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The 5 Biggest Mistakes Newbie Car Photographers Make

It’s true, we all make mistakes, that’s what makes us human, right? Well yes, but there are some mistakes that can, and should be avoided, when it comes to photography. In this article we will be talking about automotive photography in specific. You could be shooting cars for years but if you don’t fix your mistakes, how do you expect to get some great shots?

These are the 5 biggest mistakes that car photographers make when first starting out. Don’t worry, I will tell you how to fix those mistakes so other car photographers stop calling you a newbie, and they might actually ask “HOW?”

1. Not paying attention to the background


This is a really big no no. If you are striving to be a professional photographer, or even if you’re just shooting for fun, you must pay attention to your surroundings. I have seen way too many pictures where a tree is growing out of a car, or there is trash on the ground, and other annoying little objects that take away from the focus of the car.

If there is a tree in your way, move around. Walk around the car and find a better angle or even move the car if you have to, just make sure there isn’t anything growing out of top of the car. If there is trash on the ground, pick it up and move it (I recommend carrying gloves with you in case you have to deal with some nasty trash).

If there is something that you just simply can’t avoid then don’t worry, you can still remove it in post-processing using the Clone Stamp Tool or Content-Aware fill, but use those as the last resort. You should try to get the best shot that you can in the camera so you don’t have to waste precious time cloning out all that stuff later.

2. Not making sure the car is spotless

If you’re an avid car photographer then you MUST carry a rag of some sort (preferably lint-free) that you can use to wipe any dirt off the car. Yes, you can take out little dirt specks in post-processing, but it will make your life much easier to just take care of it on the spot. It’s not hard to just take the rag and wipe down any dirty areas. This will not only make the car look better/cleaner, thus making your shots look that much more professional, but it will also save you time in post-processing so you can worry about more important stuff.


3. Not having a circular polarizer

When it comes to shooting cars, it’s like shooting into a mirror; EVERYTHING is reflected off the car. You don’t want that, especially if you have some annoying stuff going on back there like trees, other cars, etc.

That’s where the handy circular polarizing filter comes into play. This will probably be one of your most used pieces of equipment, and should be the very first investment you make if you’re thinking about shooting cars.

Everyone has mixed feelings about polarizers when doing other types of photography, but in car photography there’s no point in even talking or arguing about it, you NEED a circular polarizer. Just don’t buy a cheap one because they will only ruin your images, instead go for a well known B+W circular polarizer, that’s what I, and many other car photographers use, and I haven’t heard any complaints about it.

What is a circular polarizer? Well, it’s basically a little filter that you screw onto the end of your lens, which you can then turn to block off reflections in any part of the frame. What’s cool about it is that you can take multiple shots with different reflection points by using a tripod and then just combining all the images in post-processing to get the best results. Just make sure you don’t go too far, you still want to keep some reflections to show the lines and curves of the car.


4. Not using a tripod

Speaking of tripods, you need one of those as well. Not just because of the reflections, but to get the cleanest and sharpest shots possible. If you’re like many beginner photographers you have a hard time keeping your hands steady, and it will take some time to master that. If you have a tripod, you can minimize camera shake, which in return, gives you the sharpest images.

Another awesome reason to use a tripod is to do light painting at night. Simply set your exposure to a few seconds, walk around the car with a light source, and in minutes you will have a pretty sick looking shot of the car. Everything you painted over will be visible, and everything else will probably be dark, creating a pretty cool effect that you can’t do without a tripod.

Taking multiple exposures can only be done with a tripod, unless you’re amazing at keeping your hands steady and in one position for multiple shots, which is pretty hard to do. Why would I take multiple exposures? Well, let’s say you take a picture and the car looks amazing, but your sky is blown out. Problem? No problem, if you have a tripod. Just take another shot but this time crank up the shutter speed so you can capture more detail in the sky (don’t worry about anything else for that shot). Now, since you have one image of the car perfectly lit, and another image of the sky looking beautiful you can combine those two in post-processing to get the best looking image, people will be curious how you did it so make sure you tell them. Share the knowledge.


5. Not getting down low for the best angles

Have you ever seen an image where the car was shot at normal, eye level height? Can you say “boring”?! We all see cars from that point of view on a daily basis, so it gets pretty boring. If you want your shots to stand out, you must try different angles. Get down low, get up high, lay down, just make sure you move around and try different stances so you can get a better angle of the car.

This can get dirty, so make sure you don’t wear your brand new pants and shirt. Don’t be afraid to get down on the ground and capture the car from down there, it will give it a more aggressive look. Who cares if you get dirty, at least your shot will look great.

The best pictures I have seen are of those that are not taken at eye level, but are usually down lower than the normal person is willing to go. But you’re not normal, you’re a car photographer (we’re special).


That’s all folks

So, there you have it fellow photogs. The five biggest mistakes beginner car photographers make, and how to avoid them. You have been given ways to make your shots look much better – but you will not improve just by reading this, you must go out and shoot, shoot, shoot! The best way to improve your photography skills is to go out, take the skills you learned here, and put them to the test in the real world. But don’t leave without your rag, circular polarizer, and tripod!

Do you have any other tips on shooting cars? Have any of these helped you get better at car photography? Please share in the comments below.

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Elvis Pasic
Elvis Pasic

is a car enthusiast and photography junky who enjoys writing and helping other car photographers step up their shooting and editing skills. If you are interested in improving your skills be sure to check out the Learn To Shoot Cars blog for your FREE guide, and for quick and easy tips make sure you follow LTSC on Instagram and Facebook.

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