11 Car & Auto Photography Tips

by Alec Druggan
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car photography

Auto and car photography is a niche not to be taken lightly, considering the level of zeal by most car enthusiasts. Below are 11 expert car photography tips for any photographer interested in a running their own auto photo shoot:

Know what your photos are for

Your automotive photos will have a different outcome depending on what you want to do with them. If they’re meant to be used in your automotive photography portfolio, or for advertising, branding, or something creative, they’re going to look very different than the photos that you might be taking for a dealership to help them sell specific examples.

If you are trying to sell specific vehicles for a dealership, you want to make sure that you are taking a high quantity of decent photos. The lighting should be even and uninspired, and the car should be easy to see for the buyer. Buyers appreciate being able to see what they are buying much more than they appreciate the fact that you used contrasting color gels to illuminate random parts of the car.

If you are working on marketing, advertising, or creative projects, you can do whatever you want. Feel free to distort the view with ultrawide lenses that make a sports cars look like they could host a family of elephants. Shoot long exposure panning shots, and photoshop as many airplanes and birds into the background as you want. Make the car look as perfect as possible.

Use reflections to your advantage

Car’s paint is almost always reflective. This can make cars really difficult to work with. One of the first steps is going to be making sure the car is as freshly detailed as possible. To make the best of the sheen, you want it to be as mirrorlike as possible.

car reflection photography

Once the car is shined up, use the paint to showcase the curves and beauty of the car. Make the paint and the reflections do the talking for you. You can play in the shadows and with the absence and presence of light to showcase the car in new, creative ways.

Automotive photography allows a lot of creativity inside a closed space. Because, at the end of the day, you are constrained to taking photos of vehicles, you can play with every other parameter as much or as little as you’d like. Have fun with it and use things like the paint to attempt new creative techniques.

Shoot from the inside

Shooting from the inside of the car is a must if you are taking photos for a cars listing. Even when you’re not, you don’t need every photo you are taking of car to focus solely on the vehicle. Photos that can make the viewer feel placed within them work great, and photos from the driver’s seat can easily accomplish that.

Don’t shoot at eye level

An easy problem that many novice car photographers run into is taking photos of a car from the same level as you typically see it. This makes a car look boring and uninspiring. It’s familiar, and it doesn’t do anything for the car relative to other angles. Try shooting from the ground, or super high angles, and showing the features of a car that people aren’t always going to see. You don’t want to give people an expected image to look at, you want people to see your photo and find a new way to look at a car.

Furthermore, use this to focus on specific features parallel to the camera. To showcase cool headlights, shoot on axis with the headlights. Same for the brake lights. Same for details, and same to show a great sun or moon roof. You want to make sure that shots trying to showcase details are composed in such a way to put the initial focus of the viewer solely on those details.

Photograph details

There are many cars known for their unique features. You want to make sure that a viewer ses these features, so that they associate them with the car going forward. Spend time making sure that the features look as perfect as possible. If a car has wood grain lining the leather seats, make sure the leather is clean and the wood polished. Take photos of specific details that designers obviously spent hours upon hours implementing.

Shoot with the right light

As mentioned above, for listings, you will want to shoot in flat light that shows the buyer all the details of the car. For other automotive photography, focus on the light that best showcases the car. That lighting, outside of the studio, follows many of the same rules for other types of photography. Golden hour, twilight, and astronomical or blue hour are your friends.

Colorfully backlight cars

Make use of great light to show off a car’s silhouette. You can also use different backlights and angles to showcase different colors in a car and different parts of it. I also suggest using a cooler flash on a golden hour backlit car for a modern look.

Shoot the car still and in motion

You want to show some dynamic parts of the car, and show how it drives. Smooth driving shots are a great addition to the typical still shots, because they allow someone to imagine the trips they may be taking. For these shots, I suggest using typical backgrounds right out of a generic road trip. That is more likely to make someone connect to the image. If the background is generic enough, you might have people thinking if they’ve visited the location before!

Create motion blur

Motion blur is an easy effect to add while taking a photo to make a car look better. What it does on a clean image is smooth out the rest of the shot, making the car feel both sharper and faster. You can add motion blur in post production but the easiest way to make it look great is to pan while taking photos, and use a less fast shutter speed. Make sure the car is sharp, and see how much blur you can add by panning!

Location matters. A lot

Use a location that compliments and frames your subjects. You want the geometry, feeling, and ideas that surround the car to be matched by where it stands in your image. Some cars differ in audience, some cars in person, and some cars in where they belong. Adjust for all of these things with different locations for cars, and try to find the best location you can for every car.

Use the right focal length

Depending on the purpose of your photos, use a different focal length. A wider angle lens will make the car seem roomier and bigger, and can be used for glamour shots. For shots that are being used to sell a specific vehicle, like those you may be taking for a dealership, you will want to use something like a 50mm lens (on a full frame sensor).

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