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7 Tips for Taking Better Photographs of Cars

car photography

Taking photos of cars is such an interesting activity; it’s like doing science. Every time you shoot a car, you’ll learn something from it!

That’s why I would like to share some basic guidelines to get you started with car photography.

And by the time you’ve finished this article, you should be one step closer to getting gorgeous photos of cars!

1. Shoot at the right time of day

This is by far the most common mistake people make when shooting cars.

You see, the best time to do car photography is 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 Top Gear a few minutes before sunrise:

Car photography BMW M135i

2. Be on the lookout for reflections

You must carefully control what reflects in the car. Have a look around you, then look closely at the car and see what reflects off its surface.

A car (especially a new, shiny one) is like a mirror. So try to have an open space behind you, like a field. Also, try to avoid shooting with buildings or trees in front of the car. One of the most important things you want to show in your car pictures is the design lines of the car. But reflections can spoil these lines very quickly.

Also, be very careful not to include your own reflection in the photo. If you can’t avoid your own reflection, it’s 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 (below); behind me was nothing except the horizon. In fact, you can clearly see the horizon reflecting in the car:

Car photography tips BMW428i

3. Take 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!) 

For instance, try shooting the car out of a window while driving at 37 mph (60 km/h) with a shutter speed of 1/100s or so.

By doing this, you’ll get some nice movement on the road and on the wheels. You can even decrease the shutter speed further, though this will increase your chances of ending up with blurry photos.

This Audi S3 was shot before sunset; it was driving at 70 km/h (43 mph), and I used a shutter speed of 1/125s:

Car photography tips S3 driving shot

4. Pay attention to the 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 colors actually handle direct sunlight really well.

Just look at this baby blue Beetle shot in the middle of the day:

Car photography tips beetle

5. Choose your background carefully

Make sure your background suits the car and the theme. Avoid including objects in the background that will distract the eye.

Things like dustbins, power lines, and other cars can kill a picture. For this Aston Martin shot (below), I used a simple background. The yellow paint matches the car’s color:

Car photography aston martin

6. Pan for motion blur

A cool way to get some motion in your car photography 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 1/125s. You will be amazed by how easy this is!

This Ferrari was shot at 1/125s at 200mm. The car was driving roughly 37 mph (60 km/h):

Car photography tips ferrari

7. Let the car interact with nature

Here’s another way to capture a photo that speaks to you:

Make the car interact with its surroundings.

Examples of this could be a car creating dust or a 4×4 driving over an obstacle. Look at this Chevrolet Trailblazer climbing over a rock:

Car photography tips trailblazer

And this G-Class AMG drifting on loose sand:

Car photography tips G AMG

8. Shoot at night

Photographing cars at night might sound daunting, but you will be amazed by how easy and awesome it 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.

Once you’ve found the right spot, set up your camera on a tripod. Set your ISO to 100, the shutter speed to 30 seconds, and the aperture to f/9.

When the shutter opens, take a strong constant light source and walk around the car, “painting” it with your light. A normal household flashlight works for this.

There are no rules here. Paint the car in different ways to get different effects, and you will be blown away by 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 in the background. The photo took me no longer than five minutes to set up and capture.

Tips for taking better photos of cars: conclusion

Car photography may seem difficult, but with these handy tips, you’re well-equipped to take some stunning car photos of your own.

So pick your favorite technique from the article, get outside, and start shooting!

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

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Desmond Louw
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

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