One of the first things I was taught in photography class was that there’s a strict set of rules in photography. There’s also absolutely no obligation to follow them and it’s expected that at some point you’ll break them to make a photo look better, but that’s something for when you know what you’re doing, and until then they’re good to keep in mind so you learn the basics.
With that in mind, here’s a few things I’ve observed over my time on the forums that people could really improve at. It’s worth keeping in mind that you shouldn’t treat my (or anyone else’s) words as gospel, and I’ve absolutely made my fair share of stinkers before. There’s also some general Windows tips wrapped up in gameplay tips because I really think it’d help some of y’all.
A quick aside before I begin; I’m going to talk a bit about stops and “a third of a stop”, but what does that mean? A stop in photography is changing a camera setting to allow double the light in, or halve the light coming in. Most commonly they’re divided into thirds, although some cameras will only do half stops. The light measure in Auto doesn’t matter outside of the exposure slider, but it’s still worth keeping in mind that when I talk about a stop, I’m meaning the equivalent change in the sliders (ie, changing aperture from f2.8 to f4, or going from 0 exposure to +1).
A ramble about exposure
One of the most common issues I see in challenge threads is underexposure. Some people seem to be trying to go for moody photos, others seem to just not realise, either way their photos are far too dark and it just looks bad.
So how do you fix that? Well, some scenes don’t have the world’s best lighting, so you could set up extra lights (which is very valid too, but I’ve only just graduated to a computer that can handle photo mode well, so I’m not very knowledgeable about them), or you could change the exposure!
Changing the exposure is by far the simplest way to adjust lighting in a scene, and while it will have side effects, generally adjusting it up by a third of a stop or so will work wonders if your car’s a bit underexposed. The general rule of thumb with photography (and especially film) is to expose for the midtones. What’s a midtone? It’s quite simple really, it’s a part of a photo that’s not the highlights, and not the shadows. Think the road in a street scene, or a grey rock in a landscape, or some plastic on your car.
Like everything in photography, in the end it boils down to personal taste, but my personal rule of thumb is to keep some sort of definition in a car’s plastic trim, so it doesn’t look like a black void. That doesn’t necessarily result in the perfect exposure, and it doesn’t work for every car or even every scene, but for me it’s a pretty good metre for whether I’ve gotten it mostly right or not.
One example is this photo from my CSR155 ad:
This is me going for a moody photo, and to be honest, to this day I’m still on the fence on whether this is underexposed or not. Either way, it’s a lot brighter than some of the “moody” photos you see people posting, and you can still make out the car.
The rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is something you hear talked about with photography quite often, both as something you should strictly always follow, and as a stupid rule that should immediately be broken. Like I said earlier, rules are really more suggestions in photography, but it’s one of the easiest ways to get a visually pleasing photo.
It’s a much less intimidating rule than it seems. The easiest way to demonstrate it is to get you to go to your phone’s camera, and if you haven’t already, find the grid setting and turn it on. You’ll see your phone overlay four lines in the frame, which outline the rule of thirds. The idea is that you’ll line your subject up with the lines (that divide the frame into thirds horizontally and vertically, get it?), ideally around the four intersections in the middle. That produces a more pleasing looking photo, and constitutes one form of good framing.
Want an example? Here’s some photos I took of some weird IRL fake car, with the headlight as the focal point:
Light at the centre of the frame:
Light lined up roughly with the grid on my phone’s camera:
Those aren’t great photos, I just got up and took some photos of some Lego, but you can see that lining the light up with the intersection on the grid created a much more pleasing photo that filled the frame better. Once you keep that in mind and rough out where the grid would be when taking photos in Automation, your photos will improve noticeably!
Wait, this is actually Lotto Tech Tips?
One of the most common mistakes I see from people here (especially new users, we’ve all been there, no shame) is totally messing up the focus. Now, it’s easy to do, Auto’s depth of field is a bit wonky, and even as a photographer the numbers don’t totally match up with what I know (especially at my preferred 50mm focal length), but there’s also an extremely simple solution to all this:
CHECK YOUR WORK!!
I cannot stress that enough, when you take photos you should have the screenshots folder open and be checking every photo you take to check for quality, even pixel peeping (aka zooming right in) if you’re as obsessive as me. If you notice an issue with a photo? just go back to Automation, adjust some settings, and try again, then keep repeating that if necessary until you’re happy. That’s also the best way to defeat the gremlins of underexposure, or “Oh, that’s a visual bug in the light whoops”.
But here’s where the real tech tip comes in: it can be a bit of a pain alt-tabbing between Auto, an Explorer window, and your browser (if you’re posting right to the forum) yeah? Well let me tell you about Virtual Desktops.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that if you’re using Windows 10/11 without using virtual desktops you’re just using it plain wrong. They’re an extremely useful tool, and can make things like taking photos, posting in the forums, or even just keeping your screen organised much easier. If you don’t use them, click the little Task View button in the taskbar (or press Win+Tab), and you’ll see a screen showing all your open windows, and an area for your virtual desktops. From there you can add/remove desktops, rename them, and drag windows to different desktops.
Want an example? Sure!
(Ignore the stock wallpaper, this computer’s new and I still haven’t found one I like :c )
With how I have my desktops set up, once I’m taking photos in Auto I’ll have the screenshots folder open on the interballs desktop, and the game on the (surprisingly enough) gaming desktop. When I take a photo, I quickly use Ctrl+Win+left/right to move between the two to check my photos as I go. Then once I’m done with that, I’ll keep auto open so I can refer to the car’s specs while I actually make the post. All the while I’ve got Discord open on the Social desktop so I can relentlessly hype my car up in the challenges channel!
Whew that took me longer to write up than I thought it would.
The AAC (as it should be abbreviated as) can be made into a recurring challenge just like CSR/QFC/TMCC/AGC/JOC, but only after this round has ended, and even then, with a specific theme for every round after the first one.
It really doesn’t need to be tbh. If people want to I’m down, but I saw it more as a oneshot that maybe gets a rerun once in a blue moon than anything.
I like the idea better of it being a random reoccurring challenge, like the Cool Wall, than a regular thing. I’m going to have to see what I can put together for Kerberos/Hydrion or Ibis.
Would an ad like the following be too much text and too little photo for the spirit of this competition?
That’s more than fine! That sort of ad was one of the styles I was thinking of with the edited together photos!
I’m already having ideas
Something I just whipped up quickly but maybe its good? Its only a single image though and the rest is kinda just magazine material. (Not a submission)
meant to be a print magazine spread, playing with the “doors open, cargo lying around” idea van manufacturers love.
any tips/feedback are welcome
Here is one that was created for CSR 148
At this point, I am a bit busy to document all the steps I took. However, I will also defer to this: Automation Photo Editing Guide V2