How to get started with automotive photography
There are so many ways to photograph a car. We can take photos of the exterior, we can head inside and capture the cockpit, or we can hit the highway and snap some sick rollers. We can stage the car alone, with others, or in front of a gorgeous overlook.
However we choose to photograph the car, here are some quick tips to help us snap that perfect photo.
Straighten the perspective.
The biggest mistake I've made and I've seen other make is that they capture photos with a tilted perspective. As humans, we prefer photos set at a perspective that we're used to. Most of our life is spent with our horizons level. When we take a photo with a tilted perspective, it confuses our brain and takes away from the beauty of our subject. Instead of twisting the camera, we should try to level our horizons and then point along the x and y-axes to where we want to take the photo.
This lineup of cars is nice, but the way I framed the perspective ruins the photo. I tilted the camera, leaving the perspective skewed and making the photo unpleasant.
Here's a photo from months earlier where I lined up the perspective so that the horizon was level. Buildings move naturally upward and the tilt you see from the cars is due to the tilt of the parking lot.
Line up the subject.
Another mistake we often make is how we line up our subject. We should imagine that our cameras have a "snap-to" feature as we look through the viewfinder. If we want to photograph the front of the car, we should line our angle up parallel to the front of the vehicle and then move side to side to shoot our photo.
If we want to take a 3/4 shot (the most common angle for car photography) then we should take a photo of the vehicle so that we can clearly see the front (or back) AND the side of the vehicle.
What we generally DON'T want to do is take a photo that mixes the two angles into something that looks confusing and uninteresting. In this photo, I didn't keep my angle consistent, so I was left with a photo I'm not proud of.
If I had adjusted my angle just a bit more, like I did for this photo of an F12, I would have taken a more front-focused 3/4 shot that looks more appealing and interesting.
Shoot in manual mode.
This tip was the most helpful when getting my photography over the hump from okay to above average. Instead of relying on the camera to automatically set our aperture, we should be setting it ourselves. If we assume we're shooting most of our photos during the day, our F-Stop (the number next to the F) should be set to the lowest possible number for two reasons.
The first is that when our camera is set to the lowest possible number, we get more background blur in the photo. This helps make what's in focus even more striking and gives the photo a crispy and sharp overall look. In this photo we can see that the Aventador is clearly in focus but the background is nicely blurred.
Secondly, it helps keep our subject from blurring because we're setting the camera to let in more light. By doing so, our shutter speed can be set faster, which allows us to capture moving objects as clear still photos. In this photo, the Ford GT was turning onto the main roadway to leave the event, but my high shutter speed allowed to me capture it as if it was parked there.
Shoot with a clear purpose.
Some photos I see people take are photos that don't seem to have a purpose. A photo is meant to be a work of art. It's meant to tell a story, to showcase something, or to give an interesting perspective on a subject.
This photo I took of a Gallardo and an AMG GTR is confusing. It's not clear if I'm showcasing the Gallardo, the GTR, or both of them. Neither car is fully in the frame. The angle is confusing and doesn't make for a good photo.
In this photo I took later on, I made it clear what my focus was; the crazy rear ends of the cars in the lineup.
Shoot in RAW format.
The RAW photo format is exactly what it sounds like. It's the rawest format of that image without any software processing or touching up. When we shoot in JPG instead of RAW, our camera quickly processes the photo using an algorithm specific to our camera model and deletes all other potentially useful information. This is handy for amateur photographers who want to save space on their memory cards and share their images quickly, but it lowers our overall potential. It makes fixing or saving an over/underexposed image much more difficult.
While the image above isn't automotive related, it serves this point well. I captured the image just before sunset. The sky was fading but there were still beautiful twinges of red and blue that I wanted to capture. Unfortunately, cameras are no match for the human eye, so the image it captured was dull and boring.
Thankfully, I shot this photo in RAW format.
I took the image to Adobe Lightroom and edited the image to look more like what I saw in real life, with a few artistic touches. The result is a skyline full of pitch black palm tree silhouettes with a beautiful sunset background. To date this is one of my favorite photos I've ever captured.
There are a couple drawbacks to capturing in RAW. The first is that it takes up a lot more space on memory cards. The second is that most programs can't read RAW photo files because they're difficult to read. The purpose of shooting RAW is to take the photo and process it ourselves, so only a handful of programs find it worthwhile to include RAW support.
Have any tips you'd like to share? Comment them below!
I hope this guide helps you to find where you can improve your photography. As a photographer myself I had to teach myself all of these concepts. I learned everything I know by emulating others and finding why my photography didn't look like theirs.
If you want a photographer to emulate, take a look at Daniel's Instagram below. He takes some of the best automotive photos I've seen to date, so give him a follow.
As with most art, these rules are subjective. Most people who make exceptions to these rules do so because they understand the basic principles and know why they don't apply in their particular case. This is just meant to help you take photos you're more proud of.