washed out (Looking back, I should have removed the tent with the patch tool).

Bonus Level: Add a hot spot

Cars are shiny – you may have noticed this. Often times, shooting a car produces something called a “Hot Spot”, or an area of intense light reflecting off the metal. Sometimes they can be a distraction and should be removed, but they can also be a good spot to add a flair. Below is an example of a BMW M2 shot at about high noon. The front fender had a hot spot on it, and since the car was already so reflective, I opted to emphasize the spot with the same flair used on the 911 image.

Subtle drama added.

BMW M2 Ghost
Subtle flair added on the front fender.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.

 

Tutorial: How I shot the Ferrari 348, and shooting a car twice.

When Mr. T, aka @njmeteroman, called me up for a photo shoot with his Ferrari 348, I got pretty excited. Like any proper Ferrari owner, T loves his car, and this would be the second time I shot it. The first shoot produced some memorable images, including becoming wallpaper art for Jalopnik. So how could I not only reproduce the success, but top that first shoot? With 3 tips…

 

Ferrari 348
An image from the original shoot I did in 2017. This was featured on Jalopnik.

1 – Change up your location

Most obvious – don’t go back to the same spot unless you want the same images. Our first shoot took place in a mall parking lot, but angled in a way that you could not tell. This time, I wanted something more open, and a nearby abandoned factory proved to be a great spot. The bricks help offset the color of the car nicely while providing a cool industrial backdrop. Though both sets were shot during sunset hours, and even during the same time of year, but the sky is never the same, and here, some clouds helped give the sunlight something to play off of.

Ferrari 348 sunset
An old factory gave some nice contrast for the start red lines of the 348.

2- Change up your concept

I’ve grown as an artist quite a bit in the 2 years since I’ve last shot the 348, so how could I bring some of those new tricks along? Roller shots, getting low, and perfecting the sunset would give me the new look I was after. As a general rule, I try not to shoot the same car too closely together for risk of getting bored and not giving yourself the chance to show some growth.

Ferrari 348 sunset
Different angles of the car give different attitudes from previous shoots.

3- Change up your angle

Get low. Get the rear. Get the wheels. Check back with your original shoot and remind yourself: “What did I miss, or what do I wish I had seen?” On my first shoot, I found myself lacking in higher angles and any motion with the car whatsoever, so I made sure to capture them here.

As an aside, the original images were shot with my D5200, while my new set was with the Z7. Side by side, you can see how much sharper the Z7 is, but you might not have known if I didn’t point it out.

Nikomn Comparison
Can you tell which is which? Nikon Z7 on top, Nikon D5200 on the bottom.

How I shot it

We’ll focus on the roller here, and I go in depth on the topic in this post.

I had T set up the car about 150 years down the road, and did multiple passes while I stood on a ramp for better elevation. The most common misconception here is that you need real speed, but you don’t, especially if you were close like I was. The closer you are to the car, the less actual speed is needed to make it appear fast. What you see here is about 10-15 mph.

Camera settings:

  • f/4
  • 1/10s
  • 25mm focal length
  • ISO: 200

LUT filters

As for retouching, you’ll often hear me say I use a LUT filter to add different effects to a photo. Embedded in Camera Raw (depending on which version you have), standard LUT filters change settings like shadow and contrast automatically for different effects, and you can layer them for an infinite combination of results to your images. My go-tos are usually “High-contrast”, then a layer of “Warm contrast”, and finally “Cross process”.

I’ll adjust the opacity of each layer, then combine the filters and flatten the image before adding one more:  “Lift Shadow”, which provides an effect similar to “fade” on Instagram’s filter set.

LUT filter screen
The LUT filter menu in Camera Raw.

Note: Special thanks to Mr. T, the owner of University of Don’t Be Stupid, a lifestyle company that reflects his personality, and aims to be a positive influence.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.

 

Tutorial: The garage sequence at MPACT 2019

Last week, I went into the sunset sequence on Sue’s beautiful BMW M2 during MPACT 2019, and this week, I’ll cover the garage portion of the shoot. It’s the same principal concept with layering exposures, but takes more practice because of the differences in light. I’ll go over one of the harder shots to do, and show a few others at the end of the post.

The location

If you’ve never been to Pocono Raceway, the garage encompasses 2 big, long buildings with about 30 garage doors on each side. Everything from NASCA, to Indy, to HPDE events are held here, and these spaces are usually bustling with racing teams trying to put finishing touches on their cars, or repair them. It’s never empty, except for the evening before MPACT. The polished concrete floor would give great reflections, and the darkness of the garage vs the light coming in from outside would give some nice contrast. It was a great spot to shoot!

Setting up the car

Since we had the time here, I shot multiple angles, which you can see below, but for this one, I wanted to capture the vastness of the garage and the light coming through the doors. I had Sue angle the car as you see, and turn the wheels toward the camera to show off those BBS wheels.

Gear

Simple here. Your camera with lens, a polarizer, and a tripod. We’ll be taking multiple exposures.

The shots

Start with a nice base plate, or exposure, to work with. Settings:

  • Aperture: f/4
  • Exposure: 1/5s
  • ISO: 64
  • Focal length: 27mm

NOTE: It’s important to note that every lens, no matter how good, has something called “barrel distortion” . At certain focal lengths (different for each lens), the image can become somewhat distorted. My Nikon Z7 automatically adjusts in camera for this, and it’s actually really good at it, but if you don’t have that feature and you see a somewhat fish-eye bend, Photoshop can fix this for you in Camera Raw with their lens correction settings. I note this here because it’s usually more prevalent at the wider angle we’re pulled back too.

BMW M2 at pocono garage
The base plate exposure.

Check the halo effect coming from the doors – shooting at magic hour is key, even indoors. Exposure number 2 should highlight the car itself, so we’ll raise the exposure up to 1/3s, and hit it again while turning the polarizer. The result:

BMW M2 at pocono garage
Shooting for the car itself here.

Finally, one more for the outside portion, and some shadow details. Exposure here is 1/20s:

M2 at Pocono Garage
The exposure for outside the doors, and shadows.

The post experience

Usually we focus on just making the car brighter, but here, we also want to emphasize the light from the doors. So, open your 3 images in Photoshop (Camera Raw will come later), and then stack them into one canvas, with 3 layers. I put my “bright” exposure on the bottom, then my dark, and finally my middle.

Add a mask to your dark layer, then paint away the sections where the garage doors are. This gives the shadow on the ceiling and floor that we want, while emphasizing the light where it naturally should be. Then, bring in your middle layer to place on top, add another mask to it, and then paint in the well-lit car.

M2 Pocono garage
All 3 exposures combined with layer masks.

Group and combine your layers into a new flat one, then make it a smart object. Add a Camera Raw filter with these settings:

Settings
Camera Raw settings.

Copy the layer and make it a smart object. Add a Camera Raw LUT filter called “High Contrast”, then set the layer opacity to 50%. Then, copy the layer once again and change the LUT effect to “Warm Contrast”, then set the layer opacity to 70%. You’ll have this:

M2 Pocono Raceway
Adding the LUT filters give additional contrast and warmth.

From there, it’s basically some highlight and tone corrections to achieve the final look. We’re bringing in some detail from outside the overexposed doors, making sure the car is well-lit, while adding some atmosphere with a darker, moody garage. Three exposures are the key here, so if you have a scene with a lot of contrast in lighting, multiple exposures are a way around it. More examples follow below.

BMW M2 Pocono garage
The final image.
M2 Pocono garage
A hint of lens flair makes some drama.
M2 Pocono garage
A contrast in color tone. I emphasized the blue tone from one side, and orange form the other.
M2 at pocono garage
Shooting into the light will give the halo, or “heavenly” look.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.

Tutorial: How I shot the BMW M2 at Pocono Raceway

It’s fun to shoot M cars in different environments; after all, the mantra of these cars is that you can literally race it during the day and pick up your date with it that night. They all have dual personalities.

We always focus on the outside world because that’s what we have access to, but for MPACT 2019, held at Pocono raceway, I was able to shoot on the closed track for a few hours with Sue and her amazing M2 during magic hour.

Planning

A shoot like this requires careful planning and creative vision. We had three things working against us:

  • Time, as in the sun going down.
  • Time again, as in how long we could be out on the track and in the pits unhindered.
  • Lighting. There would be no scouting beforehand, though I had been to Pocono both as a spectator and racer before.

Luckily, I knew the angle I wanted from watching years of Top Gear and reading Car & Driver; the car parked on the finish line, wheel turned in, perfectly symmetrical with the walls. Looking at BMWUSA.com showed that the M4 series they shot had a similar theme to what I wanted, and I used that for inspiration.

Equipment

I brought everything, and ended up using nothing aside from the camera and a tripod. You can use a light, or strobe, to light the car, but as the sun was changing position fast, I did not want to waste time setting one up. To compensate for fading light, just hold the shutter open longer. No doubt you’ll over expose the sky when you do this, so shoot another plate for the sky on a shorter exposure, and if using a polarizer on your lens, shoot a third plate so you have clean reflections.

Angle

I have many angles of the car on the line as you’ll see below, but I always knew my favorite would be a wider angle. I want the car to be seen living in its environment, and cropping in close can ruin the effect the track will have. I got low for some, and held the camera high for others. What execution is most successful depends on you, dear reader.

Execution

After shooting the M2 in the pits and around the track, the sun had started to descend pretty low, and when we got the OK, I had Sue move her car onto the track.I was able to take both static and panning shots as she drove slowly down the finish line. This entire portion of the shoot took about 45 minutes, until there was no usable light left and the sun had set.

The big shot

I had to wait until AFTER the sun had set before attempting the big shot I had in my mind. I set the camera on the tripod as it’s lowest height, and had Sue angle the car across the line, turning her wheel in (I’m OCD about this, and the shot won’t look complete without that turn in.) I also made sure that the car was positioned in the center of the track so that the walls would give a nice sense of perspective. There is literally a 5 minute window to make a shot like this happen with the sun setting fast, and there were no do-overs.

Sometimes it takes a bit of imagination to see what the final shot will look like in your mind after editing. This was not one of those times, and what you see is pretty much what I saw with my naked eye. Camera settings for the base exposure:

  • Aperture: f/4
  • Exposure: 1/8s
  • ISO: 64
  • Focal length: 64mm
M2 sunset
The plate for the car itself is brighter to help bring out shadow details.

We’ll take 3 shots to bracket the sky and reduce the car reflections by turning polarizer. You can use the same settings for the second polarized shot. The sky exposure:

  • Aperture: f/4
  • Exposure: 1/25s
  • ISO: 64
  • Focal length: 64mm
M2 sunset
You’d never be able to properly expose both the car and sky in one shot. There is to much difference in lighting intensity.

I then kept the same position, but raised the tripod up as tall as it would go to give a bit of a bird’s eye view. The same camera settings were used for all 3 shots. The RAW image is below, and the final composite is at the top of this article.

M2 sunset
Raising the camera helped to give a unique perspective.

When conditions are right, there isn’t much editing work needed.

Editing

Just like the Maserati AMMO video, we’ll combine our exposures and make one image in Photoshop. Open all 3 shots in Camera Raw, sync your settings, and choose the following:

Settings
Camera Raw settings.

 

Then, open them as smart objects, and drag your images into one canvas, giving you a file with 3 layers. Add a layer mask to the sky image, and press COMMAND + DELETE to fill it all in, letting you see the layer underneath. Then, using your soft brush, paint back in the sky and darkened foreground with the mask. The result:

 

M2 sunset combined
The 3 shots combined into one exposure.

The final shot is below after retouching (very minor retouching). One thing I did do was bring out a bit of glow from the sun setting behind the car. It’s subtle but helps draw your eye to the center on the image, and thus the car itself.

Finla M2 shot
The final composite.

BONUS LEVEL: ND filters

ND, or Neutral Density filters, are filters that go over your lens like a polarizer and help to darken the light coming through. That in turn requires you to adjust how long you need to keep your shutter open. Why would you do this? For some cool effects, like the blur of clouds moving across the sky. Without the filter, there would be no way to capture the movement without totally overexposing the sky. See the example below.

BMW M2 cloud blur
The blur of clouds passing by is achieved with a Neutral Density filter.

We had about 2 hours to shoot in and around the track in total, and below are a few of my favorites. Thanks to both Sue and MPACT for coming out and helping me make some memorable art.

M2 in the pits
I got some shots in the garage area, and I will do another post in the coming weeks on how to achieve this “heavenly” look.
M2 sun
A higher aperture like f/16 will give you more pronounced star bursts.
M2 sunset
Sunset can sometimes give the appearance of haze, which adds atmosphere to the shot.
M2 panning
Remember panning? See previous post on how to achieve the look.
Bmw M2 sunset
Being alone on the track with no one around was a surreal experience.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.

How I shot MPACT 2018

MPACT is the largest BMW show on the east coast, a place where you can not only show your car, but race it. Taking place at Pocono raceway, it’s a great environment to take pics because of all the exciting stuff happening around you. How often do you get to roam freely in the pits of a racetrack? Below are some highlights from last year, how what I was thinking for each shot. It rained…a lot.

My favorite shot

Last year, it not only rained at MPACT, it down poured. Luckily, the garages provided enough shelter for everyone. Aiming out from the garage door, I figured, that by getting low, I could get the rain drops falling as I looked upon a particularly colorful lineup of AutoCouture M3s. The cloudy sky also helps with the mood. This remains not only one of my favorite MPACT shots, but of all my work. Camera settings:

  • Camera: Nikon D5200
  • Lens: 16-80mm Nikon Nikor lens
  • Focal length: 32mm
  • Exposure: 1/25
  • ISO: 100
  • Aperture: f/8

Nothing crazy in post here, just basic color correction and some added contrast.

Rain makes drama

BMW noticed

BMW of North America had a presence at the show, and I was able to snap a few shot of the cars on display at their booth. When they needed assets for an email blast to recap the show, some of my stills were used in the design. The sky was a consistent help all day, providing a dark mood and adding lots of drama. Camera settings:

  • Focal length: 25mm
  • Exposure: 1/50
  • ISO: 100
  • Aperture: f/8
BMW of North America used these in promotional emails.

It isn’t just BMW

There were Audis, Supras (isn’t one at every show?), 911s, and GT-Rs galore to join in on the fun. I took some time to snap individual cars that came across as unique.

Audi R8
Other manufacturer brands popped in as well.

 

911 Turbi
So many P cars

 

Porsche 911
P car in the rain

 

Toyota Supra
It wouldn’t be a car show without a Supra

 

Mclaren
Getting up close, link on this McLaren, can also give interesting results. The light hitting the hip point, combined with rain, was a good opportunity.

 

Audi R8
Called “Dazzle Camo”, from WW2 battleships, this Audi R8 was beautifully wrapped.

 

Nissan GT-R
Godzilla always watches.

Get the people

A show this big, with this much action, can provide cool scenes for crowds as well. Whether in the grand stands, garages, or driving, how people interact with the cars around them can make for interesting shots.

M3 driver
An M3 driver gets ready for take-off.

 

F80 vs E92
A special moment for me, where an identical E92 to my own goes against a Yas Marina F80, a car which was owned by a good friend of mine. Felt classic.

 

M3 lineup
Can’t have a show without a squad shot.

 

M3 rain
Rain, rain, go away.

In motion

Part of the charm of this show is that you  get to race your car on the track, and that means a great opportunity to capture some motion. Remember to keep the camera steady, and follow the tips from a previous post.

F10 in motion
BMW M5 F10 in motion

 

E60 vs E92
On of my favorite shots between two of BMWs most unique M offerings. There will never be another NA V8 or V10 from them.

I’ll be at the event this year in my Machines with Souls shirt, so look for me! I might just grab a shot of your ride.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.

Tutorial: How the Epic Porsche Turbo Composite image was made

Welcome to the step by step process for recreating this Porsche 911 Turbo composite. The longest part of this is usually finding a stock image that works with your image, as in the correct perspective and, in some cases, lighting. Let’s get to it!

Step 1: Find a shot of a car you like, but needs environment love.

Porsche 911 Turbo
The original image from a mall parking lot.

I’ve always been a 911 Turbo fan, and find them to be as special as any other super car in terms of performance, if not looks. I took this shot of a white 911 Turbo at Cars and Cafe in the Garden State Plaza parking lot. I liked the mostly white wall, which I knew would make the car easy to silhouette. Camera settings:

  • Aperture: F/4
  • ISO: 64
  • Exposure: 1/500s
  • Focal length: 41mm

As always, I decided to get a low angle, which meant laying on the floor, but otherwise, the shot was unremarkable. It was begging for something to make it stand out.

Step 2: Choosing the environment.

Porsche 911 Turbo
3 images blended together.

As stated in my original composite post, a stock house is your best bet to find images that will work, and in this case, I found a cityscape that inspired me to turn this daylight shot to night. Some key things here are the angle of the buildings, which match the original shot of low, looking up, and a clean horizon line. But not clean enough; I didn’t want it to feel like the car would be driving over a cliff. I went back and searched for a cement wall that would make it seem as if the car were parked, overlooking the city.

To give the top of that wall a more finished edge, I double-click on the layer and choose “Bevel and Emboss” with the following settings:

Bevel settings
Bevel and Emboss settings for getting that lip on the top edge of the cement wall.

Looks weird though – the colors don’t match at all. Let’s tone.

Step 3: De-saturate, then enhance.

Since we’re on the original image, you’ll have access to the Camera Raw options, so in this case, choose your car image layer, and reduce the temperature by -12 for more blue, then reduce the saturation by -35. Then, click on the HSL tab, and bring the yellow all the way down to -100, orange to -54, and green to -42. The result:

Posche 911 Turbo
Adding in a little blue, and reduce the color

Already, the car feels like it belongs in the scene much more convincingly. Group all your layers and combine them into a new one, because now we’ll adjust the entire image as a whole, instead of 3 separate ones. Make it a smart object, and add a Camera Raw filter, then mimic these settings:

Settings
The color adjustment settings.

And the result:

Porsche 922 turbo composite
Treating the image as a whole means adjusting the entire frame.

Step 4: Adding effects.

From here, we can add effects like we would any other image, and that will help set the car in the frame entirely. We’ll be using new, cinematic style lens flairs for this from PSDBOX.com, so head there to download them first.

Lets group our layers and copy, then combine them into a new image. Add a Camera Raw filter to it, select the LUT tab, and use the High Contrast filter.

Then, copy that layer and change the LUT filter to Cross Process, and set the opacity to 60%.

Finally, bring in the Optical 4 and 5 PSD flair images, and set them to screen blend mode. The light of the buildings in the distance are the perfect spot for them, and they will interact with the car to make it seem like the spoiler in blocking the light, causing that flair. The result of all this is:

911 Turbo Composite
Adding some lens flair and tone.

At this point, you should be getting excited about your image – it’s looking real, and that’s the ultimate goal here.

Step 5: Adding realism.

It’s night time, and the bright lights on the wall make it seem like the headlights are on, so let’s have a little fun and paint in the brake lights. While we’re at it, those dual pipes look menacing: maybe some exhaust smoke will add even more drama.

If you’re not familiar with how a 911 Turbo lights up at night (I was not), I suggest a google search for some quick research. We’ll group our layers, duplicate, and combine into a new flat image. Then we’ll add a blank layer and, using a pinkish-red color (Hex #ff4b59, if you’re wondering), paint in the brake lights, like so:

911 brake lights
911 brake lights painted on.

Nice, but more drama can be added to match those lens flairs. Add a new layer, select your air brush, and make the brush large enough to encompass a light, then tap it once for a large red circle over a brake light. I then added a bit of motion blur to the layer so that it seems more ” flair-ish”, use your judgement here. Repeat the process for the other lights, making sure to adjust for the smaller third brake light by making your brush size smaller.

Porsche 911 Turbo brake lights
Full brake lights painted in.

Now for smoke. I almost always use the same image, from Pixabay. Bring the image in, and set it to screen, then add a mask to it, and use COMMAND + DELETE to mask the entire image. Then, using the eraser tool set to airbrush, paint some smoke back in by the exhaust tips. Play around with this and move the smoke around as needed. Set the opacity to 70% when you’re happy with the position.

Duplicate the image, and add a Camera Raw filter to it, selecting a LUT filter called “Lift Shadow” – set the layer opacity to 40%.

IMPORTANT TIP before moving on. This car was shot during the day, so it’s pretty well-lit. Since we’re down there, and to help reduce the white point a bit on the lower half of the car (the bottom half of a car is almost always in more shadow) – paint some black with your airbrush on a new layer over your image, then set the opacity to about 80%. This puts the car in more shadow and helps set it into position. The result:

Porsche 911 Turbo
Smoke and shadow added.

Step 6: Final Touches

There are a few things we can do to make this look as good as it can. First, that NY license plate is pretty distracting. Using the Patch tool, I edited out the lettering on the plate, and then found an image on line of regular license plate letters to paste in. I cut each letter out of that image and placed it in:

Porsche 911 Turbo
The plate edited out with fake lettering in place.

To make it match, combine all your letter layers into one, and double click to add special effects. In this case, we’ll do Color Overlay, using the same tone of white as the plate itself, and then Bevel and Emboss, to give these letters the feel of being stamped in like a real plate.

Finally, I like to add a layer of noise over the entire image to help set it together. Add a new layer by choosing LAYER > NEW, and set the blend mode to overlay, then click the option that says “Fill with overlay-neutral color.” Hit OK. It will look gray. Now, select FILTER > NOISE > ADD NOISE. Choose a value of 4. This is subtle and not noticeable if the image is small, but for larger ones, like a desktop, or for print, noise can help make everything look like it belongs together.

Porsche 911 Turbo
The final image with noise in place.

That’s it! Using a technique like this take practice, but in time you’ll be able to use your imagination to create any scene you like. Have fun!

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.

Getting low for the right angle

If you’ve ever been on a shoot with me, you’ll notice my lack of hesitation for lying on the floor to take a shot. The reason is simple: cars look best when shot low. This post will go into why that is, and illustrate the difference between standing and lying down. Before we head out to the shoot…

1. Wear old clothes

Look nice if you’re shooting for a client, but be comfortable with the fact that you’re going to be lying on a street, or in dirt, for the next few hours. My go to is usually a black t-shirt in summer, and an older hoodie in winter.

2. Ditch the tripod

It’s rare I shoot without one, but sometimes, if you want the foreground to be blurred in the shot, placing the camera on the floor is your best bet. You can also use a small tripod if you need multiple exposures. Use one hand to aim, and the other on the lens itself to keep a steady hold on the camera and avoid blur.

3. Check the horizon

If you’re at a car show or an area where there is a lot of activity going on, you may not be able to get as clean a shot as you like. Getting low helps clear some of that noise away, as show below:

Jaguar Alternate angles
Left side shot standing, right side show from the ground.

You’re shooting the sky and making the car look much more dramatic.

4. Unconventional angles

You see cars every day from a standing height. This becomes the norm for everyone. When shooting a car, you’re looking for ways to make the car stand out and grab attention, so shooting it from angles not seen in every day life is a great way to achieve that. It also includes shooting high, from ladders or cherry pickers.

BMW F80 M3
Shot from the bottom of the small hill in the road, this makes the car look even more heroic.

5. A time and a place

This isn’t always the right way to shoot a car – for instance, see this AMMO R8 shot, taken from about hip height:

AMMO R8
Shot from about hip height, using a tripod.

This was shot on a tripod, raised to about hip height, and it felt like the right angle for the car in this shot. Getting low here means missing some of that beautiful sunset, so be aware of your situation and adjust accordingly.

Bonus level: Pick up the trash.

Because you’re shooting on the ground, you’ll be seeing a lot of garbage, rocks, and weird things that will just take away from the image, so take a minute and look around to make sure there isn’t anything in the shot – this will save you time in post production. Speaking of which…

BMW F80 M3
See trash I neglected to move out of the frame before I shot, circled in red. I had to remove it in post.

Post Production and the Patch Tool

So, you’ve gotten low, taken your shot, and you’re really happy with it. But there’s a weird light pole or some other object sticking out of the top of the car. I’ll show you how to fix that now. Let’s take this shot from the recent Cars and Cafe shoot of a BMW M2:

BMW M2
Check out the ugly handicap sign, and those birds too.

How can we get rid of that handicap parking sign? We’ll use two tools: the Patch tool and Clone Stamp tool. They look like this.

PS tools
The Patch and Clone tools in Photoshop

First, select the Patch tool, and draw a line around the area you want gone:

Patch Tool
Draw a line around the section you want gone.

Get the line as close to the section you want gone as possible to avoid having to rebrush in something. Then click and drag that section over to a very similar one, indicating that you want to replace your selected section with that.

BMW M2 editing
Dragging your replacement section over to a new one.

Line the 2 up as best you can, then use the stamp brush to clean up the edges. Make sure to hold OPTION down to sample the area you want to clone first. With some minor finessing, you can make it appear as though nothing was ever there.

BMW M2 retouched
The final image retouched. Birds and sign now gone away.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.

How to make a composite image in Photoshop

You’ve seen them before and may not have even noticed: composite images. That’s where two or more images are combined into one for a seamless look, and it’s used mostly for changing the environment the car is in. This post is all about how to make a convincing composite image that does not look fake.

We’ll use a personal shot I took of my own BMW 335 as an example. I chose it because I liked the lighting and angle of the shot, but not the location. Let’s get to it!

The original image

Normally I go into detail about how to shoot, but for this tutorial, I’ll skip that part and assume you have an image you like, but simply want to change the location of.

Original BMW 335i image
Here is the original, untouched image. Note the dull background.

Now before we go nuts on the image itself, we have to choose a new background. I find it easiest to match up horizon lines, which meant most likely keeping that mound of snow in the background. There are many free stock houses you can choose from, and I found this image by doing a google search. I wanted to maintain the winter theme, so I went looking for some winter mountains.

Stock mountain image
The original stock image. Thanks to Simon Matzinger.

This image has a nice horizon line, and the scale of the mountains won’t overpower the car itself – they will feel far enough away.

Setting up the scene

You’ll want to create a new Photoshop canvas that is big enough to accommodate all your images, in this case, I’ve made mine 6000 x 3000px. Drag the mountain image in. To simulate a little lens blur, I’ll add a Gaussian blur of 1.2 to the mountain image, since you’d never had the entire image in focus if the shot were real.

Now drag in your flattened car image in (do some basic retouching on it like sharpening and clarity beforehand to avoid making this file huge). Add a layer mask to it, and paint out the parts you don’t want, mainly the background.

bmw 335 combined 2
By adding a layer mask, you can erase the parts of the shot you don’t need.

Let’s pause for a moment. You’ll notice I’ve selected a shot that has lighting that matches the car. The driver side is lit up, and so is the sunlight coming in toward the top of the mountains. Matching lighting is the most important part for realism. If lighting looks off, the image will automatically look fake. Even the light from the melted snow on the floor matches nicely.

We’ve only done some basic editing, but you can already tell that the final image will work. Try multiple images for backgrounds when doing these: I never get it right on the first try.

Color correcting

Now we have to make sure everything matches into one seamless look. Start be duplicating your masked car image, make it a smart object, and add the following Camera Raw filter:

Camera Raw settings
Camera Raw settings on your masked car image.

The result is a more purple tone on the car plus better lighting on the front end, to match the tone of the background.

BMW 335i shot 3
We’ve added some purple and better lighting on the car part.

At this point, we can copy both the mountain and car images, flatten them into one image, and make it a smart object. We’ll add some Lut filters to the image now get an even tone on it. Copy your flattened image 2 more times to that you have 3 layers of it, then add a Camera Raw filter to each one.

Layer 1: Vivid Lut filter: opacity 50%.

Layer 2: Cross Process filter, 20% opacity

Layer 3: Matte filter: 30% opacity

The result:

bmw 335i shot 4
The result of the combined Lut filters.

The changes are subtle, but help to give the image a unified look. The additional hits of blue on the car help set it in the scene.

Let there be light

So far, we’ve combined shots and given everything a unified color look and feel, and now we’ll add some emphasis on lighting. As always, visit Shinobi lens flairs. Add a dirty lens flair layer, set the blend mode to screen, and make the opacity 60%. Then, enlarge it by about 40% and set it on the right side of the image, with just the “glare” part coming through on the side of the image, and the rest hanging off the canvas. We set it here because we have a lot of light hitting the car on the driver’s side, and we should explain where that hit is coming from.

Then, we’ll select both the image and the lens flair, duplicate them and combine them into one smart object. Finally, we’ll add a Camera Raw filter of “Lift Shadow” to the image, and set the opacity of the layer to 45%.

Result:

BMW 335i shot 5
We’ve added some lighting on the right side, and a little bit of fog.

Finishing Touches

The last items will help make the image pop more. First, add a new layer and paint with your airbrush along the bottom using black (#000000), then set the opacity to 30%. This adds some darkness to the foreground, and I almost always do this on every image I take.

Next, add a new layer, and again using your airbrush, paint some orange (#ff9428) blobs by the lens flair, then set the opacity to 10%. This will add some color to the light for a more sunset-type of feel.

Add another new layer, and again using the airbrush tool, paint the windshield black to reduce some of the distracting glare. Set the opacity to 25%.

Now, well warm the image up. Add a new color adjustment layer called “Color Lookup” and choose “Crisp_Warm”. Set the opacity to 50%, and then select the mask on the layer. Using the gradient tool set to “Circle”, add a gradient so that the warmth come from the lighting on the right side. Your gradient should look like this:

Color gradient
Color gradient and mask

Finally, add another color adjustment layer called “photo filter”, and set it to Warming Filter (85), density to 30%.

The result, from beginning to end:

BMW 335 composite layer animation
The edit of the image, from start to finish.

And all your layers should be organized like below. Each group interacts with the group below it.

All Photoshop layers
All Photoshop layers.

Where might I use this technique?

Well, major manufactures often do this instead of paying for an on location shoot. Sometimes, they look great, other times, not so much. Below is an example I did for a BMW 2 Series, using a studio shot for the car, and an empty background.

Remember to have fun with these and use your imagination! You might just turn one of your least favorite shots into one of your best.

BMW 2 Series Convertible
This is a composite of 2 images, done for BMW USA.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.

How to get started making automotive art (and getting paid for it)

This is going to be a bit different from a normal ‘how-to” blog post. The question I get asked most by far is simple “How did you get started?” Below I’ll list out some of the things I’ve done that have gotten me to where I am today.

1. Love your subject matter.

I’m going to assume that you have a love for cars – otherwise why be here. But this really does apply to anyone making art for a living: love your subject matter. I’ve had a thing for cars since I was 13. I made my parents drive me to dealerships to get books, subscribed to magazines, memorized specs, all in the name of the automobile. If you love what or who you’re working with, it won’t be nearly as hard to motivate yourself out of bed in the morning; it’ll just come naturally. So be real with yourself and ask what you love looking at the most.

Mitsubishi 3000GT
Here it is – My very first “photo shoot” with my Mitsubishi 3000GT, shot on my dad’s Yashica film camera. Dated March of 2001. Note the Twin Towers are still here.

2. Have a solid background

I was lucky; I knew what I’ve wanted to do since I was little, so I didn’t go to a “normal” college. Instead, I chose SVA in New York City, which focuses on making art. Yes, it has an excellent reputation and helped to  get my foot in doors once I graduated, but it does not have to be SVA – any art school can teach you the basics of composition, lighting, equipment and design.

It might surprise you to learn that I’m not very good at drawing, painting or sculpting. But I managed to get in without taking a single art class in high school because of my inherit talent. Focus on what you need to learn to make the art you want, let your natural ability show, and you’ll leave with a piece of paper that you can show to people that says you know how to make pretty things.

Nissan 350z
I’d revisit the spot many years later with my 350Z and pocket Canon Digital camera.

3. Have interest in multiple things

Speaking of education, my degree from SVA says “Bachelor of fine arts in graphic design”. Nope, not a single photography course taken. Instead, I became an expert in layout, composition, typography and design, and how each interact with another. This ability has lead to me to designing brochures and websites for BMW, graphics for AMMO NYC, and even coding this very website. Be versatile, learn multiple disciplines and keep in mind that you might be the best automotive photographer in the world, but your photos still need a place to live. Learn design to showcase them better.

BMW Art Direction
I’m not in the shot, just took a pic at the BMW Performance Center art directing the videographers. My first ‘I made it!” moment.

4. Ask!

Please don’t ever be afraid to ask a question. Social media has made it easier than ever to find examples of work you love by artists you admire; DM them and ask how they made it. Email them off social media for more detailed questions.

Perhaps you think you’re on the level of a professional, and you’d like to make art for your favorite brands. Once again, ask! Introduce yourself via email. If you want to shoot for BMW Performance Magazine, go out and shoot BMWs and email examples of your work to the editor. People have a short attention span, so prove to them that you can do the work you’re asking to do right away. Chances are, you’ll catch their eye. I’ve gotten to work with these brands because I’ve been both bold enough to ask, and prepared to do the job when I’ve won it.

How did I work with Larry? I designed an email blast using AMMO elements, then emailed it to him and said “Hey, I like what you’re doing. Let me help you.” You’ll hear more nos than yeses, but you just need a few to get your name out there.

Maserati AMMO NYC shoot
A behind the scenes shot of my shoot with Larry of AMMO NYC. Another moment I was proud of because I did it on my own, without the help of an agency.

5. Believe in yourself

It’s the best piece of advice I can give you. When you’re on social media, only people that like your work will follow you and give you love, and it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. If you do make a breakthrough, people will hate. This is often because you’re doing the things they want to do, but aren’t because of a million different excuses. Ignore them. And ignore the love to. Stay true to you. Ask people you respect and admire for real feedback. I promise, from teachers at SVA to co-workers to internet comments, I’ve heard it all. But I’m still here.

BMW Performance Magazine
My first magazine shoot, on the cover no less. Again, I did it on my own, without agency help, and with my original D5200 camera.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post. Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.