Making of ’37 Chevy Coupe

1937 vintage Chevrolet master deluxe coupe covered in snow, Bodie State Historic Park, California, USA (Brad Mitchell)1937 Chevrolet master deluxe coupe abandoned in Bodie ghost town

I usually limit my photo manipulation to simple curves and layers adjustments to fine-tune exposure, subtle contrast and saturation enhancements, and sensor dust cleanup.  Although I have also started experimenting with subtle HDR.

However, I did take some liberties with this shot of a 1937 vintage Chevrolet Master Deluxe Coupe covered in snow, and it has become one of my favorite images.  I thought I would share how it was made.

I made this photo on a snowy November evening at Bodie State Historic Park in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.  This was my first visit to Bodie Ghost Town, a thriving gold rush town of 10,000 people back in the late 1800’s and known as the “most lawless, wildest and toughest mining camp the far west has ever known”[1].  Bodie was slowly abandoned as residents trickled out after miners moved on to more prosperous mines in the 1880’s and most of the town burned in 1932.  The last residents left in the 1940’s.

A lot of stuff was left behind during this slow abandonment, including this 1937 Chevy coupe!  Protected from vandalism as a National Historic Landmark in 1961, California took the site over as a State Park in 1962, where it continues to be protected by the government and by its high and arid location east of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

There was about 3 inches of snow blowing around on the ground when I composed this photo looking across the front face of the vehicle with some buildings in the distant background for context.  I was really drawn to the historical context, the rust on the vintage car and the yellow grass sticking out of the snow.  Here is the original photo, shot from a tripod with a Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 16-35mm lens and converted from RAW format:

Original file converted from RAW

Wanting to keep the viewer’s attention focused on the car and nearby grass and snow, I made a duplicate layer and mask for the background buildings and grass with intent to “de-emphasize” them.  Building this mask selection was somewhat complex as it included hard edges around the hard edges of the car’s top, windshield, hood and left headlight, while other areas needed to be softer edged to blend foreground snow with background snow.  I started with the Magnetic Lasoo tool to select the hard edges of the car working from top to bottom with the selection getting pretty rough at the bottom.  I then adjusted the bottom selection using a softer brush and the quick mask tool.  This was all being done in Photoshop.

With the background masked in, I blurred it using Gaussian Blur.  As this blurs some of the car into the immediately adjacent background, creating a sort of halo effect, I used the Smudge tool to smudge some of the blurred background over top of the blurred car within this duplicate layer.  The result is shown here:

Duplicate layer with background masked and blurred

To further emphasize the car over the background, I darkened the background with a Levels layer and wiped out its color with a -100 Saturation layer.  Then I reversed my background selection to select the foreground.  I brightened the foreground car, snow and grass by boosting highlights on a Levels layer and boosting saturation with a +27 Saturation layer with additional +34 on the reds and -40 on the cyans and blues.  This really drew out the snow and rust.  Here is what we have at this point:

After initial background and foreground Levels and Saturation adjustments

Finally, I wrapped up with a global Warming (85) Photo Filter with +25% density to give the image an old-time warm look, and brightened the whole thing lightly with another boost to highlights in a Levels layer.  Here, again, is the final result:

1937 vintage Chevrolet master deluxe coupe covered in snow, Bodie State Historic Park, California, USA (Brad Mitchell)

Final image

as well as an alternate composition with similar Photoshop treatment:

1937 vintage Chevrolet master deluxe coupe covered in snow, Bodie State Historic Park, California, USA (Brad Mitchell)1937 vintage Chevrolet master deluxe coupe, Bodie State Historic Park


Update:  December 10, 2011

This photo was recognized as a Top 5 image on Printed Art by contributing photographer Lee Rentz.  Read about it at Photographer’s Choice: Lee Rentz’s Top Five List.

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