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Saturday, 19 March 2016

Great Car Photography - 10 Tips

If you have ever tried to take a great picture a car, you know that it's not as easy as you thought. Although it can be simple enough to take a clear and simple shot of the vehicle, it's far more difficult to capture the design, detail and essence of the car. Here are ten steps which will help you take greater shots of cars.

There is a lot of things involved in car photography, so much so that there are entire websites and books dedicated to it. We won't cover everything here, but hopefully this will give you an insight into the world of car photography and get you started with the basics.
To begin, you'll need a car! Any car will do really, but your work will look more professional and exciting if you're working with more interesting vehicles. If all you've got is your everyday Fiat, that is fine. But if your mate has a Lambo, you'd better buy him a couple of drinks and ask nicely if you can borrow it for the day!

Photo by matthiasschack

So you've got your car, now you need a location. You don't see many car adverts in which the car isn't set within an amazing location and bathed with the warm sun in the distance. Most likely you will be shooting on a budget so it will be hard to match the shoots you see in glossy magazines. Still, there are plenty of options to choose from.
You need to make sure that the car is the centre of attention - you don't want your location to steal away attention from the car. You want it to the car look better. Decide, therefore, whether you want to shoot the car in a natural setting, somewhere more unusual or whether you want a more studio feel to it.

Photo by alendrathril
In a natural setting, you could have the car either on the road, in a car park, or on the drive. These settings wont necessarily add much to your shot though. Imagine what sort of feel you'd like for your shots. Do you want a gritty and moody feel? Then perhaps head to the top level of a multi-storey car park with views across the city, or to the industrial estates with perhaps some derelict warehouses. Do you want a clean and classy image? Then head to the business district of the city with all the the reflective glass of the office blocks and modern buildings.
As an alternative, you could go for the more classic shot, at the top of a hill with an open vista overlooking the landscape, preferably with the sun setting in the background. Finding a great location will make your photograph stand out more. Try hard to find somewhere that will really enhance the atmosphere of the shot and the features of the car.

Photo by gmeurope
If you'd rather try an unnatural setting for the car, think whether you'll make the car look alien in it's surroundings. For example, a car doesn't look very mush at home even when shot parked on grass. Still, you'd want to avoid cliché car shots. At the same time don't be overly ambitious and end up having a series of shots that take the car too far out of context.
Possibly the best option is to go for a studio-type shoot. Hiring out a studio large enough can be very expensive though, so explore the alternatives first. If you know someone with a large garage with white walls it may be the perfect alternative. The greatest advantage of using a studio is the opportunity to light the subject creatively. (More on that later.) This can give you the chance to get some great interior and detail shots, but full body shots can end up looking fairly cold and bland.
Finally, when considering your location, think carefully about how the surroundings relate to the colour of your car and whether the tones in the shot compliment each other.

Photo by nairoozdotcom

Next comes the matter of lighting - the essential element of every photo shoot! Natural light is always best. The golden hours, just before and during sunrise in the morning and through sunset in the evening would be most recommended. That way, you'll get a lovely warm side wash of sunlight on the car and you can avoid the overtly harsh brightness of the midday sun, which will also cause problems with reflections.
There is also the option of using artificial lighting. There are many ways to light a car for a shoot. The best thing is to set up lights or flashguns one by one, highlighting aspects or angles of the vehicle as you see fit. Then, take a few test shots, ensuring that the lighting setup is just where you want it. This way you wont light the car excessively and you can avoid letting the light sources double up on parts of the car. Use your eyes and take your time, the lighting is a very individual preference and can define the personal style and mood of the shot depending on you.

Photo by 900hp

Having now set your car up in a great location and figured out the lighting it's time to actually start taking pictures! It's important to think about how you want to portray the car, whether there are any particular features that you want to highlight.
Shooting from eye level, even when done technically correct, can make the car look boring. So to make your shots stand out you'll need to use different angles and vantage points. An interesting point is to shoot from just above the ground. This gives the car an overbearingly menacing look! Experiment and see what works for you and your car. (More tips can be found here.)
Once you've decided which angles work best and show the car in the way that you want, try moving the car to varied positions to get it to work well in the setting. Make sure you avoid distractions behind the car such as trees and telegraph poles / cables. Depending on the angles you've chosen, for full body shots, using a tripod is recommended for extra sharpness. However, for those wonderful angles, you'll need to go handheld...

Photo by uhho

Once you've taken the full body shots, you can start thinking about any exterior detail shots that might want to highlight. Take a good look around and try to capture any details such as bodywork shapes and lines, logo badges, wheel rims and grills. Here too, it's important to consider the lighting and angles - don't presume that your previous set up will work the same for the various detail shots.

Photo by nairoozdotcom

Don't forget that there are many interesting interior details worth shooting too. The manufacturers logo, for example, will appear many times within the car's interior. There will likely also be a few nice design features that may be worth capturing. Make sure there is enough light available, especially if you're on location during the evening. You may want to actually take the interior shots first while its still bright, as it would be a shame to miss out on the details. Obviously, if you're in a studio the order of things doesn't really matter.

Photo by DeusXFlorida


Panning is a technique that is utilised in the world of motorsport photography, but also a fair amount in promotional car photography. The aim is to capture the car in motion, as it hurtles at speed either around a racetrack or some stunning mountainous road. This creates an effect where the car is in focus whilst the background is blurred, indicating motion.
The simplest way of using this technique is from a handheld point and requires you to turn and move in line with the moving car whilst taking your shot. It's important to know the expected movement of the car before you start shooting and as you move around in line with the subject. This is actually not that difficult! It just takes a little practise to get right.
Another panning technique is to shoot the car from another moving vehicle. If both are moving at same speed, you won't need to move the camera, achieving still a similar effect as stationary panning. However, be careful when sticking your camera out the window of a car. It is perhaps best to start with the basics first before you consider the dual car shoot!

Photo by grantuking

Hopefully these suggestions and tips will get you started and give you grounding for taking some great shots of the cars you admire. As mentioned earlier, don't expect to be matching the high quality of the car manufacturer's advertisements straight away, but they're great for inspiration and ideas. There are so many beautiful cars, both modern and old, just waiting to be 'immortalised', so get out there and have a go!

Photo by macieklew