How to take better car photos

Many types of creative possibilities are available when photographing cars. You are proud of yours and what you may have done for them. But there are good and bad ways to show others the apples and oranges of your eyes. Follow our tips and you’ll be taking better car photos in no time.

Car photo no

Do not forget the photos with details. Mark Elias

Avoid parking lot lines

Avoid parking your car in a parking lot with white lines visible from below. They tend to distract and take away from the natural beauty of the vehicle, especially when the car is of a classic era and is parked in a contemporary parking lot. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, like when there are eye-catching graphics like big arrows or colorful grids, but in general, avoid stripes if you don’t like spending time retouching after shooting.

Avoid busy backgrounds

Like distracting streaks of paint, busy backgrounds can take away from the look of the vehicle. Remember, “the car is the star” and should be treated accordingly. Try shooting at a longer focal length above 120mm and a wider f-stop to minimize depth of field. Of course, make sure your car is sharp from front to back, but shoot wide enough that the background drops off quickly.

Avoid poles that grow out of the roof of your car

Just as you should avoid a light pole, cell tower, or a tree growing out of someone’s head, the same applies here. It may be unavoidable in certain situations, but look around the entire scene before taking the shot.

A red car in front of a white arrow.
In general, it’s best to avoid distracting background and/or foreground elements. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with your framing. Mark Elias

Also avoid power lines

This is self-explanatory, but easily forgotten. Always take a look around the car before taking the picture. If there are power lines overhead, change the angle, focal length of the lens, or some other trick that will eliminate background distractions.

Try not to do the Jimmy Durante effect

Jimmy Durante was one of America’s most popular entertainers from the 1920s to the 1970s. Sure, he’s an outdated reference, but he was also known for a prominent proboscis, or in other words, a big nose. . Using a wide angle lens at very close range can give you the same effect that many shooters used when photographing Durante. There are always exceptions to the rules that are ripe to be broken. A Tucker Torpedo with its centrally located headlight is a prime example that just begs to be exaggerated in such a way!

A mirror image of a sports car
A longer focal length will allow you to better isolate your vehicle from its background. Mark Elias

Try not to photograph cars at a car show where they are bunched together

After years of attending hundreds of outdoor car shows, we’ve found that it’s best to talk to the vehicle owner to make arrangements to photograph a car in a better location at another time. Of course, it’s a great idea to bring your camera, but understand that as tightly as they’re parked together to show off, great photo situations may not appear here. Instead, walk around, shoot for reference and just enjoy the show.

Do not show the steps

Unless you’re doing a comparison of the best tire treads for your off-road vehicle, it’s best to avoid taking pictures of cars with treads in front of the camera. They are generally dirty, dull and occasionally littered with road grime. Instead, keep the tires straight or even turned slightly away, which presents a nice open face of the alloy rims to the camera.

Dos car photography

The interior of a beautiful car
Take pictures of the interior. Mark Elias

Use a polarizing filter

Sometimes reflections look good. For example, when you are photographing a car with a large space of land on the side of the vehicle. But other times, you may find the vehicle serves as a great mirror to its surroundings. This is where a polarizing filter comes in. Rotate it until the unwanted reflections disappear. Remember though, as you walk around the car, you may need to rotate the filter again for each new position you shoot from.

Use strobes in daylight…if available/can

Some vehicles need a little help to help bring out some details. Many strobes offer built-in transmitter/receivers and can be used off-camera, where lighting angles become much more interesting. We used up to three strobes to light a scene. And they’re not just for the night. There are many examples of using a strobe in daylight to open up the shadows of a vehicle.

Make the engine a work of art.

The engine of a sports car.
The engine of a Maserati is a beautiful thing. Mark Elias

Connected: Pro tips for taking the best photos when trying to sell your car

Looking under the hood of many vehicles will reveal many pieces of what we would call industrial art. Some of the more recent examples include engines from Maserati, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. We can see that beauty is more than skin deep through clever angled shots or even the use of a well-placed strobe.

Photograph the interior as a million points of interest. Seat edge, carbon fiber trim, stitching, buttons, etc.

There are many spots in the interior worthy of photography. The details of a precision-twisted number on the center console or the tactile beauty of the open-pore wood trim and embroidered seat details are examples of worthy subjects inside the car.

Plan a perfect shoot

Just as there is a “Sunny-16” rule, there are panorama rules. The starting point is the shutter speed that matches the speed at which the subject’s vehicle is moving. For example, if the car is moving at 40 mph, start with a shutter speed in the same neighborhood, like 1/40 sec. Aperture priority is a perfect setting for this type of shooting, as it will automatically control the aperture once you’ve set the correct shutter speed. Practice if you want on a well-traveled road by picking up vehicles moving from left to right. Follow the car by twisting your body at the waist in a smooth motion. It will take some practice, but eventually, your timing and movement will begin to sync with the cars, resulting in smooth shots.

These are the basic rules, but they can be broken for artistic effect. Setting an even slower shutter speed will blur things considerably, but you might like the results too!

A mirror image of a sports car
Use a slow shutter speed while panning to create a cool motion blur effect. Mark Elias

Tracking (Car-to-Car Shots)

Another option, called photo tracking, allows you to blur the background while keeping the camera razor sharp. Start with the same shutter speeds described in the Pan shot section, varying them for effect. You’ll also need a friend driving the camera rig (the vehicle you’ll be in) and another driving the subject car.

SUVs can work better because they offer two firing points. The first is to shoot out the side window, keeping your camera car out of view. The other is shooting the back of an SUV. A few words about safety: The safest type is a three-row vehicle with a seat belt in the third row. Otherwise, the use of an attached safety harness is mandatory. These can be purchased through stores like Home Depot or Lowes.

shoot after sunset

Just because the sun is out for the day doesn’t mean you have to be too. Some of our best photos have come from reflections in the sky after the sun drops below the horizon. The effect is most pronounced on dark vehicles, although any color will be useful for an overall car photo.

Combine shots

A blue car against a blue sky.
This image is a composite of two different exposures, one for the car and one for the sky. Mark Elias

Using a tripod-mounted camera, capture a heroic shot with a circular polarizing filter reversed to remove reflections on the side of the vehicle. Once you’re sure you’ve got that shot, rotate the filter until the reflections on the hood and windshield disappear, making sure not to touch the tripod. Make that shot too. Back on your computer, while in the editing platform of your choice, cut out the hood and windshield parts of the second image and paste it into the overall car photo. Do not forget to fill the image for minimal objects.

It’s just the beginning of your automotive photography journey

These are by no means an exhaustive list of car shooting techniques. And they can be used for other types of photos as well. For example, the pan technique can be applied when dealing with motorcycles, bicycles, boats, trains and even runners. Consider this a starting point for where your photography can take you. And along the way, don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

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