Car Photo Case Study: Honda Civic Type R

2010 Honda Civic Type R Championship White

Time for another quick walk through.  The technique used here is very similar to the VW Scirocco photo I took last year but I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to explain the process again – this time with more detailed Photoshop settings.


Waiting for the Light

Last year I participated in a discussion on PistonHeads about London photo locations.  Someone had found a photo on Flickr of a Boxter with the Docklands skyline in the background.  A great location for a car photo.  When someone at work offered me their car to photo and it turned out that they lived in London then it seemed a great opportunity to check out the location.

A photo like this is all about pre-visualisation of what the final image should look like.  For this image I knew that I wanted the buildings at sunset so that they would look all golden and I knew I was going to light the car with a flash to make it stand out.  So once we got there, we moved the car to the best location, got the camera setup and simply waited for the light.  We spent the time chatting and getting the flash exposure sorted whilst we waited or the sun to set.  We were REALLY lucky with the weather in that it was a bright sunny day which meant we got a lot of direct sunlight on the buildings.  However as I wanted to see the lights on we had to wait until it was dark enough for the building lights to show up.


Ambient Shot

For the background and buildings I took an ambient shot at f/11, ISO 50 and 4.0s exposure with the camera focussed on the buildings.  I knew I was going to be taking flashed photos for the foreground that would overlay the background so the car was not too important for the background.

To light the car I used my flash set to manual mode and configured for full power.  This was so that I could get a reasonable aperture to make sure the entire car was sharp.  In the end I settled on an f/11 exposure at ISO 160 and a 1/160s shutter.  The flash was on a wireless trigger so my assistant (a.k.a. John, the car’s owner) could walk around the car with the flash whilst I shouted directions.

As I only had one flash I had to take multiple exposures and blend them later.  If I had enough lights then I would have been able to take it all in one shot and avoided the Photoshop processing.  However building the image up over a series of exposures allows for a lot more flexibility and tuning to create the final look.

Here are the shots of the car:


The image is built up of a number of layers and blended in Photoshop.  The majority of the time I will be using the “Lighten” blend mode.  The lighten mode compares each pixel in the layer with the pixels in the layer below.  If the pixel in the top layer is lighter than the same pixel in the lower layer then the lighter pixel is shown.  If the pixel on the top layer is darker than the same pixel on the layer below then the lower pixel is used.  This technique is great for creating blended shots when you only have one light.  This is not a detailed Photoshop tutorial but I will turn on each layer in turn and explain my thinking.

First up the ambient background layer.  The background is fine but a street light to the left of the car is casting  an orange colour to the car and the ground.

The first thing to do is to get rid of the colour cast.  I do this by creating a desaturated layer and masking it so that only the ground is de-saturated:

First I want to focus on the background to get that to pop.  I do that by creating a curves layer to boost the contrast of the background (note that seeing as I didn’t change the actual curves of the graph I could have used the levels adjustment instead – either would work):

In my pre-visualisation of the image I wanted to de-emphasise the railing and the ground as I thought they may distract a little.  To help with this I created a new curves layer, dragged the curve down to darken the image and then created a gradient mask to control where the darkness ends:

That pretty much completes the background so onto the car….

When I was processing the picture I discovered that, although the car is dark in the image above, some of the street light colour cast was making it though to the final image.  So to fix that I painted out the parts of the car that were showing through in black.  Being black this means that everything in the higher up (lighter) layers will be the only things you see:

Now I can start layering in the flash lit photos.  Note that the blending mode is “Lighten” and the opacity is around 70%.  I turned down the opacity in order to make the car a bit less bright in the image:

More on the front.  Note from the layers pane that the masks are turned off but I will explain those in a bit:

Front side:

Rear side:

Now there is a problem.  When we took the images I didn’t notice that there is a gap in the flash light images that is showing a line underneath the wing mirror.  After multiple attempts at brushing and cloning I ended up duplicating the rear side layer and setting it to “Screen” mode (makes things lighter) and generally twiddling until it looked better.  It is still not 100% perfect but it is as best as I could do:

Finally the roof:

I then created individual masks for each lighting layer to even out the light on the car and tidy up any stray bits of light on the interior and the ground:

Almost there now!  There are some light flares on the rear of the car and in the rear window plus a bunch of camera dust spots in the sky.  A quick clone layer sorted those out:

And finally, one last tweak to the levels to improve the overall image contrast and tone:

And there we have the final image.  There are still some things I would like to tweak but the image looks good enough.  I have given you a brief look at how to take an image like this and I hope you found it useful!

2010 Honda Civic Type R Championship White

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