2019 - The Year of CGI

As I take stock in my business and look around the industry assessing how to grow in 2019, I’m starting see more and more CGI products out there on the market. CGI is rapidly becoming an integral part of advertising photography in the automotive industry. Marketers and Creative Directors are hiring photographers who aren’t just photographers. They are hiring photographers who are agile enough to add value to projects using other tools like retouch and CGI. Workflows are changing and as an automotive photographer I feel it’s important to keep learning and growing in the right direction to continue to be relevant in the industry.

So what does this mean? 2017 was the year I decided to focus on diving into Photoshop and mastering my retouch workflow. 2018 was a year I started exploring and learning CGI. I researched the different software applications on the market.

I took a six month block of time and was intentional about setting time aside to learn and play with the software. At first, I thought I had solid results. I’d proudly post my work on different CGI group pages on my various social media channels. Those images would immediately get ripped by experts who’s been creating these types of assets for decades. I’d go back to the drawing board and take the ripping and try and grow from the input given to me be industry experts.

After several months - and acquiring very thick skin, I posted an image and fully expected to get ripped. I was ready to take my lumps. But something amazing happened. The same people who had been destroying me in comments began to change their tune. They started replying with positive remarks and constructive critiques.

I think with anything worth doing, it’s worth the time and effort to learn and master the workflow. I’m by now means an expert at CGI but I do think I’m at a point in the journey where I’m competitive.

I’m always looking to add to my product set. Like any other product offering, it’s needs to be scalable and repeatable. Many photographers get stuck only focusing on what they consider their go to product. I think it’s important to always evolving your product set. But to do that, you’ve got to be ready to perform at the highest level and be comfortable providing expert knowledge when working with a Creative Director or client.



Double Time

I get excited when my favorite client calls. This time they wanted me to update the press photos for the 2016 Nissan Altima. The project was to shoot two units - blue and silver, top secret nobody can see the car, secure locations, the usual stuff.

I made a couple of calls and locked down the Music City Center in Nashville. We loaded the cars up on truck and trailer a couple of weeks later. I can do everything in my power to make sure the shoot goes off without any issues but there's absolutely nothing I can do to control the weather. We show up and of course it's raining. We gave it the old college try, you know hang out and see if it stops raining long enough to squeeze off a couple of shots. But with a car that hasn't been revealed yet, it's not like you can just have these thing laying around for everyone to see. They have to be covered and hidden away from the public. It doesn't make it easy to just pull it out and shoot when the rain stops.

Plan B: move to the tunnel that goes through the convention center. I've shot there before (Ferrari California) and it can be a challenging location because it's very dark. Luckily for us it has a metal ceiling so we were able to bounce light to capture the image below. 


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2016 Nissan LEAF

Not much has changed on the outside for the 2016 Nissan Leaf but Nissan says that the electric car will be getting a new, larger battery option and a step up to what it claims is best-in-class range. I had the opportunity pop up several months ago to shoot the 2016 Nissan LEAF. The LEAF was the first mass-produced electric vehicle in the world. I wanted to challenge myself so I decided to use a technique called light painting. Light painting is a technique where you place the car in it's spot and then use a strobe light to paint each part of the car, one shot at a time, and then blend them all together into one amazing image using Photoshop.

So the image you see above is twenty seven (yes, I said 27) different layers (images) blended into one image. First, I shot the image at an average exposure setting. From there, I shot images using a 1K strobe with a six foot strip box to expose small sections of the car and background until I had everything I need to complete the final composite image. The last image was a thirty second exposure of the sky. The sky was not shot at the same location, I used an image of the sky I had shot about a year prior at a different location.

You can see how I used the strip box to light the car in the image above. Basically, I walked the entire car and kept clicking the shutter every two seconds as I walked.

Once in Photoshop, I brought in each image as a new layer. Created an inverted layer mask and painted in whatever section of the car I was working on at the time. Once I had the entire car painted in I moved to the background and used the same workflow.

This was definitely an interesting project. The LEAF is the ultimate high-tech product. I love high-tech toys so it certainly was a pleasure working on this project.

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Global Motorsports, Inc.

I was recently commissioned by Global Motorsports, Inc. to update all of the artwork in one of their retail stores. The owners, John Ginther and Larry Thorne have an amazing collection of cars both exotic and classic. I was really excited because this would be my first experience shooting high end cars like John's Ferrari California and his mid '80's Ferrari 308. Sure, I've shot high-end cars before like the 2016 Nissan GT-R NISMO but this a different experience all together. The California is such an iconic work of art and anyone my age that grew up watching Magnum PI is familiar with the red 308 that Thomas Magnum used in the show to chase bad guys. 

Ferrari 308 BTS

To say this was an amazing opportunity would be the understatement of the year. These guys gave me the keys to the toy box. Rewind to day 1 - we walk into a small warehouse in Nashville to see the location where I was going to shoot the details of the cars and tucked off in a corner of the warehouse are three Ferrari's, a Maserati, a couple of Porsche 911's, a '66 Mercedes 280SL hardtop convertible and a '60's Austin Healey - all in perfect condition. I was like a kid in a candy store to say the least.

I showed up a couple of weeks later to shoot the details. It was a pretty simple setup. Me, the cars and two strobes. I shot all of the interesting and iconic design cues trying to create image panels for the walls of the retail store.

Ferrari California
Mercedes 280 SL
Ferrari 308 for Glabal Motorsports, Inc.

The second phase of the project was to take a few of the cars and shoot them in motion out on the streets of Nashville. I've been shooting rolling shots of cars for a few years with different booms that I've built. Some of them have turned out okay but none have ever really been exceptional. So I went out on the internet and found a company in the UK called CarCamerRig - They have a professional product that is a 30 foot carbon fiber boom with all of the necessary attachment equipment. I took a huge risk and purchased one. It was a large investment for my business.

This is what the image looked like straight out of the camera with the boom attached.

This is what the image looked like straight out of the camera with the boom attached.

This is an edited version of another image without the boom. I added a sun flare to hide the police officer who was blocking traffic at the top of the hill.

This is an edited version of another image without the boom. I added a sun flare to hide the police officer who was blocking traffic at the top of the hill.

This was a complex shot to get. I had to file a request with Nashville for a photo permit to secure the location. I also had to hire a security company to provide security to protect the $300,000 car. I had to hire off-duty police officers to provide traffic control and close down one of the busiest streets in the heart of downtown Nashville. All of this took weeks to coordinate. I had to file detailed production plans and a production schedule that would be heavily scrutinized by Metro Nashville Government along with their legal department. I had to have Nashville added to my insurance policy. It was all worth it though. In the end I captured one of the best car images I've ever shot. Looking back, I probably should have hired a beautiful woman to be in the driver's seat. Okay, so it wasn't perfect - sorry Nick.

This image is a sequence of images with and without the car edited in VirtualRig Studio Pro 3.

This image is a sequence of images with and without the car edited in VirtualRig Studio Pro 3.



2016 Nissan Titan - Behind the Scenes

Back in January, I got a call from the folks at Nissan North America, Inc., asking me if I'd like to go out to Nevada and shoot the new totally redesigned Nissan Titan pickup truck. This was a huge opportunity for me, and I can't tell you how excited I was to get the invite. Planning literally began the moment I got off the phone. There were a couple of major challenges to overcome with this shoot. First, there was not enough time to acquire the proper film permits which limited us on where we could legally shoot. Then, there was the little fact that we knew we were only going to have the truck for less than 24 hours. I worked with a very talented Creative Director named Tim who is based in Los Angeles. He and I began looking for locations using Map Quest and Google Earth. Tim was an encyclopedia of knowledge for that area. He could recall specific road names off the top of his head. We had daily discussions either by phone or email about possible locations for the shoot. We talked about every aspect of potential sites: where the sun would be at certain times of the day, potential issues like foot traffic, could the transport truck gain access, etc. Basically, we knew we needed to address anything we could think of that might be an issue during the shoot. It turned out to be an ongoing discussion up until about an hour before the shoot.

While this was a challenge in itself, the biggest challenge we faced was the truck - or, rather, the truck's "schedule."  First off, the truck was in Detroit for its global reveal at the Detroit Auto Show. It was also completely booked on events for the next few months following the reveal. It was also the only unit of its kind in the U.S., a bright yellow PRO-4X with gold pearl mixed into to the paint. We were going to have a very small window of opportunity to have access to the truck for the shoot. Nissan transported it from Detroit to LA and then put it on another truck from LA to Nevada. I flew into Las Vegas, loaded up into a rental car and drove South to meet the team and the truck. Along the way, Tim and I were still looking on Google Earth for a suitable location to do the shoot. We wanted to have the most available options possible for any delays that we might encounter while the truck was in route to meet us at the site.  We were able to find a dry lake bed near Sloan Canyon about 40 miles south of Las Vegas. I actually saw it from the plane during final approach into Vegas. Everyone started driving towards the location. I was on the phone with Tim, who was on the phone with the transport truck and the agency reps, who were also going to be on-site during the shoot. No pressure, right?

 Product Photography for Public Relations and Social Media

When everyone arrived to the shoot location, we only had about 45 minutes until sunset. We were right in the middle of the golden hour, the time when the light is best for shooting this type of image. The truck had to be off-loaded, cleaned, positioned and shot before the sun set. Everyone jumped in to help out. We had guys from the agency helping wipe down the truck while the handlers, Carlos and Roberto, were off-loading it and moving it into position. I was setting up lights and cameras. Tim was directing traffic to get the truck positioned for the best light. It was getting dark fast.

Technical Information

Click the images below to see the set we captured with only 45 minutes of setup and shoot time. They are raw and unedited, straight out of the camera. The setup I chose for this location and circumstance was to rely mainly on natural light as the key light. I also used two 1000 watt strobes to help fill where needed.

For the most part, I think I got it right in the camera. At first glance, I knew there would be some post production retouch required, but given the circumstances, I was happy with the outcome. There was a little reflection issue in the paint and there were some wild bushes growing in the background that was showing up in the paint but that's all easy enough to remove from the images.

Below, you can see my camera settings in Bridge and you can also see some of the adjustments I made in the Adobe RAW image editor. You'll notice that I shot at 100 ISO @ 5.6 for 1/30 of a second. By the time I shot this series of images, the sun was almost completely gone. While it was dark and definitely not the optimal situation to be in for this type of shoot, it worked. Notice in the RAW editor that I've pushed the shadows and clarity way further than any photographer on earth would dare to go. Again, not ideal, but you have to do what you have to do to make the shot work for the client. (A little tech note here: I push the clarity on the image to help the paint shine. Give it a try the next time you shoot a car. You may have to paint in the clarity with a brush so you don't mess up the rest of the image.)

Post a comment below if you have any specific questions about why I did what I did here.

I normally shoot this type of product at 200mm using my Canon 70-200 f2.8 L-series lens. For this location, that just wasn't possible. I wish I had turned around and popped a quick photo so you could see what I was standing in to get the shot. Every plant behind me had the gnarliest thorns you've ever seen. It was impossible to get far enough away to shoot at 200mm. So, with that being said, I shot at 70mm. I'm just glad it was winter because I can't imagine the little creepy crawlies that were lurking in the bushes around me. It was thick to say the least.

Finally, I posted a couple of pics of the crew. It's important to note that without these guys there to help, this would have never happened. If these guys hadn't stepped out of their "client" and "agency" roles and instead decided to stand around and watch me, Carlos and Roberto get it all done ourselves, this shoot would have been a total failure. It just goes to show the amount of dedication they all have to creating great products in everything they are a part of - no matter how challenging the situation.  And for that, I say thank you!

From left to right: Me, Max, Timbo, Carlos and Roberto




PROJECT TITAN - Wounded Warriors Project Truck

Nissan North America contacted me a few months ago and asked if I'd like to shoot some product shots of a heavily modified Nissan Titan they were going to use to send wounded warriors on adventures within Alaska. The request came in on a Wednesday. The challenge was that the truck needed to leave the following Monday for Alaska. That is an extremely compressed time frame to plan and execute a product shoot of this size. I told them that I was all-in for the project.

Automotive Photographer John Murphy Project Titan

I remember hanging up the phone and immediately calling the folks at Vulcan Materials in Franklin, TN. Kevin McCarty answered the phone. I told him about the project and asked him if I could shoot the truck at their rock quarry in Franklin. He jumped into action. This was not a simple request. Rock quarries are heavily regulated by the government and have some of the strictest safety guidelines you'll ever encounter for a photography location. Kevin was a true warrior in the way that he was able to (a) convince his management team to allow us to do it, and (b) convince the government regulators that it could be done safely. In my opinion, Kevin worked a miracle. He called me back in the late afternoon the following day and told me that he was able to work it out. He only had one request. He wanted to be able to bring their veterans down to the shoot location to see the truck. I said no problem, let's do it. I told him that I would even shoot some pictures of Vulcan's veterans with the truck for their internal news magazine.

Looking back on the project, there was no better location for this truck. This thing was a beast. When I pulled into the quarry there were rocks the size of houses. It was the perfect location for the shoot.

Automotive Photographer John Murphy Project Titan

As you can see from the photos, this was a spectacular location. One of the constant challenges during the shoot was trying to keep the truck clean. At the very end, we didn't even try to clean, we just shot it dirty. And, wow - it looked good dirty!

This was an amazing project to work on. One of the best moments of the day was when the veterans that work for Vulcan joined us at one of the locations to look at the truck. They were so happy to be a part of this project. I really enjoyed getting to meet them and hear their stories.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this shoot a huge success. The folks at Vulcan Material really went the extra mile to make this happen, and I couldn't have asked to work with a better group of guys.



The '66 Chevelle

My parents had a limited edition MGB when I was a kid. I loved everything about that little car. I thought it was the coolest thing that we had at our house. I remember my dad would ask if anyone wanted to go to the store, and my brother, sister and I would say no thanks. Then he would say, "We can take the MG," and we would fight over who got to ride with him to the store. That's when my love for antique cars really came about. When I had a chance to shoot a fully restored 1966 Chevy Chevelle I had a similar experience.

Automotive Photographer John Murphy 1966 Chevelle

The owner of the Chevelle is a guy named George. He's an unassuming guy, but once we began talking I realized very quickly that George has a big heart and an even bigger passion for cars. You could see his passion in his car; it was totally restored to original factory condition. The attention to detail is hard to describe. Every inch of this car was, and still is, perfect. The amount of pride that the owner has is easy to see when you look around at the attention to detail that went into this restoration.

Automotive Photographer John Murphy

This is the type of project I really enjoy. George had obviously never been around a photographer and had certainly never been on location for a photo shoot. He was very quiet at first, but once he saw the first image in the camera, he was excited to see how the car looked. He had some truly amazing stories.

Automotive Photographer John Murphy 66 Chevelle
Automotive Photographer John Murphy 66 Chevelle Collage



Cruising The Trace

Last fall, a good friend of mine told me that he had a fully restored 1958 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. He went through the entire story of how he and his Father-In-Law had taken several years and restored the car back to it's original factory condition.  As soon as he was done, I said, "I really want to shoot that car, it sounds so cool."

1958 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia

So I met my buddy - his name is Geoff - at his house one afternoon, and he opened the garage door and there it is, a simply amazing little car. I knew right then that this would be the coolest car I've ever shot. Everything was perfect. Geoff told me the story from the beginning and after about twenty minutes of all of the details about how they rebuilt the car, he pulled out a picture. I looked at it and see a young couple on what looks like their wedding day, all dressed up with huge smiles in this cool little car. Geoff said, "This is a photo of my parents on their wedding day in this car." He had the actual picture of his parents driving this car to their honeymoon back in the late 1950's. The Karmann was a gift to his mother from her father, who purchased it new.

We spent all afternoon cruising on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Every once in a while, we would see a good spot and pull over to shoot some photos, and at almost every place we did, someone would stop to comment on the car and lead into a thirty minute conversation. It was definitely the star on the Trace that day. Thanks to my buddy Geoff for a super fun day.