7 Tips for Taking Better Photographs of Cars

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Taking photos of cars is such an interesting thing on its own. It’s like science. Every time I shoot a car I learn something from it! I would like to share some basic guidelines to get you started and help you understand this interesting niche in the photography world.

7 Tips for Taking Better Photographs of Cars

1. Shoot at the right time of day

This is by far the most common mistake people make when shooting cars. The best time to shoot will be a few minutes after sunset (or a few minutes before sunrise). Use a tripod and get that perfect soft light on the paint! This photo was taken for TopGear a few minutes before sunrise.

Car photography BMW M135i

2. Be on the lookout for reflections

You must be very careful of what reflects in the car. Have a look around you and look closely at the car and see what reflects on its surface. A car (especially a new shiny one) is like a mirror. Try and have an open space behind you like a field. Try and avoid shooting with buildings or trees behind you. One of the most important things you want to show in your car pictures are the design lines of the car, or as I like to call it, ‘her curves’. Reflections can spoil these curves.

Also be very careful not to have your own reflection in the photo. If you can’t avoid your own reflection its best to put the camera on a tripod, set the timer and move out of the shot. Just look at this photo I took of a dark shiny BMW 428i, behind me was nothing except the horizon. You can clearly see the horizon reflecting in the car.

Car photography tips BMW428i

3. Driving shots

One very easy way to get a cool image, is to shoot the car out of another moving car. (Please be super careful when doing this!) Shoot the car out of your window while driving at 60 km/h (40 miles/h) with a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second.

By doing this you will get some nice movement on the road and on the wheels. You can even decrease the shutter speed some more, but this will increase your chances to sit with unsharp photos afterwards. This Audi S3 was shot before sunset, driving at 70 km/h with a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second.

Car photography tips S3 driving shot

4. Color of the car

All types of paint react differently at different times of the day, with different light. Most colors hate direct sunlight, but some color works really well in direct sunlight. Just look at this baby blue beetle shot in the middle of the day.

Car photography tips beetle

5. Background

Make sure your background suits the car and the theme. Avoid having things in the background that will distract the eye. Things like dustbins, power lines and other cars can kill a picture. For this Aston Martin, I used a simple background . The yellow paint matches the car’s color.

Car photography aston martin

6. Panning for motion blur

A cool way to get some motion in your picture is to stand next to the road and let the car drive past you. Follow the car with your lens in one smooth action and set the shutter speed to 125th of a second. You will be amazed how easy this is! This Ferrari was shot at 125th of a second at 200mm. The car was driving roughly 60 km/h (40 miles/hr)

Car photography tips ferrari

7. Let the car interact with nature

Another way to make the photo speak to you is to make the car interact with its surroundings. Examples of this could be the car making dust, a 4×4 climbing over an obstacle. Look at this Chevrolet Trailblazer climbing over a rock or this G-Class AMG drifting on loose sand!

Car photography tips G AMG

Car photography tips trailblazer

8. Shooting at night

This might sound daunting but you will be amazed how easy and awesome this is! The biggest secret here is to find a spot where it’s completely dark, any streetlights or even a full moon could make life tricky.

When you have found this spot, set the camera up on a tripod. Set your ISO to 100, the shutter speed on 30 seconds and the aperture to f/9.
When the shutter opens take a strong constant light source and walk around the car ‘painting’ the car with your light. A normal household torch (flashlight) works for this.

There are no rules here, paint the car in different ways to get different effects; you will be blown away with the results! Here are some examples of this technique:

Car photography tips Opel Astra

This is an Opel Astra shot next to Table Mountain with Cape Town in the background.

Dodge Charger with the skyline of Detroit City

This is a Dodge Charger with the skyline of Detroit City in the back. This photo took me no longer than 5 minutes to set up and take.

Do you have any other car tips or favourite images you’ve taken of cars? Please share in the comments below.

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Desmond Louw is a location and automotive photographer in Cape Town, South Africa and in Berlin, Germany. He collaborates with Antonia Heil as dna photographers. He started out shooting skateboarding and spent hours and days getting lost in the darkroom.Today Desmond's focus and passion is automotive photography. Stay connected with him on his facebook page. You can see more of his work on their website or Instagram profile

  • joe yazzie

    Fall Colors with my Jeep.

  • Ryan

    Beautiful image!

  • IvanBodhisatva

    American wild horse! I love these cars! Power and freedom for me) When I saw this, I wanted to set as wallpaper immediately. chose this one http://lafozi.com/us-en/detail/2015-ford-mustang-convertible/ Do you like it ?

  • IvanBodhisatva

    American wild horse! I love these cars! Power and freedom for me) When I saw this, I wanted to set as wallpaper immediately. chose this one http://lafozi.com/us-en/detail/2015-ford-mustang-convertible/ I hope you like it ?

  • Eduardo Moreno

    I really enjoyed the strategies in the article, I experimented a couple times with light painting in the past and was amazed at how simple it is, especially since I consider myself to be an amateur. I haven’t really experimented with motion blur and movement but will attempt it soon. I tend to do more automotive photography when I attend car shows in which I just concentrate on getting a perfect angle of the car since there is not much background to play with or focus on the details of the car.

    This is a night shot I took of my s2000 a couple months and a couple other shots of details presented by cars.

  • Bowornsak Jhanpet

    Hi…

  • I thought this was a pretty decent shot.

  • Make sure you are using a descent original polariser (not a cheap one as they can make image even worse)

  • Scott

    I love how your article “7 Tips for Taking Better Photographs of Cars” has 8 tips! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this. There are some great suggestions made here.

  • Papa

    Nice!

  • Arv Singh

    Ford 1967 mustang I guess

  • Arv Singh

    Nicee

  • Arv Singh
  • Scott McKellin

    I like doing closeups, too, but closeups of a blank panel are pointless. That could be any old car. Here are a couple of mine of an Aston Martin DB10 (yes, a real DB10, used in the movie Spectre)

  • Scott McKellin

    I like doing closeups, too, but closeups of a blank panel are pointless. That could be any old car. Here are a few of mine. Two are of an Aston Martin DB10 (yes, a real DB10, used in the movie Spectre), and the other is a McLaren 675LT

  • Nice tip re ‘painting’ the car with your light 🙂

  • Johann

    It’s an interesting coincidence that this article got shared on Facebook today. As it happens, I’m taking my car on show tomorrow morning, and I’m also going to take pictures for the club I’m in.

    Also, since it’s not mentioned in the article, I’d also add that reflections can be your friend if used right.

  • Sreejith P R

    It’s such a beautiful article about automotive photography. 🙂 what’s your opinion about having a 24-70 2.8 lens for automotive photography, are there any other lenses which are good for this ??

  • helms

    i took this with my Samsung galaxy s6 edge +… its awesome

  • dp full course

    It look good Thank you forshare

    http://freedpfullcourse.blogspot.com/

  • Stephen Tait

    great work, here is one I tried recently, it was a quick shot, if I had time I would have got the wheels turned the other way, and worked a bit more on the flash, I am just started out on learning to use flash nore

  • pete

    too much HDR

  • pete

    bad photo

  • steve

    continue trying.. this photo look horrible

  • Stephen Tait

    as if I care on what you think

  • AudiGrid

    Great tips, perhaps add light painting to the equation & some post processing, I have recently setup my humble ca photography page, let me know your thought.

    http://www.audigrid.com/automotive-car-photography/

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