Engineered Art | How it's made.
It's easy to come to the conclusion that the artwork we produce is generated from the manufacturers CAD data, however that is almost never the case, even in the rare event that the CAD data is actually available.

At Black Art Graphics, we pride ourselves on producing a consistent high level of proportional accuracy and detail, and that is something that we can only achieve through our proprietary photo referencing method.
The Basics | Orthographic Projection
Before we get started, I'd like to cover one of the core principals surrounding the blueprint style of artwork, and that is what is know as 'Orthographic Projection'.

Orthographic projection is a style of illustration unique to engineering drawings, characterised by an absence of a vanishing point.

Unfortunately, photographs always contain some degree of 'perspective distortion', the effect that makes things in the distance seem smaller than those up close. The short animation to the left shows the difference that perspective distortion makes to the appearance of the vehicle.

Our aim when photographing the cars is to cancel out the perspective distortion as much as possible, and that requires a particular technique which we have honed for our needs.
Photo Referencing | The Equipment
Over the past 4 years, as our understanding of the images required to produce proportionally accurate orthographic illustrations has matured, we have developed a list of kit to suit our specific needs. The kit list currently stands at 10 essential components with an insured value of over £3000.

Needless to say, it's not the sort of thing you can do armed with a smartphone...

The Starting Point | The first piece of the puzzle.
Back when we started, we had a small budget to work with and that meant making the most from a limited amount of kit. In particular, obtaining the overhead photographs required to put together the plan views was a little tricky. A drone was the obvious choice (we'll cover more on that one later), but was well out of budget.

The only method we had available at our disposal at the time was finding a suitable vantage point to shoot from, and this required a camera with an articulating screen to allow the operator to shoot photos at arms length, with the screen facing a completely different direction to the lens.
The Camera | Nikon D5100
Whilst already an outdated model at the time, the Nikon D5100 offered all the features we needed, without a hefty price tag. The all important (at the time) articulating screen, RAW image processing, and compact dimensions with a mass of just 553g made it the perfect candidate for our needs.

Although our technique has now evolved around new kit that no longer requires the articulating screen, the trusty D5100 is still the stable workhorse. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", as they saying goes...

The Lens | Why phone cameras can't compete
The key to reducing perspective distortion is to be a long distance from the subject, and this requires a suitable lens to zoom in.

Our weapon of choice is the Nikon 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens. When paired to our D5100 the effective focal length is 450mm, giving a field of view of just 5.5°. (The average phone camera has a FOV of 75°)

Holding it Steady | A moment of clarity
Due to some sciency type stuff which I won't go into here, shooting with a long focal length lens requires a slower shutter speed, much like when you take photos in the dark. A slow shutter speed leads to motion blur when shooting by hand, a problem further exacerbated by the fact that a long focal length lens will amplify camera movements!

To get around this, the camera is mounted on a Manfrotto tripod and, because even pushing the shutter button can create a blur, the camera is operated remotely by smartphone using a CaseRemote wifi link. This ensures that the camera stays still throughout shooting, resulting in perfectly clear images even at slow shutter speeds.
Accessories | Essential Garnish
A small but significant piece of the puzzle is this chap, the circular polarising filter.

The CPL threads on to the front of the camera lens, and filters out unwanted reflections from the bodywork. A staple of automotive photographers as it reduces unwanted glare from the paintwork, we use it to allow us to see straight through the windows into the interior, rather than seeing a reflection of the sky.
The Mast | Aerial Photography Made Simple
Although a drone would be the obvious choice for an aerial imaging solution, there are a number of drawbacks. (Not least that they are incredibly annoying.)

The first is fairly fundamental, in that all drones are equipped with super wide angle lenses (FOV usually in the region of 120°), which are no good for our needs.

The other issue is that in order to use one commercially we would need a UAV pilots license and some eye wateringly expensive liability insurance. Add in the stringent restrictions on where we would actually be able to fly the thing (our studio is in a no fly zone due to a nearby airfield), and it was just a no-go from the start.

Instead, we decided on a telescopic carbon fibre mast from Vantage Point Products. With the ability to hoist a DSLR with a suitable lens up 30ft above a vehicle, and with none of the associated restrictions of a drone, it was the perfect solution.

(I'm not one for selfies, but when you've got the worlds most expensive selfie stick, it's rude not to!)
That covers the kit involved, stay tuned next week when we'll be covering some of the techniques used during the photoshoot!