Top 5 tips for shooting wheels

Many posts on here are about shooting the entire car, but what about the details? As far as important parts of a car to showcase go, wheels are number one on the list (checking the price on a set of mounted HREs will confirm that).

But how do you light and shoot them? What’s the best angle? Here are six tips to keep in mind. Read on!

Tip 1: Shoot the front and turn in

I know I just said that we’ll focus on the wheels, and not the whole car, but before we do that…shoot the whole car. Get a feel for the colors, angles, and lighting of the entire vehicle, and turn the front wheels in, as I so often do on my photos.

Take this Silverstone M3, with matte black wheels that offset the light color of the car. A carbon fiber body kit ties everything together, so remember that it isn’t enough to just shoot the wheel itself, but the surrounding area with it, or else you’re shooting in a vacuum.

BMW F80 M3 in Silverstone
Dark wheels help offset a light-colored car.

 Tip 2: Bring out shadow

Cars tend to have a natural shadow on the bottom half of them, and a common retouching mistake I see is that bottom half always looking too dark. As you bring out details in grilles and scoops, also give attention to the wheels, and what they look like inside the barrel.

If you’re shooting into the sun, like on the example below, then give yourself a longer exposure time to compensate for the shadow and bring out intricate details. Two exposures are always best to pick up heavy shadow and bright whites.

BMW F80 M3 style 666 wheel
Check the flair – shot in the early AM hours.

Tip 3: Show off those brakes

Sometimes calipers matter – especially on Italian cars! Be aware of what part of the caliper the wheel is covering. If a spoke is blocking a logo, roll the car a bit to show it. If possible, also make sure the center cap is right-side up.

If a car has been sitting a bit and has some rust on the rotor, just drive it for a few minutes to build heat to remove it. Clean discs look much better, and surface rust can form after only a few minutes of moisture coming in contact with the disc. Carbon Ceramics, like on the M5 below, have a shiny look to them that really pops.

BMW F90 M5 wheel
The brake caliper and M logo show perfectly through the wheel.
BMW F80 HRE wheel
The discs and calipers on this F80 deserved their own photo shoot.

Tip 4: Get high

Just like changing up your angle when shooting the entire car brings a new perspective, so too does doing it with wheels.

The M2 shoot from Pocono is a good example – Sue’s beautiful BBS wheels are two-tone, with the face black and the rest a bright purple. She really wanted to show that detail, and I found the best way to do it was raising the camera above my arms and aiming down. It also helps to add some atmosphere, in this case, a finish line on the ground.

You’ll never see me simply shoot a wheel super tight in frame. I like to give the shot some context, and wheel arches, body colors, and body kits all help bring out the styling of the wheel more. Remember that it’s easy to crop into a shot, but impossible to add more to a scene once complete.

BMW F87 M2
Changing your angle can show off the wheels.
AMMO Audi R8
Getting low and looking up is another way to go.

Tip 5: To infinity

Finally, many wheel shots I see are from the head on angle – but what if you came around from the back of the car and pointed forward, like the AMMO R8 image above, or the G20 3 Series below. This gives a sense of perspective, and try an open aperture for an out of focus background to get great depth of field (I mean way open – as low as you can go).

BMW G20 3 Series
Coming around to the back gives a new angle.

Tip 6: Don’t be to fancy when selling

If you’re shooting a car to sell, remember to use clean, bright light that will show off any curb rash or damage. Skip the lens flairs and heavy post-processing here. About all I did on the Mercedes C Class shot below was turn the camera slightly for a more aggressive angle.

Mercedes C Class wheel
Using clean, bright light to shoot a car going up for sale.

Bonus tip: Client facings

Wheels on a car are like babies – everyone thinks their own are beautiful. Remember that you may like a car, but hate the wheels, and nothing turns someone off like the “wrong” wheels on a car. Embrace the wheel, and leave your personal feelings at the door when it comes to client photo shoots. You’re their to capture a moment with their 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.

 

Hosting the BMW M3 Fall Meet and Cruise

I am, as you may be aware, a bit of a BMW guy. Though I’ve sold my E92 M3, I am still very active in the M3 community, and since 2015, have hosted a fall cruise from Edgewater, NJ to Bear Mountain in New York. This 30 mile drive starts with a view of sunrise over Manhattan and ends with beautiful fall foliage.

BMW M3 meet up
The original meet in 2015, with my car in the middle.

Another Bimmerpost forum member started this novel idea in 2015, and we had about 15 M3s of various vintage show up and cruise from Weehawken, NJ up to Bear Mountain. After a hiatus in 2016, I decided to organize the meet in 2017 since it was such a good idea. 2018 had over 50 BMWs show up and cruise down the Palisades Parkway, and this year about 25 show. Why the difference? No Instagram post this year, as I wanted to keep is manageable (plus it’s a down cycle year for the M3, with the G80 coming out for 2020).

Below are some shots from this year’s event, with a tip on how to shoot fall foliage.

BMW M3 F80
Sunrise gave great lighting, even if it was just in a parking lot.
BMW M4
A lowered BMW M4.
BMW F80 M3
7AM start means there is still some good light to be had.
BMW M3
Still a few E9X M3s around.
BMW M3 group
About 25 cars came, a site to behold as we drove up the Parkway.
BMW M3 taillights
The lineup.

Adding some pumpkin spice

If you have a shoot in the fall, and the client asks you if you can get some nice fall colors in the shot, it might seem like an easy request. But sometimes nature just doesn’t agree.

If you get to your spot and find the surrounding area mostly green and very much summer-like, don’t worry, it’s very easy to adjust this in post. We’ll use this image:

BMW M3
The original unedited. Doesn’t feel very fall-like, does it?

In Camera Raw, you’ll have a tab called HSL adjustments. Open that tab and you’ll see color bars.

The HSL panel looks like this.

Select the HUE tab, and using the GREEN slider, pull it over to the yellow side. You’ll see all green in your image change to a yellow hue. You can also pull back on your orange tab. Then select the SATURATION tab, and enhance your yellows and oranges. It’s just a matter of playing with the sliders. Once happy with your fall colors, you can close Camera Raw. As long as your car isn’t green, you don’t even really need to mask it. Just watch your colors on the car and you should be fine. Very easy overall.

BMW M3 F80
The leaves hadn’t fully turned yet, so a quick hue adjustment in Camera Raw brought out the fall colors.
BMW F80 M3
Another angle, much pumpkin spice added here.

If you’re local to the area, and you own a BMW, come on down next year for the 2020 meet!

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 to fake a car scene

I’m a big advocate for planning your shoots ahead – location, time of day, and lighting. But when a local Lamborghini dealer near me decided to run a social media contest based on a photoshoot of one of their cars, I found myself in a bit of a tough spot – you had to shoot one of four cars as they sat, either in the dealership or outside, depending on where they had parked the car.

The situation was not ideal , and it was even worse when I arrived, since the best car was parked up against the dealership building, limiting my angles even further. This is similar to shooting at an auto show because site lines were very restricted. As I walked around this blue Huracán, I thought about the options available, and came up with three:

  1. Shoot the car as is, and add dramatic lighting in post
  2. Use crazy abstract angles
  3. Make a composite

Let’s go over each step by step, keeping in mind that this was a contest, so the photos really had to stand out.

Shoot the car as is, and add dramatic lighting

Let’s start with the most basic of the shots – getting low and far. This was the only really good angle with which to shoot the car, and the Huracán looks best from the side profile to show off its aggressive shape.

Lamborghini Huracan
Shot at f/4, 1/80 shutter speed, 70mm, ISO 100.

Since it’s an active dealership, keeping other parked cars out of the frame was also key, as they were all over. This angle gave me just a sliver of sky with which to use as a light source for a lens flair in post. The building and shrubbery made for an acceptable backdrop, but the car was the star. I tried a few other angles but found this to be the best.

Lambo Huracan
I liked this one enough to edit it, but only after cleaning up a lot of the area behind the car. There was not much to do about that unfortunate truck in the background.
Lambo Huracan
Getting high produced a nice angle of the car, but the highway limited the view. A nice option, had it been possible, would have been to do this same angle at night, with a long exposure, and the car lights on the highway streaking by.
Lamborghini Huracan
Another nice angle of the car, but the glass background made it just to busy.

Once I decided on a shot to submit, I added in my usual drama, turning the colors more amber with some sunlight streaking in to give the appearance of sunset.

Lamborghini Huracan
The final shot, edited for a warm tone.

Use tighter, abstract angles

There were still some other cars to shoot for the contest, but the crowded dealership showroom meant a crowded shot. Given that modern Lamborghinis have very aggressive, sharp angles, I thought getting low and showing just the details of a car would be a nice change of pace. Sometimes it’s best to think of yourself as simply an observer – I’m not there to buy a car, but to see what interesting things might be going on, so this image has a bit of a voyeuristic feel. And, it’s fun to simply walk around and take a shot to see what comes out of it.

Shooting between 2 cars, showing off only part of the car and focusing on the wheel gave an abstract image.

Make a composite

I’ve shown how to make composites before, and this seemed like a perfect situation for one, so I kept in mind that I’d be doing this from the start and shot the car on an angle I thought would help make it easy to fit in a scene.

Lambo Huracan
The original image, shot from hip height. This is the most common height / angle you’ll find background images for.

A sports car like this requires a tropical, Miami-type background, so that’s what I went with.

Lambo Huracan edit
The Photoshop edit coming together.

When doing this, it’s key to match the light source for realism. It also helps to add shadows and some depth of field, since it’s rare that the entire image would be in focus if it were real.

Lambo Huracan composite
The final composite image.

We’ll see if I won, but I had fun taking and making these images, and that’s what matters most to me.

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 definitive guide on how to light paint, part 3. How to edit.

For parts 1 and 2, click the links.

Now that we’ve gone over how to shoot the car with proper lighting, and shoot with special effects, this week will cover how to edit those images together into one seamless look. We’ll be using a series of shots from a recent shoot with GlassParency, including the 911 GT3, 4 Series and Dodge Durango.

Step 1: Review your selections

I tend to shoot more than I need, because we obviously cannot go back once the shoot is over. On average, I have about 10-15 exposures for a light painting sequence, but I’ll only use 5-8 of them, depending on the lighting and how the car looks. This actually takes practice, because you’ll have to develop an eye for what works vs what doesn’t – no need to edit photos you won’t be using. We’ll be using the RAW files for this (.NEF if you’re on a Nikon). Make sure you include the image with headlights on

Here is a shot of Camera Raw with my film strip on the left, containing all the exposures I’ll need to use for a composite.

Step 2: Open in Camera Raw

Take your selections and open them in Camera Raw. You won’t need to do much here right now – I usually boost Clarity +30, Sharpness to +70, and if needed, a Lens Correction for your specific camera. We’ll adjust colors and other items later. Make sure you apply your corrections to all the images, and you can do that by selecting them all in the film strip on your left, right click, and select “Sync Settings”.

Step 3: Paint them in

After you open all the images (hold SHIFT to open as smart objects) – bring them all into one Photoshop file, making sure they all line up at the exact same points. Hide all but one image and the layer above it. On the second layer, add a layer mask, and make it black so it hides the entire layer.

Now select your airbrush tool and reverse the mask colors from black to white, then begin to paint in the sections as needed. Do this for each exposure, hiding everything on the layer with a mask, then painting in the sections needed. It will look something like this as you build the layers up:

Porsche 911 build
This is a GIF showing the layers in Photoshop. Each exposure is a layer, and you’re seeing the painted in parts with each change.

Step 4: Lights and fog

Once the car is lit nicely, you can do the same process to the layers with head- and taillights, but for these, you can set the blend mode to SCREEN. Paint them in and include the red glow from the brake lights if you have them. For the headlights, make sure they are not to bright and overpowering – use the opacity setting on the layer to control the brightness if needed.

I had shot the fog as a separate exposure from the lights, and now you can paint just the right amount of fog back into the image. Again, set the blend mode to SCREEN, and use your airbrush. I find it best to let the effect taper off into darkness to help blend the fog in.

Dodge Durango Fog
Here is a shot of the Dodge Durango after I sprayed fog in the shot. Set your blending mode to screen to easily get rid of everything but the lit fog area.

Step 5: The base layer

The first layer I shot was actually with the lights on in the garage, and I use that for a specific purpose – mainly to paint in some spots I may have missed with the light. Those garage lights have a greenish-yellow tint, so make sure to open this file in Camera Raw first, and color correct it to match your other layers. It can also be useful for reflections. Lack of reflection is part of what gives images like this a special quality, but a few will help set the car in the scene better.

Why don’t I just use this one image and a darkened garage? Because you would not get the highlighting effect that the Ice Light gives – it would look like a pasted in car against a dark background.

Reflection 911
You can see the left side with reflection painted in from the base exposure. The right side is unlit. Even if I had lit the hood with the Ice Light, I would not get any reflection from the rafters, and sometimes that can make for a more realistic looking image, even if you would not technically see the rafters with the lights off.

Step 6: Finishing touches

From here, you have a complete image. Group all your shots, copy that group, then merge it together for one flattened layer. Make it a smart object, and add a Camera Raw filter to it to adjust things like clarity, color, and LUT filters. It’ll all make the image feel more uniform if all corrected together as one.

That’s it! Light painting takes some practice to get right, but don’t hesitate to take as many exposures as you need to. Most of all, use your imagination and have fun with the concept!

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 definitive guide on how to light paint, part 2. Special effects.

Last week, I covered the basics of how to light paint. But, before we head over to the computer to edit, I wanted to show a few special effects that are more practical to do in person, as oppose to editing in later on. I’ll use another shot of the 911, and a 4 Series Coupe, both shot for GlassParency,  to demonstrate.

What you’ll need

Reflections and water

Reflections can add some drama to an image, but before throwing some water on the ground, consider the type of surface you’re shooting on, and the weather. This sequence was in a garage with a polished concrete floor, which made getting colorful reflections easy. However, it was hot and humid that day, and the water evaporated pretty quickly, so keep in mind that once the water goes down, you may have to work fast.

Wait! Don’t pour it just yet. Go off to the side and test an area to see how the surface will react. Does it absorb? Puddle easily? Create pools? Depending on the surface, you can use a mixture of dish soap and water to create a reflective surface, but PLEASE know how slippery that can make the floor. In this sequence, the soap was not needed.

Now you can pour – about half the bucket out in front of the part of the car you’re shooting. Use the push broom to move the water into areas you want, and take a look through the camera to see how the water is forming up. Leaving the lights on for this part as its easier, if possible. Make sure not to get to wild, as you don’t want to splash water onto the bottom of the car. Also remember that it’s easier to add than subtract, so don’t use more than you need.

BMW 4 Series
Water on the floor can also create lens flairs if the light is correct.
Dodge Durango Light paint
Water pushed in random directions will give random results, but nice ones. It should look “unintentional”, as if the car just pulled up right there, and you snapped a shot.

Getting Fog

I’ve never been a big fan of adding fog into a shot in post, as I can often tell it’s fake. Another solution is to make it in real life with Atmosphere Aerosol. This can works like spray paint as you wave it back and forth over the areas you want the fog to live. For these shots, the obvious part is over the headlights and taillights, where you’ll see the fog create interesting interactions with the car.

This should be done AFTER you shoot the entire car with light, as the haze can linger and make the shot overtly foggy (as in, not clear). With the lights off and headlights on, begin spraying by the lights you wish to accentuate, and again, use a little at first, then check to see how it looks.

After seeing the initial reaction, it’s best if you have a friend help press the camera trigger as you spray, as the best looking clouds come out in the first moments you spray. Remember that the camera exposure must be a few seconds for enough light to be captured, so the haze can get some motion to it if you move to slow.

This can work outside during the day as well, especially if shot around old, abandoned buildings with an overcast sky. But if it’s windy, it’ll go quick. Definitely bring multiple cans as well, as I went through an entire one on this one shoot.

BMW 4 Series
Some fog painted back in for a minimal effect.
Porsche 911 GT3
Fog sprayed over the taillights will give it a highlight as you see here.

Post options

Another reason I wait to shoot with the haze until last is that I have all my exposures already set, including frames without the fog. This will allow me to paint in the amount of fog I want for the final composite.

Next week, I’ll go over how these shots all come together in the editing room.

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 definitive guide on how to light paint, Part 1

Without a doubt, the biggest WOW factor you can produce with a car and a camera is to light paint it. It’s a simple concept – turn the lights off, light the car, combine the exposures, and you’ve got a car that has a unique-looking sheen to it. This is the question I often get asked the most, and this guide is going to break it down step-by-step, using a 911 GT3 from a recent shoot with GlassParency.

This is going to be separated into 3 posts: how to shoot, how to produce special effects, and how to edit, so check back during the next few weeks. For an introduction to the process (and watch me with Larry Kosilla from AMMO NYC), watch the tutorial here.

Step 1: The Location

Like any other shoot, the location is key, but even more so for light painting, since there can’t be any ambient light in the scene. It should be pitch black, or very close to it. The client had access to a large garage, which would be perfect since we could close the doors and shut the lights off. Also helpful is the ambiance it created – gritty and urban. If you don’t have access to an area like that, you can always drive to an open park or field at night away from any street lights, which should provide the darkness level needed.

Step 2: The Gear

You’ll need the following:

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Light source (I’ve chosen a Westcott Ice Light II, but there are others)
  • Remote trigger
  • Polarizer
  • Photographers haze
  • Buckets of water and a push broom
  • Optional: An additional person to help with the brake lights

Step 3: Setting up

Begin by getting the car in the spot you want, then get your camera set up on the tripod and connect your remote trigger. It’s much easier to do this with the lights on. Once your camera is set, it can’t move at all (not even a small amount) – or the layers of images won’t line up in post production.

My Nikon Z7 has an auto focus issue in low light, so I like to set the focus with the lights on, then flip the auto focus off. That way, the car will remain totally in focus, even with the lights dim.

The remote trigger will help with keeping everything in place, since you won’t have to touch the camera to fire off a shot. Even depressing the shoot button on the camera body can give a small amount of vibration, and in turn make everything blurry when it comes to this level of detail.

Step 4: Base Exposure

Before turning the lights off, you’ll want to fire a shot with the lights on (if possible – you might be without this option if outside). This gives you a nice, well-lit base exposure which you can pull some detail and refection from. It’s not easy to paint every section of the entire car, and if you miss a spot when you light paint, you can always go back and paint in parts from this shot, then blend it in for a seamless look.

911 GT3
The original shot with lights on.

Step 5: Light Painting

Once you have your base shot, go ahead and turn off the lights, then turn on your light source for painting. It’s best to treat the car in small sections, as if you were applying wax to it: front bumper, lower front bumper, hood, front wheel, front fender, etc. Be meticulous and check your results often, because if it doesn’t look well lit in camera, it won’t be when it comes time to edit.

Depending on your camera and lens, your exposure time should be anywhere from 3-10 seconds per shot, so experiment with your specific environment to see the time frame that gives you a nicely lit section without to much brightness. My camera settings for each shot:

  • Exposure: 4 seconds
  • Aperture: f/4
  • ISO: 64
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Focal length: 39mm

The Z7 is surprisingly good at selecting white balance. The Ice Light gives off a pure white light with a blue hue, and the camera had no problem picking up the right white balance.

Don’t be shy when it comes to the amount of images you take – the scene here is a combination of 9 different exposures.

Step 6: Wave

There are techniques to moving the Ice Light around for best lighting, and I’m on the taller side, so for a car like this 911, it’s easy for me to hold the light above my head and aim it at the part of the car I’m lighting. If you can’t reach over the hood or roof, attach the light to a monopod or stand, or get on a ladder…anything it takes to get all angles.

As a general rule, you don’t want to wave the light around in front of the camera’s line of sight, which will block it from taking the picture. Even if you’re moving in and out of frame, the camera will record that movement. Instead, stand off to one side (about 6-8ft) and wave the light around each section as needed. This distance will give you a softer light that covers more area without giving you hot spots or bad reflections from the Ice Light.

light painting 911
The shots from the light painting sequence. We’ll combine all of these into one shot in post production.

Step 7: Brake and Headlights

To get the effect of the red light on the wall, you just need to hit the brake pedal and take a pic, with the same exposure length as the other shots. Even if you don’t have a wall to reflect light onto, doing this step will still give you a soft red glow around the back of the car that adds to the drama of the image.

For headlights, you’ll need to lower your exposure time down to 2 seconds. I like to do a shot for parking lights and another for headlights, especially with modern cars, where so many have unique LED lighting elements.

911 GT3 parking lights
A shot for the parking lights, which on a 911, include LED ring lights.
911 GT3 brake lights
Another shot for the brake lights with the pedal depressed.
911 GT3 headlights
Finally, shoot the headlights, which will result in a nice star pattern if facing the camera.

To be continued…

Next week, we’ll stay on this shot and review a few others from the series that have haze around them, and water under them for unique atmospheric effects.

911 GT3 Light Paint
The final image, after retouching is complete. Tutorial coming soon!

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.

 

 

Nikon Z7: The 6-month review

As many of you know, I traded in my trusty Nikon D5200 for a Nikon Z7 mirrorless camera in March of 2019. That makes September the 6 months mark of ownership. Let’s review the good and the bad (yes, there are both).

The Good

Sharpness

With a resolution of more than 2,000 pixels over what a cropped-frame camera can produce, the Z7 makes crisp images that are SHARP from edge to edge.

I shoot with the standard 24-70mm f/4 lens, but Nikon has recently released a 24-70 that stops down to f/2.8, if you need even more performance. In general, shooting a car at f/2.8 will produce a softer edge toward the back half of it, so it’s rare I would go that open.

MEGA pixels

When buying anything new in the tech realm, I always try to get the best I can afford so that it lasts longer. It’s why I edit on an iMac Pro with 64GB of RAM, and it’s why I bought the best Nikon mirrorless they make. The 45 MP sensor allows me to edit in 5k on my iMac screen, which helps make images look even more sharp when reduced in size to an instagram post or website image. It’s a huge step up from the 24 MP from the D5200.

Excellent color accuracy

Old school photographers may snicker, but I love the electronic view finder on the Z7. Instead of looking through the lens, I see a representation of what the lens is seeing, and adjusting settings takes effect in real-time. The camera does a lot of the work for you – leaving it on auto-color balancing is very accurate, and lens barrel distortion is compensated for in-camera. The Z7 has saved me a lot of time on shoots and in post-production, and allowed me to focus more on making art.

Familiarity

Shooting with another person’s camera is like driving someone else’s car: you know how to drive, you just don’t know where everything is. The Z7 makes adjustments easier since it’s the same functionality as my old D5200, which means less fiddling with adjustments and more shooting.

It’s Light

Which is one of the points of a mirrorless system. Makes it easier to set up on a tripod and carry around at a car show. It’s also why I sold all my old Nikon lenses – they would have worked, and worked well, but why carry the weight around on an older lens if you’re getting a mirrorless camera.

The Bad

Auto-focus

By far the worst experiences I’ve had with the Z7 involve its auto-focus system, particularly in low light conditions. Any light painting I do has become difficult to keep the subject in focus, and in conditions with heavy contrast, such as sunset, the camera isn’t sure what to focus on. I’ll often put a light source on the car, focus the camera, and then turn auto-focus off so it does not have the chance to readjust itself once the scene is set. Nikon says they fixed it with a recent software update, but I have yet to see an improvement in this area.

It’s not the best anymore

Sony recently released its a7R IV with a 60MP sensor – that’s getting up to commercial camera levels of image size. More megapixels means more flexibility in post, with more dynamic range, but as the target is always moving on cameras, the Z7’s sensor is still great and does not hold me back from making the art I want to make.

Limited lens selection

As of now, Nikon does not make nearly as many Z lenses as they do standard DSRL ones – there is no long lenses, for instance. They are coming out slowly, and other brands like Tamron are coming out with new lenses as well, but I’m a sucker for Nikon glass, so I’ll keep waiting. If you’re curious, every shot I’ve taken with the Z7 has been through the standard 24-70 f/4 lens, but I did recently purchase a 50mm prime with a nice f/1.8, so I’m eager to try that out.

It hasn’t made me a better photographer

No surprise there. I do have to do much less post-production work on the images from a Z7 vs a D5200, but overall, the shots I take (to me anyway) are just as nice now as they were a year ago, reinforcing the point that it does not matter what camera you use.

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.

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.