Trick Photography Brings Model Cars to Life

Anthony Schmidt has loved cars since he was born. “It’s common for people with autism to have a special interest, and for me, that was always cars,” he said Car and Driver, dictating his answers through his mother, Ramona Schmidt, as phone conversations with strangers can be a challenge for him. His first words were the names of car makes and models, and by the time he was three years old, he could name them all.

He started building and collecting model cars shortly after this, and at age six, he started photographing them. It was then that he made a startling realization. If he lined up his scale models within a larger background scene and positioned the lens just so, he could produce the illusion the car was life-size. “I was amazed at how real I could make it look with the right camera angle and background,” he said.

He started posting his photography on social media, and interest was high. He now has more than 45,000 followers on Instagram, and nearly 140,000 on Facebook. Two years ago, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to self-publish the first coffee table book of his images. Over 750 people pledged for a total of $45,000. “I was just 12 then, and the most surprising part was how many people believed in me,” He has since sold 4000 copies of this lovely collection, Small Cars, Big Inspiration.

Not content to stop here, Schmidt also created photo calendars, postcards, greeting cards, T-shirts, and copies of his prints, all of which are for sale on his site. And he is currently working hard on his second book. Shifting Perspectivewhich can be pre-ordered now, and is expected to ship in the final quarter of 2022.

Courtesy: Anthony Schmidt

All of this output is the product of his extreme interest and drive. “I spend hours in my workshop every single day, painting and rebuilding my models—some of them I take apart, paint, and rebuild them with modifications, or make them look rusty,” he said, referring to his collection of 1:24 and 1:18 scale die-cast cars, which he poses in his images. His extensive collection, organized on glass-fronted shelves in his family’s house outside of Seattle, numbers over 3000. “A lot of them were sent to me by fans of my photography,” he added.

His customization process is compelling, but the real magic of his photography derives from placement and perspective. Although some of his shoots are spontaneous—he’ll spot inspiring locations on the way home from buying a new model—most of them are determined in advance. “I have lots of ideas for themes, and I plan ahead a lot of my photoshoots,” he said.

This can include complex concepts that can take months to complete. For example, last summer, he conjured up a series based around school parking lots. “I researched area schools and the years they were built,” he said. “My idea was to do the evolution of the school parking lot through the decades.” He’s almost done with that series, although he still has to complete the 2010s, the 1890s, and our current times.

Courtesy: Anthony Schmidt

Schmidt’s automotive interests do not stop at toy cars, however, particularly as he approaches 16—he can’t wait to get his driver’s license. “I consider myself a collector,” he said. “And I want to have a big collection of 1:1 real cars someday too.”

He’s well on his way. He already owns a 1957 Ford Custom 300 that was given to him two years ago by a fan of his work. A local car club threw a big parade when he brought it home. “Ever since then, we have been taking it to car shows and car cruises. I have big plans to fix it up and make it SEMA show-worthy,” he said. Already planning ahead to the need for wheels when the Ford is in the shop for modification, he just bought a second car with earnings from his calendar sales, a 1959 Studebaker Silver Hawk.

Acknowledging the need for a daily driver, he’s now considering a third purchase. ‘Since I have two classic cars, it might be fun to get something the total opposite. Maybe an electric vehicle, something really futuristic?”

Eventually, he hopes to own one car from every decade of the automobile’s history, although he’s (wisely? unwisely?) wary of placing a limit on his future holdings. “There’s no goal number,” he said. “There’s no such thing as too many cars.”

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