Forced perspective photography is one of the oldest visual tricks in the book, and also one of the most fun. With careful arrangement of objects in a scene, we can fool the eye by combining small and large elements into a believable whole. It also gives us the chance to play with toy cars.
This project is a prime opportunity to make use of shooting skills and Photoshop magic, as it requires a little of both. We’ll start off by setting up our model car. The height of objects plays an important role in how our eyes perceives said object in a standard image. So in order to create our illusion, we must raise the car off the ground and line it up with the scene behind.
The main hurdle we have to overcome is depth of field. We need to bring the car in very close to the lens, and the closer an object is, the less depth of field – even at the narrowest apertures the plane of focus is limited. The solution is to use focus stacking. By shooting several frames then bringing together the sharp parts, we can extend the depth of field to cover everything.
Then we put into everything together in Photoshop. As our set of images is in alignment, this should be a simple task. We can use the Auto-Blend command to focus stack our images, then combine it with the background scene and drop in our two figures using layer masks.
Learn how to set up a model car and work the angles so that it looks life-sized
The fun in this technique is making a model car look life-size. So, it’s important to use a realistic-looking model vehicle, like the famous Jaguar E-type here. If you’re looking for a similar motor, search for die-cast models. The bigger the better, so go for 1:18 scale or larger.
We need to be able to raise the car upwards to force the perspective to match the background. A small platform is ideal. We used a piece of board. It helps if we can adjust the height, so a light stand or tripod is an ideal choice. We attached the stand to the tripod with a clamp.
Fixing the camera to a tripod will allow us to make fine adjustments to the camera angle and study the composition so that everything aligns perfectly. It also allows us to extend depth of field beyond the capabilities of the lens by focus-stacking several aligned frames.
An interesting location will add to the mood. The underpass here gives us atmospheric light spilling in from the end of the tunnel. The darkness also helps hide signs that the car is a model. We also posed a distant figure in period attire to add to the moody film noir atmosphere.
Wide-angle lenses distort a scene so objects close to the lens end up looking unnaturally large. We can take advantage of this to make the most of our effect. A lens with a close minimum focusing distance is helpful, as we want to be able to get the camera as close to the car as possible.
Our vehicle must look as if it belongs in the environment, so we need to mimic the surface of the background on our platform, but in miniature. A piece of textured material, like the roofing felt we used here, closely matches the road beyond in texture and colour.
Learn how to perfect the angles and achieve front-to-back sharpness by focus stacking the car
After setting up the platform for the car and the camera on a tripod, the most important part of the technique here is fine-tuning the camera angle so that everything looks natural. Bringing the camera in as close as possible to the model will make it seem larger.
e camera height is important, as it will dictate the angle at which we see the car. For a natural-looking angle, aim to line the camera height up with the roof. Live View is incredibly handy for studying the scene in detail making small compositional changes like this.
As we’re combining a set of images here, it’s important that exposure stays consistent throughout the shoot, so Manual mode is the best choice of camera setting. After taking a few test shots, we settled at f/11, a shutter speed of 1 sec, and ISO400.
As the car is very close to the camera, depth of field is limited, so we need to use focus-stacking to get it all sharp. This involves taking several shots, adjusting the focus point slightly after each (see box). Try not to nudge the camera position when adjusting the focus.
If you like, you can include people in the scene too. We also wanted to create more of a story to our shot. We decided to go for a 1950’s noir look, so positioned our model beyond the car – first in the distance for a silhouetted figure, then again to the right of the car.
The next step is to remove everything from the scene and take another shot, making sure our exposure stays consistent. We can use this frame later to fill in any details obscured by the platform that we might want to include in the finished image.
Discover how to combine your set of images in Photoshop to finish off the forced perspective effect
Select all your images in Bridge, then go to Tools> Photoshop> Load into Layers. Next, Shift-click between the top and bottom layer in the Layers panel to highlight them, then go to Edit>Auto-Align Layers. Set Auto and hit OK. Next go to Edit>Auto-Blend Layers.
Once the focus stacking is done open the image of the empty scene. Drag-and-drop it on top of the focus stack, then Alt-click the Add Layer Mask icon to hide it behind a mask. Paint white over areas of the scene to slowly reveal them, like the barrier on the left here.
Drop in the images of the figures and mask in the same way. There will inevitably be a few tell-tale signs, so make a new layer at the top of the layer stack then grab the Clone tool, set it to ‘Sample: All Layers’ then clone over any rough patches that you might see in frame.
To understand this effect, we need to explore how our eyes interpret depth in 2D
WE subconsciously perceive scale and depth in flat photos by making a number of assumptions. First there’s ‘occlusion’: the assumption when one object partially obscures another – like our foreground figure here in front of the car (blended using a layer mask) – then the obscured object must be further away. Second, there’s ‘relative height’ – here we assume objects that are further away have higher bases, hence the platform we use to raise the car. Third there’s ‘familiar size’, an assumption based on past knowledge of the objects in the frame – we know what size cars should be. By exploiting these assumptions, we can trick the eye.
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