By Geoff Harris

Have you ever tried to photograph a car and felt your photo was lacking that little bit of magic? How your ever wanted to reproduce the type of car shots you see in magazines?

Well in these tips and video from Aesonica, they explain how with just a Canon 5D, one light, a radio trigger and a sturdy tripod they shoot dozens of shots to eventually make a composite finished photo.

Getting Started

Before you begin, make sure your tripod is stabilized and locked down in that position. Since the process of this style is overlaying the same photograph on top of each other, even the slightest bump or movement of the tripod can cause huge headaches when in post. Put a barrier around it, weigh it down with sandbags, do whatever you need to do to make sure the tripod and camera does not move – one of the reasons we suggest investing in a shutter trigger.

On your first shot, take an ambient base shot. This is a shot with no lighting involved, just a plain shot of your subject in ambient natural light. This will be the first layer and will act as a reference and base to the rest of the layers you will stack on top. That way you can preview a before and after shot to see if the lighting is what you want.

Make sure on the ambient shot that the darks aren’t crushed and your lights aren’t blown out. Detail in both your highlights and shadows is key in this shot.

When lighting, your goal is to light up as many faces of the object as possible. Each shot you take is an option you will have in post and will allow you more more creative liberty to do what you want with the lighting once editing your project. Every shot is a key light and every shot is a rim light. It’s up to you in post to decide what lighting works best.

Look at your lighting options. For example, with a car you want to light up the interior, maybe underneath the carriage for a nice under-glow, the inside of the lamps, and the car emblem. Every small detail will go a long way in the final composite image.

For the most part, only one exposure will be needed which saves a lot of time, but with all the options you have in lighting, you can really make your scene look unique.

By keeping the camera in exactly the same spot throughout the shoot, they can light the car from multiple directions. These images are then brought into Photoshop and overlaid on top of each other.  then the painstaking take of editing out what you don’t want and keeping what you do begins.

Post Editing and Compositing

In Photoshop, make your base layer your ambient shot. This will be your reference. From there, stack each photo on top of that. I’ve never had to worry about the order, because you’re only keeping the part of the layer you want most for each shot.

Now what comes afterwards is the fun part by erasing everything but the lighting you wish to keep, but before doing that, you should mask the layers you are working on by going to Layer> Layer Mask> Reveal All. What this will do is allow you to erase portions of the photo without destroying the actual layer itself that would occur with normal erasing. If you made a mistake and want to go back to the original state of that image, just go to Layer> Layer Mask> Delete.

Since each layer is the same photo with different lighting, just go through and start erasing the portions you don’t want to keep. This should leave just the lit portion. Now start doing this with each layer. What you should start seeing is a composite of all your shots in one image.

Remember the details.

Even the smallest detail can enhance your image. Look for logos, random plastic bits, blemishes, colour, contrast and especially shading for each portion of your composite object. Each one of these can drastically enhance the overall look of your image and draw eyes to parts of the object or scene that would most of the time be ignored.

The goal is to make it look as if you had 20+ lights, grids, flags and reflectors to shoot your project. There is nothing better than hearing someone ask how many lights were needed to create your shot and revealing that you used only one. The trick is by doing something that could realistically be done with enough equipment and lighting skill, with only one light.

On the other hand, if you get too carried away, there is nothing worse than someone asking if you used Photomatix to compile your HDR garbage shot followed by “My 13 year-old has that program too!”

Feel free to send us your images and a big thank you to Aesonica for sharing these tips and this great video.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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