Welcome to another post from our Topaz series, Behind the Lens! Today we’ll be learning more about Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios. Learn how Bob got started and see his work flow process, hear about creative challenges, and see a collection of images!

Behind the Lans: Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios

From Drawing to Post Processing

I was an art major in school and decided to use a camera instead of drawing by hand when I was around 30 years old. I also enjoyed taking photos. Now I prefer the post process of working on an image. I really enjoy taking images of things that tell a story… like the homeless on Venice and Santa Monica beaches. I’ve never like to take wedding or birthday photos or that type of photography.

What Inspires Bob to Work with Cars

In the early ’80’s I purchased a 1957 Corvette. I started using photos of that car and me in my real estate adds. I would change the background to some fantasy home or super looking seascape and people really started reacting to it. On a retouching forum I belonged to, a guy was posting car images that he post processed and they caught my attention. I started to post some as well… not really knowing how to use Paint Shop Pro, but trying my best. After a couple of years I purchased Photoshop and a Wacom Tablet and started to get a little more proficient at it. I’ve been going to car shows in my town every since taking car photos. I also have a lot of forum buddies who send me photos to work on.

How Bob Creates Art

I really love car images on a black background… I usually add smoke or some kind of light behind it. Then I started adding nostalgic scenes like vintage diners, drive-ins, or gas stations. It depends on the car or just what I’m feeling that day. If I’m doing a commission piece, I leave it up to the customer to tell me what they prefer!

Behind the Lans: Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios

In most cases I extract the car using the pen tool in Photoshop. Once extracted, I place the car image either on a black background or whatever scene I want. Then I color correct the scene, if necessary, and then start the post processing. I use a filter called Lucis Art to start with. The next step is Topaz Adjust to boost the color, usually lowering the opacity if too strong. On the next layer I use Topaz Simplify (BuzSim), lowering the opacity to around 40%. I usually save that as a template. Then I flatten all layers and save as a new PSD image. I use Topaz Impressions and adjust the amount and opacity as I see fit for the image. All filter work I do is always on a separate layer.

The last step is to flatten the layer and use levels on it. Then, on a separate layer, I use the dodge and burn brush in Photoshop to brighten the chrome and add some shine to the car. Next, I flatten all layers and add some sharpening, if needed. In most cases, I duplicate the final layer and put it in Multiply mode and lower the opacity to 10% and, if needed, I will brighten the entire image a little.

Behind the Lans: Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios

I have all the Topaz products and mostly use Adjust, Simplify, Impression, and Texture Effects. I try to use most of them, but avoid over processing. Sometimes it’s hard to walk away when you’re having fun using Topaz products!

What Inspires Bob About Cars

I really don’t work on cars myself, but I love the the style and grace of cars… whether from the ’20’s, 30’s, 40’s or 50’s, each decade has lovely style and super lines. The craftsmanship that went into the early cars just can’t be matched today. The amount of money it takes to bring these antique cars back to original condition can be staggering. I’m so happy there are people willing and financially able to keep the heritage of these beauties around!

Behind the Lans: Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios

Challenges Bob Faces

The biggest issues I run into is matching a car and a new background. The lighting, shadows, and colorization all have to match. Also, getting the proportions of a car, especially with people in it, to match the background proportions can be tricky. It really looks phony and odd if the people are too large or small in the surrounding environment.

Behind the Lans: Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios

The other issue is finding backgrounds to use and if I do find one, it has to be large enough to work with. Most of the car images I work with are 10-16 MP in size. People send me a background of 640×480 and I simply can’t use it. The prints I sell are usually 16×20 so I need large files to work with. I can use smaller images if I’m just posting on the Internet, but not for a quality print.

I’ve been pretty luck and not many disasters so far. It’s a problem if clients want me to add their car to a background and they don’t know what they want. Sometimes I come up with something and they ask me to add things to it and that’s not always possible. It’s much more difficult to do what they want using photos.

Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios Gallery

Behind the Lans: Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios

Behind the Lans: Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios

Behind the Lans: Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios

Behind the Lans: Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios

Behind the Lans: Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios

A Final Word

Thanks for joining us for Behind the Lens with Bob Kramer of Rat Rod Studios! As always, I want to personally invite you to check out Topaz Labs on social. We have Facebook, TwitterYouTube, and Instagram. Did you know we also offer free Webinars and have a great Discussion Forum?

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