I recently posted an image on my Instagram feed with something that I’ve not done before. It was a shot that I didn’t take. Considering that I’m used to taking the shots, this happened in answer to a question that was posted by the guy who originally took it. I’ve photographed Frank Cassidy and his Porsche car collection before but the frame he had taken, he felt, didn’t quite work.
It happens. No matter how you’ve conceived a shot in your mind, studied the location, the light, the time of day, the subject or any of the myriad ways you think an image can work, there are times when you look at the image and sigh, ‘well, that’s a bit shit isn’t it?’
Photoshop is your friend
We’d all love to say that it was first shot out the bag or claim it was as it was in camera, but a lot of the images we like have had something done to them. From sharpening or dust removal through to 200 layers and every pixel polished, an element of processing in the digital world is needed.
With this image, I liked what Frank had seen and shot. The contrasting curves and cleanliness of the car against the run down, industrial backdrop. It all has potential in my old eyes. Here is the original image:
Firstly, its always more difficult in portrait.
Architecture will have distortion (unless you have a tilt-shift lens) and the lens barrel can also distort the car from this angle. It also offers limited cropping ability with the framing so we’re having to work in the scope of what we have. The highlights in the sky are blown out and the oil patches on the floor nearest the camera drag my eye a little. Overall, I get why Frank posted it with a question of whether or not it worked or if something could be done with it.
Hindsight is a wondrous tool but with the car being parked so close to the building, focal distance separation isn’t possible. I see (and have shot myself) a lot of people going wide open with f2.8 lenses. While it can have a certain feel to it, chances are you’re not going to be sharp. The chance of missing focus completely has a high percentage too. Seeing as we cannot change the cars position here, the first bail out option is a portraiture standard; go black and white:
This is simply -100% on the saturation slider in Photoshop. I think its already better. You can pinch it around and try adding some punch to it, but the more I felt I did that, the more it ended up losing the car back into the building. Whether you like to use presets, filters, VSCO, SnapSpeed or manually create your own, there was little in the black and white field that felt right. And for me, this is a feeling.
Looking back at the original, the car has to stand forward but I did like the industrial feel. Using the Clone Stamp tool, I removed the oil drops on the tarmac. Using a portrait lighting palette, I wanted the blue/gold cross process feeling. Luckily, Photoshop can give you a great start. Using Camera Raw Filter, I simply hit the Cool Light preset. With the image now tinged with cold blue, the building now has a derelict feel:
The rust is now the main colour on the building and mimics the orange on the car. The original different shades of colour in the first photo are now similar so I’m going to then deal with the blown highlight.
Perfection comes with imperfections
By adding more light. The natural light source coming from that sky has lost all detail so instead of worrying about it, I want to give it a reason for being there. I simply add a lens flare using the in-built Photoshop action on a new layer; filter>render>lens flare. Once I’ve put that into the right place, I give it a solid colour by adding a Hue/Saturation layer and choosing to clip it to this new layer.
Once this is in position, I copy the merged layers to then dodge and burn the areas that I feel can give the depth I want. For me, I want to lift the wheels slightly and keep light on the car but darken the buildings directly behind. Once I’m happy I’ve got the balance, copy that layer and then back into camera raw to tweak one last time.
I lifted the clarity slider to +30, knocked back the shadows a touch and did an overall highlight lift +18. Then, to add some drama, I used a circular gradient tool to have a slight halo of light from the sun over the car.
The final image is, as someone nicely pointed out (yeah, thanks Rob), a touch ’90s in style, but given thats a period look for the car, I’ll take it. As I said, this was a ten minute pixel play over a full in-depth, post production edit and grade, but even with a light mess around, the power of post production can get you closer to what you saw in your mind, if not in the camera:
As I said both to Frank and in my Instagram post, I am not a retoucher/colourist but it helps to understand the tools so you can make the shots you want. There’s many ways you could go with this and this is merely one option. If you have any questions about this or anything else, give me a shout.
Hope you like it. If there’s something I’ve done that you like and want to know more, drop me a line.
The camera never lies. Photoshop does. Question everything!