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How to Take Stunning Car Photography

Just like people, cars have great personalities. As a photographer, you can capture these in your images for some amazing car photography.
In this article you’ll discover all the techniques you’ll need to use to transform your car photos into dynamic eye catching imagery.
Whether you’re photographing for Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini and the like or just taking better images of your old Chevrolet or Audi. These top tips and gear suggestions will improve your car photography.
So read on to get top tips, and gear suggestions for your car photography!

What Gear Do You Need for Car Photography

A range of camera equipment is recommended for good car photography. This gear is highly dependent on the types of photographs you’ll take of a car.

Camera Body

It’s possible to take photos cars with a smartphone, either an iPhone or an Android. The best results will be attained using a camera that allows you to change lenses though.
With this in mind the recommended camera body will be a dSLR, a full frame mirrorless camera, or a micro four thirds camera.
The brand of camera you choose will inform the type of camera body you have. Those choosing Nikon or Canon will likely be using a dSLR, and those using a Sony or Fuji will be using a mirrorless camera.
Regardless of which one you choose, you can take amazing automotive photography, from Ford to BMW.

A flay lay photo of car photography equipment
The right camera equipment can really help improve your car photography.

Wide Angle Lens

A good wide angle lens is necessary for many forms of photography, not just car shots. You’ll be using a wide angle lens to capture your scene setting photo. Whether this is a photo shoot in your local parking lot or a mountain action shot.
This is the photo that shows your car in its natural environment.
It should also include other elements in the frame that contextualises the location of the car.
All the major manufacturers will make this type of lens, but you’ll want one that will give you a focal length of at least 17mm on a camera with a full frame sensor.
In addition to those scene setting photos, you can use a wide angle lens to capture the interior of the car. This is a vital and sometimes overlooked facet of car photography.

Macro Lens

A car has many details that the unique perspective of a macro lens can capture. These lenses can have focal distances of 60 or 100mm, and allow you to get close into your subject.
What will this allow you to capture? Think of detailed photos of wheels, engine parts or interior elements like the steering wheel.

Drone

Drones are becoming an increasingly important tool for many automotive photographers to get that cool image.
The ability to photograph your car from the air, perhaps as it’s driving along a country road will give you a further angle to work with.
Remember the resolution of still images produced by drones will not be the same as a full frame camera. But improvements are coming all the time.

Impressive streaming car light trails on a motorway at night
Using a tripod will allow you to take long exposure photos at night.

Tripod

Do you want to work on images of your car at night? How about experimenting with light painting to produce a really compelling image? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then you’ll need a tripod.
Even during the day with your car as the main subject in a landscape photo, you might still need a tripod. Let’s consider a photo of your car with the setting sun in the background.
In this scenario you’ll need to bracket your images in preparation for blending them later on in post processing.

Lighting Equipment

Your car is essentially acting like a large person in your photo. This means you have to surround your car with light, and use the relevant light softeners to produce good quality soft light.
Ideally you’ll want three light sources. Strobes are a good option here. Also consider adding some light stands and shoot thru umbrellas or soft boxes to modify the light.
A good lighting set up will help you take those Top Gear worthy beautiful images of anything from a Mercedes van to a Bentley.

A black car driving by a row of cherry blossom trees
A good wide angle lens allows you to capture the car, and the wider scene.

Car Photography Tips

Now that you’ve seen the equipment car photographers use, let’s look at the techniques that this equipment is used for.
Depending on which techniques you like the sound of, you might need to adjust your equipment choices.

7. Capture the Whole Scene for Context

A key photo in any set exploring a subject is the scene setter. This type of photo often needs a wide angle lens to capture the main subject, in this case the car, and the area surrounding the main subject.
You can use different lenses though, and you may choose to stand further back with a longer focal length lens. Using a longer focal length will allow you to compress the background and main subject into the same photo.
For the majority of situations, just like a landscape photo that captures the whole scene, you’ll want to use a wide angle lens for this photo.
Which kind of photos will work here? Perhaps an off-road car ascending the side of a hill, or a vehicle inside a large roomy warehouse.

A white car driving through a rocky landscape
Jon Flobrant, Unsplash

6. Photograph the Car Interior

In many ways the interior is just as important as the exterior of the car. This type of photo will certainly require a very wide angle lens, perhaps wider than 17mm. You are in essence looking to photograph a very small room, but get as much information as you can from it.
These photos may also involve tripod to steady the camera for the lower light in the car. And to bracket the photo to take account of differing light levels throughout the vehicle.

A person driving at night, shot from the interior of the car
The interior of a vehicle is also important. In this photo long exposure was used to add extra interest.

5. Take Detail Shots

There are lots of detail photos you can take of a car. Whether it’s the wheels of the car, the dashboard, or the engine of the car – these are all good subjects to photograph.
You’ll need to use a macro lens to get the best out of your detail photo, you should also consider using off camera flash. A simple trigger, radio receiver and a flash with a soft box to modify the light will work.
Your detail photo can look that much more dramatic with some well positioned side light.

Detail photo of car parts
Detail photos can for an important element of your car photography image set.

4. Add Dynamic Motion to Your Images

A car is not a static object. How can you show this in your photography? There are a number of ways you could go about adding dynamism to your car photography.

  • Panning – This describes the process of following the motion of an object, while photographing it at a shutter speed of about 1/20th. This will keep the car sharp, but blur out the background, giving the feeling of motion.
  • Zoom – A different approach to creating motion in a photo is the zoom burst. In this case you’ll change the focal length of your lens during the course of an exposure of again around 1/20th. In most cases it’s best to zoom in, rather than zooming out.
  • Long exposure – At night time, and with car light trails, you can capture the movement of other cars against the car you are photographing which should remain static. Alternatively how about an interior photo with a twist? Set up you camera on a tripod in the backseat of the car, and take a long exposure as the car is being driven.
A fast moving race car on a track
Panning a fast moving car can be a challenge, and with sports cars you’ll need a faster shutter speed than 1/20th.

3. Use Different Camera Angles to Show All Sides of the Car

A different perspective can give you a photo with more interest, and this is true in all photography genres. You may decide to take a detail photo from a low angle, or a higher one to give the photo more interest.
One of the best ways to get a more extreme angle is with a drone. Flying over the car to get an overhead photo, with the road used as a leading line that runs through the frame, would make for a great image.

A red car surrounded by light painting effect
Experimental techniques like light painting can work really well with car photography.

2. Use Colour Contrast to Highlight the Car

A lot of cars have a strong colour on their paintwork. You can use this to give your photo more impact. The application of colour contrast will make your photo stand out more.
This means a red car could be photographed against a blue background, giving the photo a lot more impact.
If the car is black, white grey or perhaps silver metallic, use opposite monotone backdrops to make again it stand out in the frame.

A female model posing beside a car at a car show
Car shows can be a good location to practice taking photos of cars.

1. Use Light Painting for More Creative Car Photography

A very popular form of photography that dovetails really well with car photography is light painting. The use of an LED light stick allows you to do some really creative things.
LED light sticks can be programmed to produce ribbons of light, that you can put in the background of the car. Or how about a wall of flame programmed into the stick?
You’ll need a tripod for this, and also to make sure the car is well lit as you’ll be taking these photos at night. You may be able to use the LED light stick to light up the vehicle. Or you can use a series of strobes to light up the car in conjunction with your light painting.

Conclusion

Lots of people enjoy talking about cars, and of course photographing them as well. It’s a lucrative business when done professionally, and still a lot of fun for those who do it for the joy of photography.
Have you done much car photography in the past? We’d love to learn about your experiences in this genre.
Likewise any car photo examples you’d like to share with the community are more than welcome, simply use the comments section to share with us.

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