Car Spotting Tips/Tricks
Some of my personal advice for car spotters.
New Vs Old
2 Ways of doing thing
So the way I look at it, there are two ways of doing things. And no, it's not the right way and wrong way.. One way you can go about this is to pick a popular "hot spot". If it's the local cruising area (no not that one, the one with cars!), you can simply pick a spot where most of the traffic is passing. Maybe your town or area has a loop cruise, where people drive around in circles like a urban NASCAR event. In this case, you just sit back and let the rides come to you. The second way is to simply put in the miles on foot. Walking around your city center or downtown area and going out searching.
Both ways have advantages and disadvantages. If you are standing still letting the cars come to you, it can not only be boring, but the only variety you're images will really have is the vehicles in them. The backdrop will remain mostly the same. If you are walking around you stand to miss some cars driving by a block or two away, or you may have set your camera up for one lighting condition, turn around to try and catch a car coming down the road in motion and not have the settings right causing a bad or missed image. Personally I use both methods in my spots. Some of my locations work better with sitting still, vs walking around.
Ford Shelby Mustang GT350
So tips for allowing the cars to come to you really isn't worth covering. I mean, have your gear ready, and you keep and ear or eye out for whats coming your direction. Point, shoot, done. However some of these tips can be used for both methods. But lets focus more about walking around and doing some car spotting. Personally I think it's more enjoyable, gives your photography more variety, and produces better images.
My first tip would be to ALWAYS keep an ear open. If you are listening to your music while out and about, keep an ear uncovered and the volume down. This is simply so you can listen for exhaust noises rumbling in the background, providing you a bit of a heads up somethings coming. Eventually you'll learn to tell the difference from something cool and something neglected and junky.
Set a path or route to follow. Sometimes walking around aimlessly pays off. But then again you may be covering ground you already did. Walk in a grid layout where possible. This pays off well in your downtown / large city centers that are typically laid out in a grid like pattern. Walking the distance of longer streets before changing to another street seems to work best for me. More so if the streets connecting the blocks together are short and allow you to peer down them to glance for something worth looking at.
Nissan GTR R35
As I previously stated, when walking around it's important to check down side streets you are passing. But it is equally important to take a peer into public parking garages as well. The above image is an example of that The weird things with parking garages is, you may not always get an ideal image, but sometimes you can make things work. Typically there are other cars parked around it making it hard to isolate the vehicle. The lighting is often terrible as well. With out the help of Adobe Lightroom and shooting .raw format the above image would have been garbage. The white balance was terrible because of old dimming yellow lights to illuminate the garage. When it comes to parking garages I'm not saying walk every level of it, because that'll take a lot of time out of your day. However peering into the entry level is a good idea. Also make sure if you are walking into the garage that it is PUBLIC PARKING! Because you really don't want to be walking into a private garage. That's technically illegal. However if you can see it from a public sidewalk you are free to take photos into the private garage (at least in the USA, know you laws/rights).
Nissan 300ZX (Fairlady Z) Z32 NA
The hard part
The hard part is the constantly changing conditions. You can't stage cars, so you have to work with what you're given. So sometimes you need to be creative with angles. And then you may be looking one way, and see something coming at you from a different direction and bam! The lighting conditions are exactly opposite now. So shooting in a priority mode will greatly help you capture better photos. Let the camera's light meter do the work when you have conditions change quickly! I rarely shoot manual mode anymore unless I'm shooting a landscape or parked car, and don't like the image produced by the priority mode. Then I take the settings from the priority mode (shutter/f stop) and dial them back in under manual mode, and adjust accordingly manually.
As I bring this article to a wrap, I figured I should close it with some core, simple tips. Stuff we all should remember to do, but sometimes we forget. First thing first, make sure your batteries are charged! Nothing worse than cutting things short due to a dead battery. Second thing is pick a shooting mode. I like shooting Shutter Priority in the daylight, and Aperture Priority in the night, and manually controlling the ISO to achieve the lowest possible ISO for the conditions. This limits the adjustments you'll need to make on the fly. Third I would practice with "normal" cars or slightly modified cars even if you are out looking for your favorite type of cars (be it super cars, modified cars, whatever). Sometimes even just daily drivers can make for great images. Fourth. When shooting in a large urban area, be sure to try and plan your walking routes around high end hotels/restaurants that offer valet parking. Most places like to keep the high end cars near the entrance. It adds a nice curb appeal to the joint, and allows those in charge to keep an eye on the expensive cars and make sure they are safe. Fifth and final core tip, timing is everything. Timing from the time of day you head out, to where your are. If you see something that interest you, more so if it's parked, go to it that moment. Because if you decide to wait until you circle back, there is a good chance, it'll be gone by the time you come back. You see it, you photograph it. As an added bonus I'll throw in a few of my favorites from over the year showcasing a variety of spots. Super cars, tuners, muscle, daily drivers, just my favorite images over the last few years.