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Everything You Need to Know About Photographing Cars

Car photography is every bit as exciting as photographing people. Each car is unique and has its own beautiful traits that translate perfectly into a photo. Whether you are taking photographs of vehicles on an F1 circuit or a full-on photoshoot of the most beautiful antique cars at an exhibition, your ultimate goal is to portray the personality and uniqueness of each of your “models”. Expert photographers use a multitude of techniques, all tailored to make the most out of every possible situation.

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In this article I will tell you everything you need to know when photographing cars.

Scenery is everything

Especially when it comes to a photoshoot, the scene where the vehicle is being shot is extremely important. What you need to do is find the perfect setting to showcase the car’s personality. An off-road car will look out of place in a parking lot, while a racing car has no place in a scene with green fields and flowery trees.

What you have to do is find a place where the car looks like it belongs. For racing cars, choose a more urban scenery. If you are shooting old gems, find a paved street or a historical building to match the timeless beauty of the car. For more high-end vehicles, futuristic buildings, as well as city roads are a good option.

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Be careful when choosing the scenery, as it has to compliment the car, not distract the attention from it. Remember that the car is your main focus and everything around it should be used to highlight its features.

Be creative.  Don’t go with the most commonly used shots, such as the side of the road shot.  With an interesting background, you can really capture the viewers attention, as much as the vehicle itself does.

Try filling the frame using a telephoto lens, you will get a much nicer effect by taking a photo standing far from the car than right next to it with a 35mm or wide angle lens.

Lighting is your best friend

If you are shooting outdoors, the best time to shoot is right after sunset, or right before sundown. The lighting is better then and will give more warmth to your photo. If you choose to shoot during the day, the light will be too strong and may create blinding reflections that don’t look appealing on camera.

Speaking of reflections, play with them as much as you can, as they complement the paintwork and add more dynamic to the photo. Be careful, though, what reflections are shown, as they can become distracting on a freshly-washed car, which acts exactly like a mirror.

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Sometimes, you can see the photographer’s reflection on the car, which can turn out o be quite funny. To avoid this, place the camera on a tripod, set the time and move away from the shot. The reflection of the horizon will look much better than your own, stretching to get the perfect shot.

When the sun goes down, you can still capture great images of cars.  You can use a combination of your own lighting plus the car’s own headlights.  You can achieve all sorts of effects with headlights so practice.

In darkness, you might be tempted to go with a lower aperture f-stop since it will let in more light, but be careful with how shallow your depth of field gets.  Its often better to add lighting and/or a tripod and keep the aperture values higher to emphasize the form of the car and find a balance between the subject and background.

Experiment with backlighting such as a sunset or other sources of light, just make sure you set the exposure in a well balanced manner in order to not end up with a car silhouette, unless you are really looking for that effect.  You can always adjust things in photoshop or lightroom later if the car appears too dark as long as the light is exposed properly.

Play with the viewpoint

While photographing cars at eye level is nothing wrong, don’t hesitate to get more creative with the viewpoint, to also showcase your skills as a photographer. Choose an open area, such as an empty parking, and start looking for elevated surfaces where you can climb to get a more interesting photo.

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A bridge, a building, anything can help achieve that unique photo. Remember that photography asks for sacrifices, so don’t be afraid to climb up that tree to get that perfect shot. For muscle cars, get down on the ground, to make the car look more powerful and imposing. This trick is often used to shoot muscle and racing cars.

Shooting at a three-quarter view will help show off more characteristics of the car, but be careful to catch all four wheels, as to not make the car look unbalanced. If you lack inspiration, you can look on automotive websites that have photo galleries, such as https://autowise.com/, to get some ideas and apply them at the next photoshoot.

Pay extra attention to details

Full shots are interesting, but with cars, the beauty lies in the details. Get close and take photos of the steering wheel, the bumper, the headlights and every other detail that catches your eye. Take a few walks around the car. Maybe you will find an interesting small imperfection that will add personality to the car and show its history. A rusting metal bumper can tell more words than you think.

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When it comes to racing cars, whether on the circuit or still, try to catch interesting stickers or badges that tell more about the car’s personality or its relationship with the driver. even when you’re facetime on pc from computer.

Keep the ISO setting low to reduce grain in the photos.  This can be done by increasing the exposure time, an easy procedure if you are shooting a still image and have access to a tripod.

Capture the car in motion

You can shoot in a parking lot all you want, but the true beauty of a car is shown when it is on the move. Shoot the car out of another moving car, if possible, but be extremely careful. Do not drive at more than 40 miles per hour and set the shutter speed at 1/100th of a second. This will give some nice movement to the car and reveal its true beauty.

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When shooting on a circuit, one great trick is to shoot the car right as it passes by you, moving your lens with it in a smooth motion. Set the shutter at 1/125 of a second, to get that beautiful motion blur of the background. The results will amaze you and this will surely become one of our favorite tricks.

Let the car interact with the environment

While clean and shiny cars do make for beautiful photos, try things a bit more different and get the car to interact with the environment. Going past a puddle, to capture the moment it splashes with water will make for quite a photo.

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If you are shooting an off-road vehicle, don’t be afraid to get it dirty. After all, nobody buys a 4×4 Jeep just to go around town. Those cars are made to get dirty and this is exactly what you should do. Rain or snow can add an interesting effect as well. Maybe you can even get the car with one wheel on the sideway and shoot it from down low.

When shooting cars, there are no general rules that apply, other than getting use of the best light possible and making sure that, no matter the background, the car is always the main focus point. Let your imagination flow, try out different angles, play with the scenery and don’t forget to focus on small details. In time, you will develop your own style and play out with the vehicle just the way you want.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Rebecca Ross

Rebecca Ross is a professional writer at Autowise with a passion for photography. She first started photography as a hobby, but in time, it turned out to be more than that. Now, she combines her photography skills with a bit of an adrenaline rush and likes to take photos at every car race she can.
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