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Using photo editing software to make realistic looking images

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  • Member since
    March, 2015
Using photo editing software to make realistic looking images
Posted by JohnnyK on Friday, February 17, 2017 11:44 AM


Hi Everyone,


Following are recent photos of my F-86 Saber Jet. I would like to share with everyone how I made this photos. I used to take photos of my airplanes outside, but I the results never looked very good. So I decided to use photo editing software instead.

You will need the following:

1. Digital camera

2. Camera tripod

3. Display base

4. Photo editing software

5. Images of airport aprons (you can get these from the Internet)




Step one is to make a photo of the model on a base that looks similar to real pavement. I used a base that looks like asphalt pavement. Here is a link showing how I made the base.


My camera setup is pretty simple. I use a point and shoot camera mounted on a tripod. A tripod is a must to eliminate camera shake which results in a fuzzy photograph. The lighting comes from ceiling incandescent lights and an old pole lamp with an incandescent bulb. I use the pole lamp for highlighting certain parts of the model. It is important to not mix bulb types or else the color of the model will be incorrect. I set my camera for incandescent lights.




I took a number of pictures of the airplane at approximatly human eye level and picked the best one.


Import the photo of the airplane into the photo editing software and erase the background. I use either Photoshop Elements or Microsoft Photo Draw 2000.



Import a photo of an airport apron into the photo editing software. I found this image on the Internet. As an alternative, you could take photos of aprons if you live by a small airport. I live by O'Hare airport and there is no way that I would be allowed to wander around that airport taking photos!!




Combine the two photographs and adjust the size and location of the airplane. I used the photo editing software to soften the photo of the apron to make it look like it is out of focus.

Make sure that the vanishing points (horizon) of both images are at the same vertical location. In the following photo the vanishing point of the airplane is lower than the vanishing point of the apron. It looks odd.


Have fun !!!!


  • Member since
    January, 2016
  • From: A Galaxy Far, Far Away
Posted by Hunter on Saturday, February 18, 2017 6:32 AM

Hello Johnny - 

Thank you for sharing.....and great step-by-step instructions.



  • Member since
    March, 2015
Posted by JohnnyK on Saturday, February 18, 2017 9:17 AM

Your welcome. Give it a try.

  • Member since
    November, 2009
  • From: Twin Cities of Minnesota
Posted by Don Stauffer on Saturday, February 18, 2017 9:19 AM

While I use photo backdrops and shoot most of my models and backdrops outside in sunlight, that does not work for my model ships.  I build them full hull, and of course when you see a ship on the water, you do not see part of hull below waterline.  So, I do use the photoshop method.  All my background photos are from great lakes, but no one can tell :-)

I find I must keep track of sun angle (time of shot) to a degree, and duplicate angle reasonably, say within 15 degrees (an hour) or so, else shading on any background objects do not match shadows on model.  I like to shoot with sunlight because it makes shadows on model really sharp.

Don Stauffer in Minnesota

  • Member since
    March, 2015
Posted by JohnnyK on Saturday, February 18, 2017 2:27 PM

Once the weather warms up I'll try taking photos outside per your suggestions. That is a good point redarding keeping track of the sun angle. It would look odd is the model's shadow was opposite the shadows in the background images.

  • Member since
    November, 2003
  • From: Virginia
Posted by Mike F6F on Friday, February 24, 2017 4:07 PM


As suggested, matching the sun angle with the angle of your flash really helps the illusion.

I used to do similar combo model shots as part of making my living, so I've got experience trying to match things up. 

Here's a couple I've done since retiring, using much the same method you did. Haven't tried this with my own larger scale kit builds, but I've tried with some small scale diecast stuff. I obtained a shot of one of the terminals at Heathrow airport in the UK from the internet and did a combo with a shot I'd taken of a 1/400th scale British Airways airliner.

Another one matching a B&W shot of the old Atlanta airport terminal with another diecast 1/400th scale Delta airlines DC-3.

Pay particular attention to reflections on canopies and windscreens.  Since the small diecast models just have painted on windows, they only required some brightness adjustment, etc.  There is some blue tinting applied to the windscreens and the upper fuselage of the jet airliner to match other a/c in the background.  With larger scale clear canopies, pay attention and attempt to have the correct background appearing through the canopy.

It can be a lot of fun and can add another dimension to your hobby.




"Grumman on a Navy Airplane is like Sterling on Silver."

  • Member since
    March, 2015
Posted by JohnnyK on Friday, February 24, 2017 4:21 PM

Those are outstanding photographs! I really like the B&W photo. I'm waiting for Bogart to walk out from behing the airplane.

  • Member since
    November, 2009
  • From: Twin Cities of Minnesota
Posted by Don Stauffer on Saturday, February 25, 2017 10:05 AM

Mike- what terminal is that in the DC-3 shot?

Don Stauffer in Minnesota

  • Member since
    November, 2003
  • From: Virginia
Posted by Mike F6F on Saturday, February 25, 2017 12:42 PM


Since the DC-3 is a Delta bird I found the photo of the Atlanta terminal c.1950 for the shot.

The combo required constructing a shadow for the a/c and a little Photoshop work to try and match the shadow's reflection on the underside of the polished DC-3.



"Grumman on a Navy Airplane is like Sterling on Silver."

  • Member since
    March, 2003
  • From: United Kingdom
Posted by docipaul on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 3:22 PM

Here are my models with photoshopped backgrounds.

Thanks for looking.

  • Member since
    April, 2016
  • From: Parsons Kansas
Posted by Hodakamax on Thursday, March 02, 2017 8:44 AM

All cool stuff! 

Being a photographer all my life I must add a warning to all of this. Photoshop was the begining of the end for credible photography. There is no longer "legal photography" to prove something in court. Not only does Photoshop modify content but actual time frames and not necessarily for the better or the right purpose, but it is quite the tool to create images as in art or advertising. We all use it, but it's not photography.

No sour grapes here! I'm just making a point and the work presented is great and has a purpose in that it enhances their already good work. 

The point that I'm trying to make is that the decals and paint could also be added. There's no end to it. I personally use photoshop as a tool rather than some photographic claim.

All in fun gang, but sometimes photographers (and model builders) should be aware that photographs and model building is not fake or at least it shouldn't be or representened as such.

That said, good work gang, the presentations add to your already good work and I do need something to write about today. The reason old photographers are cranky is that we used to have to actually work with what we had. 

Ah, but even old photographers have moved on and have the latest Photoshop programs that enhance our work and get us out of trouble. That's the way it is. I'm old but not stuck in the past!

Carry on!


Max good/photographer

  • Member since
    March, 2015
Posted by JohnnyK on Thursday, March 02, 2017 9:57 AM


My first "real" camera was a Minolta SRT 101. Prior to that I had a Kodak Instamatic with the cube flash Cool I was in college when I bought the Minolta because I needed a camera to photograph architectural models. That was the Golden Age of photography and it was much different than today. The photograph was the final product. However, digital photography and software is a real god send.



  • Member since
    August, 2017
  • From: Minnesota, Twin Cities Metro Area
Posted by Blindluck on Wednesday, September 13, 2017 4:12 PM

Being a fellow Minnesotian, lake Superior photos are a great idea. I build a F4U-4 Corsair and had a tough time getting a good back drop. I used a large computer screen of the USS Anteitam in the back ground but it doesn't work. I need a better photo editor like photo shop.


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