BTS - Woody Wagon How I Created the Mood

There are many things that go into the final mood of an image. My intention was to have a California-like warm sun with a heading-to-the-beach kind of feel for this car photo. The challenge was that I had to shoot it in the high desert. We have pine trees and some lakes, but the ocean is far away. So we found a windy road heading down to one of the small lakes and planned out our session.

Starting with the Rig-Pro car rig, we set the scene, wheel turn, and composition we wanted and began shooting. Even with the natural tones and such, it was going to need some work to get the warm vibe that was originally intended.

The original raw rig shot:

Original raw file. Nikon D810, 14-24mm f/2.8 lens.

Certainly the sky was not interesting, as it was quite clear like normal for the area, and the tones were a lot cooler than I had wanted. I began the retouch and got the car looking the way I wanted with a lot of dodge and burn and some bracketed frames painted in to fix certain things, such as the car's left rear wheel which had some bounce in the frame we chose.

Retouched file:

Retouched image.

The Mood

After having the heavy lifting done on the retouch, removal of the rig, and details of the car, it was time to really set the mood. Often the last 5 percent of work makes up 95 percent of the final look. In this case that meant a sun overlay and a new sky.

By adding in a new sky that had the coloring to be in the right key with the car, as well as warm everything up, we were able to get the mood we were going for. The warm tones complement the semi-matte yellow car, as well as give a summer type vibe.

The original retouch versus the sky and sun overlay:

It's All In the Details

Knowing I was going for a summer vibe, during the shoot the driver's hair was dark and in shadow so I added a speedlight inside the car with a CTO gel to act as a kicker on his hair and coming from the direction where I would place the sun overlay in final retouching. The speedlight also spilled onto the window frame of the car, and made a nice effect as if the real sun was actually hitting it.

Speedlight kicker with CTO gel to emulate the sun overlay.

Those small details in combination with the right toning and mood are what can really set an image apart.

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Ryan Johnson's picture

Awesome! Curious why the tail lights were edited out though!

Bill Larkin's picture

It was brake lights being on since we were crawling with the car of course, and I just didn't like them for the mood of the shot. I wanted it to feel as if we're hauling down the road pretty fast... and fast would be not having brakes applied. :) - Right or wrong, that was my reason!

Ryan Johnson's picture

That makes sense! Thanks!

Uwe Neugebauer's picture

Impressive editing! I really like the use of the speedlight... it is all about those tiny details right? ;)

Bill Larkin's picture

Thanks :) Yep, all the little things add up!

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

Very impressive. About how much time shooting and how much time editing?

Bill Larkin's picture

Thanks! :) Total time on shoot was a few hours, but a lot of that was scouting and such... setup of rig, etc. - actual shooting wasn't terribly long. Couple hours on retouch.

Christian Berens's picture

Awesome shot! Excellent edit and mood/tones!

I love my Car Camera Rig []
The best piece of advice for a solid shot is to not move the car fast, get a good ND filter kit, (CCR sells the NiSi square kit), and either slowly and gently pull with a steel line or slowly rotate the wheels by hand
I usually do a 20second exposure with a 6 stop or 10 stop ND

Osman Merdan's picture

The small details you put out there are remarkble. Article was a fun to read.

Bill Larkin's picture

Thanks so much

Valeriy Poruchnik's picture

Here's my take, if you don't mind.