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Making your photos look better

There are times when you have a photo of something where you love the photo itself but the weather wasn't right or maybe there are things in the background or foreground that you don't want to be there. In this blog we look at changing the background, cleaning up the image and changing the lighting to make your photo look better.

I shot the below original image at a hot rod show. I loved the car, the angle of the shot but the day was overcast and the background was very messy so I knew that I wanted to add some Photoshop magic to get the image to where I wanted it.

VW Surf edition photo before photoshop

So I took the image into photoshop and looked at what elements I would keep and what I would change. There are times when I will cut the object out completely and build all the elements from scratch but in this instance I realised I could actually utilise most of the grass area, which reduces time to make shadows, and helps to sell the realism of the overall image.

The first step I go through is tidying up the image, cleaning up or hiding any blemishes or things that won't be there in the final render. In this case it was fairly minor but things like the rubbish under the front wheel had to go and I removed the number plate details. The rest of the areas was going to be removed so I didn't have to worry about spending time on that.

With the VW being a surf edition rebuild, I pictured it sitting at the beach so I looked through my photos to find a beach shot with the sun coming from the right direction and with the overall outlook that I wanted. I then brought the two images together and proceeded to cut out the elements I didn't want to keep.

I'm a big fan of working non-destructively as it saves you a lot of time and in some cases makes your job a lot easier. When I'm cutting out objects like this I tend to use layer masks as you can easily, and constantly, make adjustments without having to start fresh each time - which is a huge timesaver when compositing.

Now the tricky part with cars is the windows. People either forget to cut them out or they just darken them down so they look tinted and hide what you are meant to see. I prefer to make it look like the car was shot with the new background so I cut them out and set to work making it look like there is still glass in the window. This is done through a few different steps.

First is cutting out the area where you don't see any interior, so basically when you see right through the car. Then adding reflections or tint to the cut out area to match what it used to look like, and sometimes this involves adding colour to the background and then finally adding reflections of the new scene so they match. In some cases the windows may have been dirty so you also need to match the look of the original as well which adds more complexity to the overall composite but with practice you get it right.

It is at this point where most people think "Job done" and leave it there. For me that is the bulk of the work done but there are a number of finishing steps that need to be done to finish it off properly. Primarily it's the lighting that will add those finishing touches. Some people may not know why they can tell an image has been photoshopped but they recognise that something is off. This can be in the overall lighting or maybe the shadows in the image looking wrong or are straight up missing (which I have seen in professional ads and images before, unbelievably).

Making sure that the lighting matches in your image can really tie you image together and they are very easy to add just remember to not try and do them all with only one layer. Making multiple small or localised adjustments give a better result than one large change. Think about the look of the final image you want - is it cool tones, rich tones etc - and then go about getting that look.

For this image I wanted to give it a warmer tone overall and added multiple adjustment layers - levels, curves, hue/saturation and colour balance - in order to finish the image.

Here is the final edit with all the changes made.

VW surf photoshop final edit

To give you an idea of the overall steps here is an animated gif

VW photoshop process

Here are a couple of other examples using the same principles

If you would like me to make your photos look better then get in touch.



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