Revealing the magic behind the best photos


Author: Tony BakerPublished:

It’s almost seven years since I last used a roll of film for Classic & Sports Car. In that time I’ve had to learn my way around the possibilities (and pitfalls) of digital imaging, but I still hate the phrase "we’ll sort it out later in Photoshop."

Back when I was learning my craft at art college, one of my lecturers had an oft-repeated mantra:  "Photography is just a 1/60th of a second," his point being that you had to put the work in to your picture before you pressed the shutter. All too often an intention to "sort it out later in Photoshop" betrays a lack of effort at the front end of the photography process. 

Having worked with film for most of my career, I still try and get the picture right "in camera" whenever I can. Regular readers will – I hope – recognise that on C&SC we don’t go in for excessive digital manipulation and what you see on the pages of the magazine is, pretty much, what was in front of us at the time.

The trouble is that, when you are working with old and sometimes very valuable cars, circumstances all too often limit what can be achieved and there are occasions when Adobe’s magic box of tricks can get you out of a hole. 

Back in February, Editor in Chief Mick Walsh and I headed off to deepest Oxfordshire to shoot a Bugatti Type 50/59B at the workshops of restorer Tom Dark. The car was under wraps in a busy workshop and, although Tom was more than happy to take the car outside for our shoot, or even to trailer it to a nearby location, the British winter had other ideas.

Snow had fallen a few days previously and what remained was patchy and frozen hard, with the temperature still firmly the wrong side of freezing. The car would have looked horribly out-of-place in bleak, snow-strewn Oxfordshire farmland, all the more so because the feature was pencilled in to the contents of the June issue. With the car soon to be whisked off to the home of its foreign owner, postponement for better weather wasn’t an option.

As workshops go, Tom Dark’s is clean, tidy and well-ordered, but few make inspiring photo locations, especially when you’re shooting a car as special as this.

This was what I had to work with:

Realising that a ‘straight’ shot wouldn’t work, I set about shooting a series of pictures, to be combined later on into a digital montage. One advantage of working with flash is that, with careful control of the camera settings, the light can be limited to a small area, leaving the rest of the image dark. With the camera clamped firmly to a robust tripod, I worked my way around the car with a single flash head, lighting one section each time, carefully checking the images on the camera’s preview screen. Here are a few examples:

The images were all captured as RAW files, to give maximum image quality, and back at home later I loaded all of the individual images into Photoshop on separate ‘layers’. After some careful editing, this is the end result:

For those interested, the finished image involved nine separate layers, each with its own layer mask, using a variety of ‘blend modes’. And if that last sentence is a foreign language to you, well, it would have been to me, too, not so long ago.

We then moved the car around and used the same technique to capture a rear view...

Was this cheating? I don’t think so. As you can see by comparing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos, there’s nothing in the finished picture that wasn’t there on the day. Technically I could have achieved a similar picture on film, but I’d have needed another half-dozen or more flash heads, a lot more time and several packs of Polaroid instant film.

And I don’t think Tom Dark or his staff of skilled restorers would have appreciated the disruption to their busy work schedule.

I suspect my art college mentor is probably well into retirement by now, but if not he’s probably had to adapt his mantra for the digital age: photography is still just a 1/60th of a second, but it’s amazing what a difference an hour or two on the computer can make.

You can read the full story of this car in the June 2012 issue of Classic & Sports Car


Chris Martin

Impressive lesson from a pro! I too fought the digital revolution for a while, but gave in and bought a decent Nikon SLR a couple of years ago, but even then I was suspicious of a camera that weighed less than the instruction book that came with it.
Since I was given a pocket sized Ricoh digital with a new computer in about '97 I found digitals to be easy and convenient, but kept my old 35mm Olympus OMs and all the bits for what I considered "proper" photography, but now the Nikon can do all of that and more.
So far, I have only been using a very basic program for editing and have never really looked at Photoshop, but seeing how you managed to put those Bugatti shots together has made me think again - damn, now there is whole lot more to learn!
Chris M.


Coventry Climax

That's really impressive! Can you share more of your tricks with us?


I too am just getting to grips with the wonders of photoshop, and agree with Coventry Climax, it would be great to see more background articles on how the images in the magazine are created to such a brilliant affect.


Nuno Granja

Impressive Tony Baker.

I admire the clever combination of all the tools available.

Thanks for sharing.

nuno granja


For those interested, the finished image involved nine separate layers, each with its own layer mask, using a variety of ‘blend modes’.Thanks for sharing.


I don’t think I could call it “cheating”. Photography, after all, is what is captured by whatever means at the end of the day. No one said it has to be the camera in situ. I feel as long as the image captures the emotion of what you’re trying to capture, you have succeeded. Anyone who says you’re cheating probably thinks The Matrix cheated them by their clever effects. By the way, I am interested in purchasing a vintage car. I am the sort that don’t really care so much about the price as I can just apply for logbook loans if I need to. By any chance do you know if the workshop you featured is any good?

Carl Garrison - logbook loans


I just loved your innovative tricks and I would to have some more tricks from you.


I am really impressed with the outcome and no, it is not considered as cheating, at all. You have personally captured each angle of the car in your own efforts and simply did a mash-up or combination of all of the images into one masterpiece with the aid of technology. I think that is fair enough. This is because we do wish to stay traditional by going raw and using films and all, but old methods have their own limitations. And using technology to assist, and not completely take over, is perfectly fine.


Best regards / Peter Mould / pmwltd


So it's a mixture of photos made under different light angles? Interesting technique. So we have a car lightened from all around.. without any lamps seen.. Fantastic)) I should try it myself! And Chris, there are always things to learn)

Body - CARiD



Lovely technique and is one I had the fortune of trying at one of the Haymarket photography open days at Teddington studio's. One of your colleagues showed us the nuts and bolts of the process and we had a lovely F430 to shoot, the results of which were extremely pleasing. I don't suppose the sturdy tripod you talk of is quite as sturdy as the one in the studio (an old TV camera stand). I enjoy your images in C&SC and envy you your job. I would be in my element travelling around photographing classic cars, heaven!


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