Now that you know what automotive photography is and how to get started, these extra car photography tips will help you zoom past the competition. Whether you are taking photos of cars for fun or need car sales photography tips, there’s something for everyone.
We will look a bit more in-depth at some of the areas we covered such as preparing the vehicle for photography, shooting on location, and getting the lighting right.
We guarantee you will learn something–and get better at photography in the process. Let’s release the emergency brake and we can set off for our first tip.
1. Think about hiring a professional cleaner
I want you to think about time and money. How many high-value potential customers might be turned off by a dirty car? How long will it take you to Photoshop away all the spots and blemishes left on a poorly cleaned car? Think of that time if you were being paid your regular hourly wage. Or, if you are trying to create a portfolio, might you get more gigs if your photo subject looked totally spick and span?
Here’s a comparison: a professional car cleaner (detailer) will make the car look as good as new–or as close as it can be. It will get a wash, wax, interior vacuuming, interior polish, window wash, mirror and trim cleaning, and tire cleaning. It will cost you between US$55-170, depending on the size of the vehicle.
2. Bring someone with you
If you can find someone to help you out, not only will you save time, but you will also create better photos. Whether it’s turning the car’s wheels to get the treads in-shot or driving it slightly forwards or backward to include the best of the background, an extra pair of hands will really save time.
Added to which, cars often look better when there is someone in the driving seat, putting stuff in the trunk or whatever else you can imagine. A quick note about clothes: if you are going to get your friend to model, make sure they are dressed to look the part. If you have snagged a Porsche for your photoshoot, you don’t want the driver to be in a sweatshirt and crocks.
If you really want to kick things up a notch, think about bringing another vehicle–and another assistant. With one model driving your vehicle and someone else piloting the car you are in, you will be able to take some excellent shots through the open window.
Clearly, you’re better trying this stunt on a deserted country road than in the middle of the city. A tip for making sure the photos are clear: match your shutter speed to the miles per hour the car is driving. So, if you are going at 40PMH, shoot at 1/40.
3. Match your location to your story
When it comes to car photography, especially if you are creating a portfolio, you want to tell a story. In the same way, you want your model to be dressed right (rugged jeans and checked shirt for an SUV), you want to make sure your location matches the “story” of your shoot. In this case, you might want to make your way to a National Park. But you could just as easily shoot in a Costco car park or downtown. It just depends on the narrative.
It’s worth remembering that many of the best locations–lovely country, wow-factor buildings–are controlled by their somewhat jealous owners. You have two ways to cope with this. You can either ask permission, which is often better done through asking for mutual contact. Or you could try and get your photos as soon as you hop out of the car. If you are nimble and prepared enough, you will have time to take your shots and then offer your humble apology when security turns up to move you on. (This blog does not encourage actual trespass onto private property.)
4. Coping with direct light
In the guide, we pointed out the problems with taking photos when the sun is high in a cloudless sky: it leads to photos that have glaring highlights and deep shadows. Those can be almost impossible to edit without a lot of extra work.
However, it’s also the case that many of us are short of time. Maybe the lunch-hour is the only hour you have to take photos to sell your vehicle. If so, what should you do?
There are a couple of options. The simplest one is to find something to put between your subject and the sun. That could well be a tree. Or you might park the car on a street lit by reflected light perhaps from a glass skyscraper or from white-painted houses.
The second requires a bit of kit called a “polarizer.” It’s the same stuff used in sunglasses. This specially-treated plastic or glass has the ability to block or tone down some types of light. You can use it to make the sky darker or reduce reflections and glare.
If you are using a phone, buy a sheet of polarized plastic from an online marketplace. DSLRs have screw-on polarizing filters. You can get both for about US$5 though you can spend more on the filter if you want. (Hoya is recommended by some professionals worried about the hue.)
Use your polarizer, place the (trimmed) plastic or screw-on filter in front of your lens and turn it slowly, and you should see the glare from the windows reduced until they are almost black. The brightness of the paintwork should darken. Watch you don’t darken it too much.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind with polarizers. Firstly, they don’t work so well with light reflected from metallic surfaces (that’s not polarized light, in fact.) Secondly, if you are experimenting with your polarizer trying to darken the sky, it will only work if you are shooting at a 90-degree angle to the sun.
5. Some quick tips for on-location shooting
Zooming in may be fun, but it should be avoided where possible because you will lose information and sharpness if you need to crop in later. The best zoom is your legs. However, experienced photographers use zoom to alter the result, cropping and flattening the image and changing the size of the background elements. So, have fun.
For artistic photos, think about using a foreground element. A fence or branch will add depth to your image. A low f-stop such as f/.20 will give you blur. If you place part of a tree in front of your vehicle, it can produce a sense of intimacy or the viewer just happening upon the car.
If you shoot the car through an aperture like a door or window, it can supply a framing effect to the photo. You can also experiment with lights for flare.
Of course, you could create some nice shots with the car out of focus and the foreground elements sharpened as part of a more expansive portfolio. Sometimes a bit of mystery is called for.
Another trick car photographers often use is to photograph the car with the headlamps on. That makes the car seem more alive and ready to set off on an adventure. Your polarizer could come in handy here.
Even if you are shooting your car to sell, you might be tempted to be a bit creative with car photography angles and other tricks, especially if you have more photographs available on the car sale page. The occasion to do that might be inside the car. You can use bokeh (selected blurring) to bring some interior parts into focus while smudging others. This is great to highlight any attractive elements to the buyer. As in the foreground experiment, use a shallow depth of field to capture this detail.
These are our car photography tips. We hope you found something to get the creative fuel pumping. Make sure to come back for more car photography editing tips.