Post Processing: Lexus LFA

Final Image | © John Zhang Final Image | © John Zhang

This image of a Lexus LFA driving along the coast in Big Sur, CA was shot at the beginning of the year. The kicker here is that I didn't shoot the car at that particular location at all. What I am about to show you goes against the photographer's code and I may be banned from the...... Nah I'm only joking. Image compositing is not a new technique and has been around for years. The trick with image composites is piecing the images together seemlessly so it does not look forced. Perspective, angle, lighting, and composition all play a major role here. 

The original shot below is what I took hanging out of a car window on the highway with the sun setting. As you can see the image is nothing special and the abundance of other cars on the freeway, light poles and electric lines detract the eye from the overall flow. However the intent of this shot was to capture the car in a moving state, while keeping it sharp and in focus, wheels in motion (at ISO 400 from a 1/80 shutter speed at 60 mph) and limit the overall reflections in the paint. From this image, the car itself would be masked out in Adobe Photoshop and composited into a completely different environment.

8533912429 Be6a76d661 BNikon D800E w/ Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 | 1/80 – ISO400 @ 60mph | © John Zhang

I had originally planned for this shot to be composited into an "endless" parking lot with mountains in the background along with some epic clouds. However, after a few hours post processing, I was just about ready to give up on this image as a whole. I set this image aside on my desktop for a week until one day I happened to be talking to Richard Thompson of Richard Thompson Photography and he told me he had the perfect background image for my rolling shot. On his recent trip to Big Sur, CA, he photographed numerous images of road environments to be used for this exact purpose. He was kind enough to let me use one as a base background. With this new-found hope, I ventured back to compositing the original shot of the Lexus LFA.

During the post processing workflow, one problem right off the bat was the overall lighting did not match both photographs so while I was putting the two images together, I had to be conscious of that and do my best to not bring attention to it. The motion of the background was added with Bleex. It is also important to note that when creating a composite image it is best to keep things as simple as possible. As the final image gets more and more complex it may detract from your overall subject. In this case the car. Hopefully this example gives readers some insight into my approach to automotive composite photography. If you have any questions feel free to comment below.

  • Original Car2

    Original Image of Car in Motion

  • Original Car2

    Original Image of Background

  • Original Car2

    Virtual Rig Studio motion applied

  • Original Car2

    Contrast and brightness adjustments added

  • Original Car2

    Car masked out and placed onto background image

  • Original Car2

    Shadow added underneath car

  • Original Car2

    Warmer image tone treatment

  • Original Car2

    Final Image - Cropped to achieve widesreen perspective

Above is a step by step explanation of the post processing process.

* Use your arrow keys on your keyboard or use swipe touch gestures on the image to navigate.


John Zhang

Self-proclaimed man.



  • Andrey
    Andrey Thursday, 07 March 2013 16:46 Comment Link

    The result looks amazing! Nice work and idea!

  • Dan Legere
    Dan Legere Thursday, 07 March 2013 20:42 Comment Link

    I love these image buildups! :D

    But one thing i noticed is the dodge/burn on the highways goes off the road.

  • Nandre
    Nandre Thursday, 07 March 2013 21:47 Comment Link

    Dude thanks so much for sharing. Its always awesome to see the magic behind the wizardry.

  • Jason Collin Photography
    Jason Collin Photography Thursday, 14 March 2013 17:57 Comment Link

    Thank you for revealing how such car shots are made and that it often can simply not be done all in one exposure (shot). Have you detailed your process for how to add shadows under cars? That is one step I am really missing on being able to do well preventing me from making my own such composite shots. Thank you.

  • John
    John Friday, 15 March 2013 10:46 Comment Link

    Jason, I've haven't explained the shadow process in detail. But I guess it helps to know how the car and it's shadow will react depending on where the light source is. Drawing the shadow itself is a whole other story. For the most part, I take similar shadows and just expand on that and draw it out. Is it 100% accurate? Maybe not, but will it be believable enough? Depends on how much time you spend on it. The most time is spent on the shadow itself whenever I do a composite. It's always good to practice. I have a handful of open PSD files that I have been practicing on. Hope this helps!

  • Jason Collin Photography
    Jason Collin Photography Friday, 15 March 2013 12:28 Comment Link

    Hi John, yes, thank you, that helps. I am looking forward to practicing your technique above. Also, I found your post as it was mentioned on The Lexus Enthusiast site.

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