The McLaren Edit That Took 6.5 Hours To Edit
I suspect that many usually doubt me when I say “this photo took me x hours to edit!” and I would tend to agree with him or her if I didn’t see the post-processing with my own eyes. When it comes to editing photos, I believe that quality ALWAYS takes precedence over anything else. I strongly believe that we should all hold some sort of standard for ourselves to reach every time we edit a photo unless the original shot was intended to be a snapshot. Anyway, if you may or may not know a photo from my recent Forgestar McLaren MP4-12C set became the main topic of basically the internet when it got posted on Fstoppers and then on Reddit later that day. It all started on my Facebook fan page. I was basically editing and updating my progress as I went along. Some fans followed and became entranced every time I updated. Eventually I posed a gif that played out every step of my edit which totaled out to be 6.5 hours. In this post I will show you why it took so long and how I got to the final edit while dispelling many “internet professional photographers’” comments I read on Reddit. I did read them all by the way.
Here is the original photo, it was shot at 10AM using a Nikon D700, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, Manfrotto tripod, with no extra lighting or assistants. The settings on the camera were, f/8, 1/25 second shutter speed, and ISO 200 in RAW format. You might think at first, what a crappy location and the reflections suck so bad. Well, my style of shooting and editing is very adaptable. There are times where everything is perfect, but most of the time nothing is ever presented to you perfectly. It is up to you as a photographer and editor to seek that level of “perfection” which is derived from your personal standards.
While I’m on the topic of “perfection”, the original location that we had decided on was closed off the morning of, so I quickly had to find a back up location before the client and I met. Again, this is an area that I have to adapt to. In addition to that, the client couldn’t stay long and that meant I was working on a time limit. The full set took exactly 30 minutes to shoot.
As I read the Reddit comments, many questioned why I didn’t use a polarizer to get rid of all the reflections or even shoot at a better location. Well, I did use a polarizer. In fact, I polarized the shot 3 times and even after combining all 4 exposures (original +3 polarized layers) in Photoshop CS6, the reflections were still very apparent. Yes, I could have shot the car in a studio and composite it back into the background, but the client’s budget didn’t allow for that. So I had to work with what I was presented with.
Then I proceeded to further clone and brush out all the reflections on the car. This was where the bulk of the 6.5 hours of work came from. I worked on each of the panels on the car separately. It was similar to washing a car properly. I would take a sample of the darkest and lightest color on the certain panel I would be working on, select the panel and brush in gradients until it physically looked correct to me. There’s no scientific way to do this other than through experience. It was a daunting task, but eventually, I worked my way around all the panels with ugly reflections. I left some reflections in order to keep that glossiness to the car.
Everything else seemed to flow easily after the brushing and cloning was done. I proceeded to mess with the contrast and overall lighting of the photo. I knew I wanted a high key look in order to give the car and photo a lot more “pop”. Therefore, I bumped the contrast to bring out the textures of the ground and building to balance out the smoothness of the car paint. Notice that I bumped the contrast to a point that it did not blow out the highlights and the shadows were not overly darkened. None of the details are lost and only enhanced.
After that it was onto color correcting and grading. Since the photo was basically in grey scale other than the side markers, I added a black and white layer and cut out the side markers. Then I added a cool tone throughout the photo to emulate the morning feel that I shot the car in. By doing this, it gave the photo a more “commercial” look.
At this point, the photo seemed done and I was honestly debating whether or not the photo was done. The smoke really was an optional step for me, but I felt that the car’s diffuser and rear panel seemed too dark and boring. So I decided to throw in an element that I personally though would set off the photo without being too much of a distraction. It added some “texture” to a rather bland are of the photo. This really is a love it or hate it step and could be easily disregarded if the client did not agree with it. However, in the end, the client chose to leave it and overall, we were both pleased with it.
Here’s a gif that plays out the full 6.5 hours of editing I spent to edit this single photo from the set. Just imagine how many total hours I spent on the full set which you can see here. And just for your information, saving the gif in full quality would have taken years to load and play. So I chose a lower quality, which can explain why the panels look blotchy. Many “internet professional photographers” thought that this represented the final photo, when it clearly was only made for informational purposes only.
So there you have it! For you Facebook fans, Fstoppers, Reddit readers, and regulars here on my blog, I hope this post clarifies any and all questions, comments, and concerns you might have had regarding this photo. If you want to further discuss this thought process or post-processing, please leave a comment below and I’m answer them one by one as clearly as I possibly can.