A Model Photographer
By Wayne Batty
How diorama builder Nico Ongena uses the illusion of scale to capture visual magic.
Three years ago, Nico Ongena began a new hobby: taking photographs of relatively cheap 1/64 scale model cars with his smartphone. From the start, he was aiming for the most realistic images he could take. All things considered, his initial photographs were pretty good. But Nico wanted great rather than just good so it wasn’t too long before he’d switched to a DSLR camera and Photoshop combination. The result was a massive step up in raw image and post-production quality. Aiding the cause was the use of more detailed 1/18 scale models, often sourced from retail shops happy to partner with him on social media campaigns, especially on his Instagram account, @nicography77, which has amassed a 26,000-strong following.
As the years progressed, his self-taught photography and diorama-building techniques developed quite quickly by ‘watching hundreds of YouTube tutorials’.
After spotting images of the Land Rover Camel Trophy – what can we say, we have history – and being intrigued by the realism, we asked Nico to explain what goes into creating shots like this. In his own words:
‘I started this project by carving some deep tracks into a 1.2m x 60cm section of insulation board. I then added several textured paints to create the mud effects, finishing it off with static grass fibres.
'The 1/18 Land Rover Defender 110 is the 1993 Camel Trophy ‘Dirty Version’, made by Almost Real Models, came from an American shop called Racing Heroes.’
Nico makes it clear that Photoshop is used mostly to create the illusion of speed in action shots and not so much to add things [like backgrounds, etc.]. ‘I always want to blend my dioramas in the real environment. For this series, I waited for a cloudy day and then drove around 50km to an area with little hills to start the photoshoot.’
Was it worth it? Undoubtedly; this project is still one of Nico’s favourites. We asked him about commission work, which he will undertake, but reckons it’s more sensible for customers to just buy prints of the images rather than store the large dioramas.
Do you find this genre of motoring art as fascinating as we do?