Cars are beautiful, stylish, and exciting, so they’re often a favorite choice for photography. It’s sometimes challenging, however, to capture all the adventure, speed, and grace of a car in a still photograph. Using a couple of tricks and tips can help you create the ideal image.
Choose Backgrounds Carefully
A good background can make or break a picture, so choose yours carefully. You want a background that won’t detract from the car, but you also want something that’s interesting and complements the vehicle.
Any background that isn’t distracting and instead emphasizes the car is a good choice. You can choose a uniform background, such as garage doors, a large building, or a line of trees. Think about the colors you want to use and how they’ll interact with the car’s colors. You might want to opt for a few highlight colors that match those of the car, or you might want to choose darker or more natural colors that show off the car’s paint.
It’s also a good idea to avoid any background items that detract from the picture. Powerlines or painted parking lot spaces are common detractors, and although you can take them out when editing the photos, it’s often best to try to shoot around them instead.
If you can’t avoid a distracting background, use it to your advantage or think about ways to make it fit the image. If you’re in a parking lot, for example, consider shooting in a way that minimizes the pavement and instead focuses on the sky or nearby buildings. If you’re on a brightly lit street, defocus the background, creating a bokeh effect, so that it adds color and sparkle without pulling the eye away from the car. Consider what it is about the car you want to showcase most and how it will look against the backgrounds you’ve chosen. Imagine a vision for each photo and get creative about bringing that vision to life.
Remember that a background doesn’t have to be boring to work. If the photo is large and the car is only in part of it, fill the rest of the frame with bold landscape features or backlighting.
Consider the Time of Day
Most photographers quickly learn that shooting outside during the middle of the day, when the light is at its harshest and most direct, doesn’t make for attractive photos. This is true for photographing cars, too. Instead, it’s best to wait until the golden hour, which takes place about one to two hours after sunrise and before sunset.
When photographing cars, you can narrow down the ideal photography time even more. In general, the best time for car photos is a few minutes before sunrise or after sunset, when the light is soft and colors are slightly muted. This helps give your photos a beautiful glow without any harsh glare.
You can also shoot at night. City lights reflecting off a car’s paint can create a dazzling image, and you can also use the car’s interior or exterior lights to add more flair. Using a long shutter speed can help you pick up other beautiful details, such as reflections, stars, or the moon.
Watch for Reflections
A beautiful paint job will be shiny, so you’re bound to get reflections when photographing cars. Make sure that any reflections in the car’s paint or windows show only what you want and don’t distract from the rest of the image.
Shoot From Another Car
One of the trickiest things about car photography is creating dynamic photos that capture the car’s movement. Shooting from another car can help, as you can photograph your subject in motion. Never drive and photograph at the same time. Instead, ask a friend for help, and always make sure that you and your camera are secure. Keep the speed relatively slow. Having both cars drive at about 35 mph works well. Only shoot from a moving car on a quiet road with little traffic.
Create a Motion Blur
If you can’t or don’t want to shoot from another car, consider creating a motion blur to capture the speed and movement of the vehicle. You can get this effect by having the car drive past you. As it drives past, pan the camera, following the car. You’ll need to set your shutter speed to about 1/125s to achieve this. Shoot several shots in a row as you pan.
Think Outside the Box
When people think about photographing a car, they usually imagine photographing the outside from eye level, but considering other angles can create more unique photos. Shoot from down low or up above the car to get a photo that feels exciting. Get inside the car and shoot through the windows or windshield, capturing the car’s dash and the view outside. Open the car doors to create a scene that feels alive. Think about the car’s most captivating features, even if they’re small, and try to focus on those.
It’s also fun to have a car interact with nature. Have the vehicle drive through snowfall or splash through a puddle. If the vehicle is more rugged, think about capturing some off-roading shots.
Some of the best car photos are quiet and serene. Think about all of the car’s features and what you want your photo to say before deciding what angles and settings will suit the car the most.