Automotive Photography and Graphic Arts

The selections of text below are excerpts from the soon to be released Ebook titled Automotive Photography and Graphic Arts by Anthony Palmieri.

car-photography-art1. Introduction:

If you have just picked up a camera for the first time, or have been taking pictures for years, the information contained in this guide will ensure that you do not overlook anything as you frame and shoot that picture. Taking your photographs to the next level, by using a few computer tools, no special filters, and free clip art, we will walk you through the steps to create a picture like the one on the cover of this book as easy as 1-2-3.

When displaying your vehicle at a show, enthusiasts like yourself pay close attention to every detail down to the shine on the bolts to ensure that the automobile is perfect. The end quality of your pictures is dependent upon your attention to details. Whenever we take a photograph for a client and create their unique art we do exactly the same. Starting with the right photograph is key and we will provide some often overlooked aspects of automotive photography. Remember that you must start with the right photograph in order to obtain good and even great results

2. Digital Photography Basics For Automobiles:

There are two assumptions made here. The first is, that you are interested in color photography and the second is that you have read your camera owners manual and understand the features and capabilities at least at a basic level. With that said the intent of this guide is to help you get started with taking photographs and getting the best possible results. Before we continue, there is one thing often overlooked until it is too late that will ruin a great photograph. Shut off the date and time stamp feature. You can be sure that it will always take away from the picture or be in the wrong place where no amount of editing can account for it.

The focus here is to start with the best of everything possible and use your camera to the fullest. This does not mean that you need to spend $2000 on a camera and special lenses, but it does mean taking advantage of the best capabilities your camera provides. Even a $100 camera can create good small prints. After you understand your cameras feature menu and how to navigate it go back and re-read the picture quality section again. Once you understand that section set your camera to the BEST modes possible

2.3. Always Use The Flash- Well Usually

No matter if you are using a standard film camera, or a digital camera you want to be sure that your camera ALWAYS uses the flash. The only possible exception to this would be for indoor photography where there are halogen or other obtrusive lighting that you may have to experiment with. To force your camera to use the flash set your camera to “FORCE Flash” or “Fill Flash”, not “AUTOMATIC Flash”. This flash is often represented by a “lightening bolt” symbol. Automatic flash will determine if the flash goes off based upon the amount of light detected. When we tell you to use your flash in the sun, automatic flash will almost never turn on since it will think there is sufficient lighting. Using the flash helps to illuminate the shadowing areas, as well as minimizing any glare along with balancing the overall lighting. Force flash should be used for exterior shots, cockpit shots, and engine bay shots.

You compose and shoot that great engine bay shot and then realize when you are working with the photograph later that all you see if the top of the engine and nothing more. The flash will make the steering box, headers and other components stand out as well as enhance the top of the engine detail and make the colors stand out even more. The following examples show the difference with and without flash. In the first figure the image is rather washed out and with the blue not so blue and the red and other colors not all that brilliant.

car-photography-art22.7. Lens Filters and Shades

If you must take photographs in bright sun, such as an outside car show, use a lens shade and force to overcome the harsh sun. The other alternative to use especially if your flash is not powerful enough flash is to use a polarizing filter instead of the flash. The polarizing filter is one of the most useful filters for outdoor photography and is a requirement for any serious photographer, especially for those that use a digital camera. A polarizing filter will reduce the glare and make colors stand out more in harsh sun conditions. These filters can significantly reduce white-outs or wash-outs (surfaces with the primary color all washed out) due to bright reflections. Some photograph flaws can be edited out and touched up, however, these flaws are nearly impossible to eliminate after the fact and make look natural.

A second important tool to have in your camera bag is a lens shade. A lens shade is inexpensive and is attached on the end of your lens to keep excess light from directly entering lens. It basically provides a tunnel that shields the optics (lens), and due to its black color absorbs any bouncing light. This helps the camera to better detect the light levels of the subject.

3. The Photo Shoot – How Do We Work With What We Have

Now that you have a general understanding of how to use your camera, lets focus on where, when, and how to get the optimum environment. There are some things in our control, and others that are not, and at any one time they can change. It is important that we discuss each elements so you can decide what to do given your situation. These elements are lighting, the location, and the position of the automobile. If you are restricted to a specific time of day, then you many not have any control over the lighting, or do you. If you are photographing the vehicle at a show, you are probably limited to its position and location. Ideally you want the best lighting, optimum flexibility with positioning the vehicle. Lastly if you are going to remove the background from the final print, the cleanest background for editing is desirable. This section will help you take advantage of any flexibility and optimize your shoot given the environment.

3.1. Pick The Right Lighting

Given that we are focusing on color photography, proper lighting is essential. In fact proper lighting actually means LOTS OF LIGHT, and the correct type of light. Without proper lighting it is nearly impossible to have an award winning photograph, even one that has touched up with the best photo editing tools. When it comes to lighting you want to have an even distribution of light over the entire surface of the automobile. This light illuminates all areas, is not harsh or glaring and does not cause shadowing. Sun light that is at a low-angle such as at sun rise or sun set is often the best. This low-angle light covers the side surfaces with light. Sun light that is high in the sky such as that mid-day harsh sun must be avoided or you will have glaring reflections. This harsh light results in the top surfaces being washed out, and the lower areas being dark with excessive shadowing. The ultimate goal is low angle, soft, evenly distributed light that illuminates the entire vehicle. Also remember to keep the sun behind you and watch out for your own shadow!

car-photography-art33.2. Picking The Location

The lighter color the ground surface the better the lower area lighting will be and less lower body panel shadowing due to the upward reflected light. Parking the vehicle on a light colored concrete surface versus a dark asphalt surface has this is a major benefit as well as making the tire profiles stand out due to the black rubber from the lighter surface. This reflection will better illuminate the lower areas including the undercarriage and minimize shadows.

The intent for many of the photographs put into fantasy scenes is to remove the background and have the vehicle stand alone. It is important that nothing sticks up in front of any part of the vehicle and causes an obstruction. Unless your final print will be of your automobile in a grassy field, do not take your pictures on a lawn or grassy field. The blades of grass will hide the bottom of the tires as well as produce reflections and irregular shadowing on the lower panels and any reflective surfaces such as bumpers. This is also true if taking pictures on a gravel area. The tires could slightly depress the surface hiding the lower portion.

3.3. Positioning The Vehicle

Park the vehicle away from anything that will cause a reflection on it. For example, the white parking lot stripes will be reflected on the side panels and in the glass. Any building signs or even trees will be reflected and even if they are not clear, they will end up looking like distorted body work in the final print. Remember your automobile can be like a mirror and many things around will show up as a reflection and later take away from the final picture.

Position the vehicle for the best lighting. Remember that you want to always take the picture from the sun side and not the shadow side (sun always behind you). This may require that you reposition the vehicle during a photo shoot for optimum lighting from all sides. Make sure that the areas that you are photographing (i.e. front/side, etc.) are positioned for best lighting.

3.5. What Angles Should You Take

Take a series of photographs with all doors, hood, trunk are completely closed. This series should include the following shots (refer to the example pictures). In this section we will include the final photographs that were created in order to help you jump ahead and start to visualize what can be done as you look at the different angles. These are only a few compositions, and many more combinations could be created using different backgrounds and the inclusion / exclusion of various elements. Just use your imagination, and eventually you will be able to look at a vehicle and have a good idea of what the final print will look like.

4. Basic Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator Introduction

For most photography work and picture manipulation you will be using Adobe Photoshop or other similar photo editing tool. If you will be creating large prints greater than 11×17 with text, you should use an illustration tool that provides good text and layout capabilities such as Adobe Illustrator. With these two types of tools you can create fantastic and artistic pictures, and then include them in professional looking layouts. The intent of this section is to provide some starting guidelines to create some of the basic pictures that are displayed on www.PalmieriConcepts.com. Keep in mind that the guidelines and steps provided here have been generalized, however, they will point you in the right direction to create a great picture. The references in this section are referring to Photoshop, so if you are using a different photo editing tool, you will need to find the equivalent features.

The full book contains the complete section on editing the photographs and creating an image like the one on the cover of the book.

So to get started, take what you have learned here, get out that camera and have fun.

For additional information on how to take great pictures and turn them into great art, take a look at the additional sections and the entire E-Book at Palmieri Concepts at www.PalmieriConcepts.com. There are many examples in this Ebook and it is full of pictures to walk you through every step.

About the Author
Anthony Palmieri founded Palmieri Concepts after 20 years of creating custom artwork for his own pleasure and enjoyment. This business grew out of a love for motor vehicles and was started to share with others what began as a hobby. After taking his own pride and joys (yes this really started with family pictures and not cars) and combining them with creativity.

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2 responses to “Automotive Photography and Graphic Arts”

  1. This is one gold mine of an article. Anthony Palmieri, the author, has provided some super tips on
    using flash and filters that I never would have thought of. Thank you Anthony. I will be saving a copy
    for further reference….

    Lou S..

  2. Chris says:

    Great tips for anyone who has just picked up a camera, or has had a camera for a long time and is picking it back up again as a hobby. I’ve seen many photographers miss these fundamental tips that can make or break a photo!

    Automotive Photography by Chris Boulas

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