Take your car photography into top gear

6 min read

It's a lot of fun to photograph cars and bikes, but if you're new to it, it can also be extremely frustrating. Having experienced the pains of automotive photography first-hand and how best to overcome it, we’ve decided to share this quick guide on how you can take awesome car and bike photos. In this article you’ll find:

  • Lighting suggestions for car photos
  • A wide variety of creative shoot suggestions
  • Common mistakes to avoid
  • Much, much more!

Let’s get started.

Shooting at the right time of the day

Photos of cars during the day are the most common mistake people make. The light is harsh, unflattering, and generally unflattering. It's a surefire recipe for disaster.

The best time to shoot is just after sunset (or right before sunrise if you're an early riser). There is no direct sun, so you can use this to create a soft, almost ethereal feel in your photos.

Look for reflections

If you want pro-level photos, you need to carefully control what reflects off the surface of your car. You want to emphasize design lines in your photos, and reflections can quickly ruin these.

Try shooting the car in a space without buildings or other cars nearby. Try shooting the car in a space without buildings or other cars nearby. If this is not possible, try altering your perspective (try shooting from low down so that the sky is in the reflection instead of the busy city around).

Pro-tip: Be sure not to include your reflection in the photo. The best way we have found to do this is to use a remote trigger/ use a timer to take the shot.

Take driving shots

One of my favorite tips for creative car photography is:

Shoot the car out of another moving vehicle. Be super safe and secure yourself in the passenger seat while a friend drives your car. Make sure you focus solely on taking pictures of the subject car.

There is something magical about a moving car shot, as well as the sense of motion it conveys.

Here are my recommendations for accomplishing this type of shot:

  • Make sure you have a driver so you can concentrate on the photoshoot
  • Strap your camera to the inside of your car or body
  • It is ideal for both cars to match speed with yours slightly ahead. Shoot at 45-50 kph to get sufficient motion in your photo without making it difficult to shoot
  • Set your camera to continuous shooting mode and your shutter speed to 1/100 second
  • Shoot on roads with low traffic, if possible

Pay attention to the color of the car

Light reacts differently to different types of paint. While it is advisable to shoot during golden hours when possible – do check with the car owner to see if you can see the car in advance during the day. It’s possible (particularly for matte finished paints) that your best shot might happen during bright mid-day light.

Choose your background carefully

While this is easier said than done (particularly in India), try to find suitable backgrounds for your car shoot. An open, distraction-free background is ideal. An unsightly sign or dustbin can ruin the look of your picture. Trying to remove these artifacts in Photoshop later can be time-consuming and not always successful.

What we've found works best are old factories or warehouses with large open spaces and enough contrast for your car photos to stand out. You can also try shooting at an empty parking lot for a similar feel.

Pan for motion blur

If you are uncomfortable with the thought of shooting from a moving car (or are unable to do so due to time/ other restrictions) you can achieve a similar look with camera panning.

Simply ask your friend to drive the car by you (while you stand by the side of the road) and click away while panning the camera toward the car. Getting a usable shot might require multiple attempts, but a moving car conveys emotions you can't get from a still photograph.

Pro-tip: Try using a shutter speed of 1/125 sec at 75mm focal length.

Let the car interact with nature

While this is easier said than done, when possible, try to allow the car to interact with the environment rather than just be parked. Think of an SUV climbing over a rock or a coupe rolling down a dirt road. Compositions like these can emphasize a car's ruggedness or speed. Such images are packed with dynamic energy which instantly connect with your customers.

Shoot at night

Night photography might seem intimidating, but you'll be amazed at how easy and fun it is. The key is to find a completely dark area.

Set your camera up on a tripod once you've found the perfect spot. Set your ISO to 100, shutter speed to 30 seconds, and set your aperture at f/9.

When the shutter opens, take a household flash or other light source and walk around the car, “painting” it with light. There are no rules here, try painting from different directions to get different effects – you’ll be blown away.

Avoid shooting at eye level

A common mistake is to always shoot at eye level. Despite being the most natural starting point, it is also the least flattering angle for a car since it is the most familiar.

Shoot from a higher or lower vantage point instead. You may need a step stool or ladder to capture shots from a high perspective. Alternatively, you can also extend your arms and hold your camera above your head. Experiment with different positions to see what shots you can come up with. By doing this, you will avoid taking shots that seem common and will end up with new perspectives.

Have the right gear

  • The basics – to capture steady shots, a tripod is a valuable tool, especially at night. Carry basic reflectors to manipulate the sun's rays
  • Lenses – I shoot with a 24-70mm lens to capture wide-angle and telephoto shots. 35 and 50mm prime lenses are also good choices for auto photography
  • Flashes – a good reflector might be all you need for outside shots. However, for interior shots carry a small portable light with a cover to avoid harsh shadows
  • Light limiters – try using a “Natural Density filter” when shooting exteriors with reflections. An ND filter limits light in parts of your photo allowing you to get clear shots. Here’s a good ND filter you can use.
  • Cleaning tools – for your shoot, bring clean microfiber cloths, a small blow dryer, and detailing spray/wet wipes. They'll help you clean those dust/dirt spots (unless you're shooting at a car dealership).
Pro tip: Keep the headlights on during the shoot – even if it’s during the daytime! The photos will come out nicer.

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

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

If you are an aspiring/ professional auto photographer and are looking for paid opportunities to take car and bike shoots, contact us at join@pyx.co.in.