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How to Improve Your Car Photography

Listen up because we’ve got some wheely good tips for great car photography (sorry for the pun)

Here at Smart we believe that car photography is all about making cars look their absolute best. Whether you own a vintage vehicle, a family hatchback or neither the goal should remain the same.

Perhaps you want to grab a picture of your pride and joy to hang above the mantel piece. Equally you might be taking photos because it’s time to part ways with your loyal servant. Either way you’ll want to make the car look amazing especially if you want to make this your career.

Lets be honest, no one is going to want to buy a car that is photographed badly and looks like garbage. Photographing cars in idyllic settings with great lighting can really make it more appealing and saleable.

In this blog post we will discuss some great photographic tricks that you can employ. Additionally we have also provided a great list of top automotive photographers to gain inspiration from.

Our aim as always is to give you ideas so you can get the very best out of your camera.

car photography

Car Photography: How to Improve Your Car Photography and be More Creative

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What is Car Photography?

With so many different types of cars on the market everyone is going to find one that uniquely appeals to them. The attraction of car photography obviously boils down to how much of a petrol head you are. Equally photographing cars is a great way to improve your ability as a photographer as you can experiment with various techniques.

In our opinion successful car photography is the ability to capture the essence of the car being photographed. Rather than just a simple snap of a car parked on the road.

You should apply the same principles to car photography as you would to any other form of photography. Try to capture the distinct personality of the car in the same way you would try to capture the personality in a portrait. Bring your subject to life and put your unique stamp on your work. A great car shot is a sure fire way to attract buyers if you are selling. Even if it is a Ford Focus you will generate way more interest if you car photography is on point.

Put simply car photography is any picture that contains a car but it can be so much more than that. It can inspire, be artistic and be a great outlet for your creativity.

The possibilities are endless.

Top Automotive Photographers You Should Check Out

Easton Chang

A commercial photographer based in Australia with a huge passion for cars. His clients include Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, Ford and Lamborghini. His photographs have been published all over the place and his exceptional work has resulted in a multitude of awards. Easton has been awarded Australia’s Advertising photographer of the Year a total of three times. This guys work is exceptional and you should definitely check it out. He is justifiably considered one the the industries best photographers.

Amy Shore

mini cooper photo by amy shore

Image of a Mini by Amy Shore

Amy is a photographer based in the UK. She specialises in car and motorbike photography and her work tends to revolve around people, whether it’s in workshops, road trips, events, breaking records or just a great story. Her work has a uniquely soft editing style within automotive photography. It appears that she prefers natural light over artificial which makes the images feel timeless and authentic. Amy has an impressive client list that she has worked with such as Goodwood, Jaguar Land Rover, Octane Magazine, Evo Magazine, Revolution Magazine, Ramp Magazine, Lexus, Renault Alpine, Triumph, Classic Driver, The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride to name just a few. She tells stories with her imagery and we would definitely recommend checking out some of her posts on her website.

Something to consider:

Interested in learning more photography techniques? Smart is the world’s leading online photography course offering in-depth training, mentoring and classes to creatives of any skill level.

If you want to improve your photography then be sure to sign up to Smart today!

Dejan Sokolovski

Dejan Sokolovski is based in Sweden and specialises in automotive photography. At the same time he also works on post production for other talented photographers. His portfolio is jam packed with inspirational vehicles usually set amongst idyllic environments.

Jamey Price

Since covering his first professional car race in 2011, Jamey’s images have been published around the world by Top Gear, MAXIM and Sports Illustrated to name just a few. Although Jamey predominantly specialises in automotive photography he also covers a diverse range of events. His blog entries really give you a behind the scenes look at what it is like to be a professional car photographer.

Not Bland

Webb Bland is a full time photographer and retoucher based in Los Angeles. His client list is very impressive and includes Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Lexus, Maserati, SRT, Top Gear Magazine UK, The Official Ferrari Magazine and many more from across the globe. His Instagram account and website are a great place to go if you want to drool over his exceptional automotive imagery.

Richard Thompson

From race tracks and car shows in Southern US, Richard’s work in the automotive photography industry has taken him around the world. Now based in New York he has created campaigns and social libraries for some of the worlds most recognisable automotive brands which include Bentley, BMW, Chevrolet, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Pagani Automobili. Richard’s car photography is all about creating high energy atmospheric imagery.

Pepper Yandell

Pepper is a commercial automotive and aerospace photographer based in Dallas, TX. He has travelled around the world shooting some of the most unique cars in the world for a wide range of clients. His style is known for vivid coloration and eye catching compositions which create a lasting impression for his clients.

Marcel Bischler

Marcel Bischler is a photographer who specialises in car photography. He is based in Germany and boasts an impressive client list such as Audi, Toyota and Porsche to name just a few. Marcel’s portfolio is varied and his unique editing style really stands out.

Tomek Olszowski

aston martin photo

Image of Aston Martin Lagonda by Tomek Olszowski

Based in Cracow, Poland Tomek Olszowski has a great passion for cars and photography which led him to his current way of life – shooting cars. Over the past couple of years Tomek has been awarded, honoured and nominated for several awards in automotive photography categories. Simply go to his website and look at his shoot with the Aston Martin Lagonda and you will see why he is one of the best.

Tim Wallace

Tim is a commercial automotive car photographer based in the UK but operating worldwide. He has worked with clients across the globe from Aston Martin to Peugeot. Tim has been providing high quality photographic imagery for use in both adverting and marketing for over 10 years. This award winning photographer has a unique style and is happy to light work on location as well as in the studio. Either way he will achieve his distinctive style and produce imagery that will blow you away.

Seagram Pearce

Seagram Pearce is a full time freelance photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. He specialises in automotive and people photography. His objective for both photography and business is to create visually appealing imagery rather than mass quantity. Seagram’s love for exquisite imagery has taken him further in to the realms of commercial advertising for both automotive photography and other genres.

Nate Hassler

Nate discovered his love for all thing automotive at an early age. As a lifelong fan of cars and racing, his transition into shooting these subjects was a natural one. Nate is currently based in Los Angeles and his portfolio is varied and exceptional. The main reason Nate likes shooting cars and trucks so much is that he is passionate about landscape photography and loves being amongst nature.

Mitch Hemming

Mitch is an award winning advertising photographer who specialises in the automotive and architectural industry. His images are an absolute delight, the editing is on point and they are so clean and crisp.

Douglas Sonders

A photographer and filmmaker with a degree in Advertising Photography. Douglas specialises in on-location shoots and travels all around the world. He has been profiled in a variety of photography and entertainment magazine for his lighting style, body of work and general professionalism. Whilst not solely an automotive photographer his imagery of cars is flawless and is definitely worth a look.

Clint Davis

chevrolet image

Image of a Chevrolet Camaro by Clint Davis

Commercial and editorial photographer based out of Greenville, SC. Clint finds that editorial jobs make him feel tall whilst editorial jobs keep him sharp. His goal is to create, inspire and never stop learning. His blog is a great resource of information as he goes in to the details of some of his shoots. Just look at this photo above!

Oskar Bakke

Oskar is a photographer based in Stockholm, Sweden but uses the world as his workplace. He has niched his photography around his passions for cars, sport and lifestyle. He has a very large following on Instagram and it’s not surprising with the amazingly inspirational imagery he captures.

George F. Williams

Known just as GFWilliams to most, he is a creative automotive photographer from London who has won acclaim throughout the world for his original images. George’s current client base includes some of the most prestigious brands in the world and he offers a range of services to his clients.

Peter Aylward

With commercial experience of over 10 years Peter has worked with a wide variety of clients in a number of different sectors. Peter has a unique editing style and his images feel raw and authentic. He appears to have a strong affinity to classic cars and with over 20 thousand followers on Instagram he is definitely a photographer to draw inspiration from.

Drew Phillips

Drew is a commercial and editorial automotive photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He has more than a decade in the industry and works with both local and international clients to provide distinctive and high quality photography. His images can be seen in numerous publications, both online and in print.

Jeremy Cliff

A Chicago based automotive photographer who travels the world photographing cars of all different types. Jeremy’s client list includes Audi, BMW, Chevrolet and Mercedes Benz as well as lots of print publications.

Tips for Better Car Photography

Well now you have seen how the best in the industry approach automotive photography it’s now your turn. Hopefully you don’t find this list too exhaustive (another pun apology) and you enjoy trying out some of the techniques.

car shot with low light

Minimal lighting to create a dramatic effect

 

Location, Location, Location

The location you choose is vital to the success of your car photography. A Land Rover for example would look great in the Scottish Highlands. However a Fiat 500 in that same location? Would it be more suited to being photographed in a quaint little village? or a city? Make your location appropriate to the type of car you are photographing and you should be on to a winner.

Get in Close

lambo and v8 details of cars

Examples of car detail shots

As you can see by the above shots getting in close with a macro lens produces great results. You should photograph all the interesting little details such as the alloy wheel branding, the badge on the bonnet etc as they are the parts that make that car unique. The emblems of high performance vehicles are as iconic as the cars themselves. They encapsulate everything that the brand is about so getting details shots of these is very important.

Don’t get in the shot!

The paintwork of a car after it has just been cleaned is very reflective. Study the car carefully and see what distractions are being reflected on it’s surface. Taking your car to an open space to photograph it can be a really good idea. This will minimise the amount of distractions that can be reflected and visible in your shot. Avoid buildings and especially yourself being in the resulting image. Nothing looks more unprofessional in car photography than the photographer reflected in the paintwork.

Another idea is to use a polarising filter. These are designed to minimise reflections and glare. By simply turning the circular filter you will cut out any glare or horrible reflections, removing images of clouds or trees from the paintwork. A polarising filter means you can get close to the car without ruining the shot. Detail shots of car badges etc will look so much better if they are isolated and the viewer can just focus on the actual intention of your photograph.

Use leading Lines

Wherever you take your car to be photographed you should experiment with leading lines. Leading lines are lines within the image that draw the viewers attention to a particular subject. For example if you were out in the countryside you could use the lines of a dirt track. Equally if you find a disused road or part of a car park you can use the road markings to draw the eye.

Going Wide

Strapping on a wide angle lens can be great for close up shots and also useful to add an imposing feel to your imagery. It can be equally useful for interior shots where space is limited. However you should be careful not to distort the car too much. You don’t want to ruin the lovely curves that the designer at Ferrari spent years crafting simply because you are using the wrong lens.

Mid Day Sun

Shooting in the mid day sun can be great for sharp shots but it will present challenges. You will have to deal with lots of reflections and harsh shadows especially for close up shots. Fortunately there are solutions such as holding a large diffuser just below the lens. This will reflect back on to the paint work rather than the ground for example. This then creates a really detailed shot that is free from distractions. Using a diffuser can also be a great way of stopping the bright sun from hitting the area of the car you’re photographing. Equally by placing the car in the shade you will reduce harsh shadows and have softer light to work with.

The Bigger Picture

drone photography of a car

Example of a drone shot of a car

Got a drone? Try something different! This isn’t necessarily the best shot to take if you’re listing your car on a car buying website but it can be a really fun one to hang on your wall. The impressiveness of this image will depend a lot on the road you choose to photograph your car on. Take the above image for example, it looks truly epic with the winding road. Equally it doesn’t have to be your car and will be a lot easier to take if you’re not driving at the same time!

Tilt Your Camera

With car photography you could always try tilting your camera to a funky angle. Be careful not to go too crazy with this technique but if you like doing this it can make for a highly dynamic image.

The Ants Perspective

Get close to the ground. We mean really close to the ground! This is a great way to create an imposing feel to the car. Equally, by using this technique it is very easy to throw the foreground out of focus. This is especially true if you were using a zoom lens at about 200mm. By doing this the foreground will be a blurry solid colour rather than crisp and full of distractions. As a result the car will take centre stage and be the main focus.

Racing Car Shots

car photographed with slow shutter speed

Example of adding motion to your car photography

A great way to add more life and excitement to your car photography is by catching a car in action. Classic car shows will typically be a good place to attempt this. They will usually have some form of race or procession of the vehicles.

The panning technique can be great for photographers to experiment with. Set a slow shutter speed such as 1/50 sec and shoot as the cars zoom past you. If you continue the motion with your body as the cars pass you and press the shutter you should get great results. This technique will freeze the movement of the cars but blur the track and background. It will make the image look as though it is more alive and give your shots a dynamic, professional looking finish.

Interior Shots

inside a car photo

Interior shot of Mercedes Benz

Getting great shots of the cars interior is an essential part of car photography. These shots can really sell the car to a prospective buyer and make for really cool imagery. With interior shots it is important to combine wide angle photographs with close ups of particular details. This will give the viewer a real sense of the car and they should be able to imagine themselves behind the steering wheel. Grab close ups of leather stitching and any emblems incorporated in to the seat design.

What time is it?

Like all good photography the right type of lighting can either make or break a shot. Ideally you want to avoid harsh lighting where possible. Shooting on an overcast day or just after sunset will be perfect. This will get you perfectly soft light and really enhance the paintwork of the car. Photographing cars at sunset will also give a nice warm glow to the surrounding scenery and produce really idyllic settings for you car to be photographed.

Background

Just like if you were taking a portrait the background of your car photography can really impact on the quality of the final image. Be mindful of distractions such as litter, bins and offensive graffiti. Distractions can really ruin the image of your car and make the image look less professional. You should look for simple but perhaps textural backdrops to photograph your car in front of. These types of backgrounds can make your car photography look effortless and natural even if you have spent hours trying to take the perfect shot.

Take photos whilst driving…

No of course we’re not saying ‘steering wheel in one hand DSLR in the other’. But if you’re a passenger this is a great opportunity to play around with shutter speed and add movement to your car photography. Obviously be mindful if other road users can see you snapping them as it might be quite distracting so it is probably best to try it if you are in a convoy with friends or family. If for example you snap a car at 50MPH with a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second it can make the road and wheels slightly blurry whilst maintaining a pin sharp car. This technique makes for really dynamic car photography as it shows the car doing what it does best on the open road.

Get Down and Get Dirty

4x4 driving through the desert

Off road vehicle in a suitable location

A great way to breathe life in to your car photography is to capture cars in action. This can work especially well for off road vehicles. Photographing cars at dedicated 4×4 obstacle courses is a great way to practice and capture high octane shots. A car on dust will make for some amazing shots. Don’t be afraid to get a little bit dirty it will be worth the effort in the final image. If you shoot at a fast shutter speed say 1/2000 of a second you can really freeze the action. Equally if you shoot an off road vehicle from low down as it tackles tough terrain it can make for very dramatic imagery.

Focus

Photographing moving subjects is always a little bit hit and miss especially with the cameras auto focus. Most of the time it is going to work and get you some lovely sharp images. However when dealing with cars travelling at 100mph+ it might be an idea to use manual focus. This way you can set the focus on an area of the road that you know the car is going to pass over. To ensure you get a sharp photo shoot at a small aperture of between f/8 and f/16. This will give you a large depth of field to play with and should result in sharp car photography.

Choose a Good Spot

This applies more if you are practicing your car photography at a track day or car show racing event. The position you choose to set up in is almost as important as anything else you will do to get the shot. Your ability to choose a good spot will effect the background, the angle of the car, the lighting, everything! Choose your position wisely and consider how these elements will effect your final image. The difference between and amateur in the crowd and a professional shot is usually down to where the photographer is standing more than anything else.

Keep it Clean

It doesn’t really matter how good you can edit photos, if the car is dirty it will be hard to clean it in Photoshop. Ensure that you clean and dry the car thoroughly. Having a chamois leather handy will be a great way to keep the car in gleaming condition. A clean and shiny car will add real professionalism to your car photography. Obviously small specks of dust can be removed in Photoshop or Lightroom, but fingerprints and larger marks are easier to remove at the shooting stage.

In To The Darkness

night photography at slow shutter speeds

Example of slow shutter photography

Night time car photography can be amazing and you will blow people away with the results. This technique is relatively simple but will require a little experimenting to achieve epic results. A good tip with this method is to find somewhere that is completely dark. Residual light from the city or the moon could have a negative impact on the final result. A tripod is essential here as you will be working with slow shutter speeds. Place your camera on a tripod. Set your ISO to 100 or its lowest setting and a shutter speed of 30 seconds. Use manual focus and set your aperture to around f/5.6. You can also use a wireless remote to trigger the shutter as this will limit any vibrations. As soon as the shutter opens take a torch and walk around the car shining the light on it.

You can experiment with changing the settings in order to get different results. For example you could set a slightly quicker shutter speed of say 1/10 of a second and use coloured lights to draw around your car. Whatever you choose to do have fun with it and you will be amazed by what can be produced with this simple technique.

Real Camera or Iphone?

This is one that divides opinion not just in car photography but the industry as a whole. A camera phone will do a perfectly serviceable job of photographing your car in good lighting conditions. However where the DSLR still wins out is when the light becomes scarce later in the day. The low light capabilities of a DSLR still annihilate those of the camera phone. If you want to experiment with low light car photography then the ‘real camera’ is still the winner in our eyes.

Depth of Field

Whilst it can be tempting to get the whole car in focus it can also be interesting to play around with depth of field. Try shooting the car at a wide aperture from the front for example and send the rest of the image out of focus. This can really help isolate a particular aspect of the vehicle and draw the viewers eye.

Flashy Car Photography

One area of photography where flashes are guaranteed to add drama to an image is car photography. Artificial lighting with coloured gels can add real dynamism and a pop of colour to an other wise boring car photo. Experiment with flashes and your Nissa Micra could end up looking like something from the future.. (maybe not quite). Equally if you are shooting at sunset and using flashes you can light your car whilst also capturing the glorious colours in the sky.

Rule of Thirds

As with all forms of photography rule of thirds can be really important for successful composition. Within the area of car photography this would apply for all types of shots from the small details to the overall shot of the car. Rule of thirds composition can be appealing to the eye and make for a more successful photograph if executed correctly.

Photograph My Good Side

audi r8 car photography

Shooting the car with the wheels turned

One of the best angles to photograph a car is from the front but at a slight angle like the above image. This method can show a lot of the cars fine details in one single shot, such as the wheels, grille, bonnet and side panels. Additionally this technique will minimise the chances of you being reflected in the paintwork. When you are manoeuvring the car be sure to turn the wheels in a way that they can be seen in the final image. This simple trick will look like your photograph really means business whilst also displaying another detail of the alloy wheels.

Make Photoshop Your New Friend

Creating your own unique style of car photography is as much about pressing the shutter as it is about the post production. Lightroom or Photoshop can play a massive role in how your image ends up looking. You can accentuate highlights, darken or brighten shadows, the possibilities are endless.

We would always recommend keeping your editing consistent but it is always good to experiment when you are starting out. A great tip would be to keep your editing relevant to the car much like our earlier tip about location. A black sports car might suit a dark and dramatic editing style. Whereas a red Mini Cooper could be more suited to a light and airy editing style. Your choice of location will have a bearing on which editing style you choose but the key is to experiment and see what works best.

Get Out There and Start Shooting!

The purpose of this blog post was to give you some insight in to the world of car photography.

Whilst the featured photographers are obviously masters of their craft they all had to start somewhere. We hope that this article has been both inspirational and informative.

We don’t expect you to follow our tips to the letter and would always expect you to think outside the box. However, our intention is to get you thinking differently about photography and the various techniques you can use.

Hopefully by considering some of the points discussed in this post you will be well on your way to taking stunning automotive shots.

If you think there is anyone we have missed off our list of featured photographers or any additional top tips drop us a comment.

We are always striving to make our articles as helpful and informative as possible for up and coming photographers.


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