Sunday, June 12, 2016



Ok, so this may be a bit specialized, but, don't you think that every photographer, at one time has been asked to take a picture of their friend's car?  Oh, but that is an art to do that, and we are all artists in photography.  It takes some special skills to take some really good photos of your cars.  I want to take some time and go over the major steps that perhaps all of us can use to take really good photos of your favorite car.  The steps, I think, are very similar to taking portraits, but, the subject doesn't smile, it doesn't pose for you.  So, you have to make the right things happen to make this car worth more than it really is.  So, here are the basic steps to make it look fantastic:

1- Make sure your white balance is correct.
Yes, we live in a digital world, and lighting changes on us all the time.  Your camera is not capable of understanding the different types of light.  You have "daylight" light, which is the most accurate light that we work with, you have "incandescent" light, which is the usual light globe that we all have in our lamps, and they put out a very warm orange type light.  Then we have the "fluorescent" light, which  puts out some weird  
  An example of setting it incorrectly; the shot was taken with the setting from the previous night, which was correcting for tungsten lighting. This turned the whole shot blue. Don't do this! Fixing your white balance will vastly improve any photograph you take.

kind of green light.  And then you have the night "blue lights" from the street lights which are awful.  If you get what I am talking about, we have many different types of lights to work with.  As with the photo above, the camera that was used, was set for tungsten lighting the night before, then the setting was not changed when this photo was taken so everything came out blue in this picture.  Today, there are cameras that take care of the white balance automatically.  Is it accurate?  For the most part, it is, but, check your camera settings to make sure.  If you are using your cell phone settings, that is the one that often catches people by surprise, so watch that carefully. 

Also, make sure your camera is set in Aperture Priority.  Why?  The aperture of your camera controls the amount of area that is in focus.  So, if you can set your camera on aperture priority, and if possible set your f-stop number to f11, would be ideal.  You will most likely be outside for this photo shoot, so, lighting won't be a problem using this small of an aperture. 

If you don't have the ability to take pictures with aperture priority, then do the full automatic or "program" mode.  Most likely the camera will pick a high aperture because of the amount of light that will be on your subject anyway. 

2- Pick a good focal length lens
This is usually critical to bring out the great features in a car.  But, let me explain why you would pick certain lenses.  You may just have a built-in zoom lens in your camera.  Now is the time to pick a wide angle lens, and don't pick a telephoto lens to do this type of photography.  A wide angle lens will make the car's personality come out.  A telephoto lens seems to make the car look kind of squatty. 
If your car is more of a prize-fighter like this Range Rover than a supermodel, you might want to use a wider angle to exaggerate the vehicle's features

A longer focal length is sometimes more flattering to a vehicle, just like it's more flattering to most people. This was shot with a 50mm lens, which is effectively a short telephoto on a cropped-sensor digital SLR.  But, notice with a smaller car, it makes it look even more "squattier" than it probably really is.  Not very flattering.

3- Beware of shininess.
See the problems in this picture?  This person spent hours getting his car all pretty for pictures, and now he can take pictures of his car.  Yup, the grass looks great in the reflections in his car..... even worse, you can see the reflections of him in the window.  Now, I'll admit that taking pictures of a highly reflective surface can be a challenge, so, you have to solve that problem.  And that involves angle.  What is the best angle to use in taking pictures of your car?  We will talk about that in another segment.  Lets talk about first how to get rid of the reflections (although angle will be an important element). 
First thing I thought of was to use a polarizing filter.  Well, somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember in my classes, in my training from school, from the factory reps from the filter companies, there is one rule about polarizing filters.  Polarizing filters can reduce the glare and reflections off of everything EXCEPT a metallic surface.  So, if you have a polarizing filter, the only glare you will be able to reduce by using it, is the glare off the windows.  So, make sure the reflections you have in the car and good reflections.  I often look at the distractions that occur in photographs.  And that is the next rule:

4- Remove any distractions from the car, just like you would from a portrait of a person.
If you come upon a car show and you want to get a picture of a great car, wait until the crowd is gone to take the picture.  I don't know about you, but, I won't hang up a picture that has all these people in it.   Just like a portrait,  I wouldn't want a tree coming out of the car either:
What is wrong with that car manufacture that would put a tree growing out of the car?  Just not classy is it?  It takes practice looking for things that are a distraction to your photo.  Look for what is in the background, and what is in the reflections.  Reflections can be ok, if they are nice and clean.  Look for a clear sky, and maybe a few clouds. 

5-  Get away from normal eye level:
I like to look at it this way:  Your car is your baby!  When did you ever take a picture of your real baby while standing up and they were on the floor? The best pictures of your baby or child is when you got down on your knees and got at their level. So, do the same thing with your car.  Taking a picture of your car at standing level just doesn't look as good either.  All professional auto photographers say get down to the level of the car.  Kneel down, get down to the level of the car.
Do the little things like pose it a little bit (portrait ideas now).  turn the wheels, turn on the lights, even during the day, get it out on the road, get it out of the driveway.  Have it on it's own.  If you can, get it out away from anything that can distract the pose from the world, and have it on it's own.  Out on the open road is a nice touch:

Now as  I was looking at the many different poses of cars that are taken professionally, it seems that many of the pictures that are used often include a model with the car:
I am not one to add a pretty girl to the photo.  I want the merit of the car to be what I am focused on, and not the girl.  So, it is up to you on that, but, there are some pretty crazy photos of cars where the model gets all over the car in some crazy poses that totally distracts from the car.  I just don't get that.  Personally, if I owned some 500K car, no one would be laying all over my car scratching it up, no matter how good they looked.  

There are other ways to take a good view of posing the car.  But, still not from the standard standing position.  So, let's make a rule:  either down at the level of the car, or way up higher than the car:

I've seen photographers get up on ladders to take photos of the car.  That way you get to see the top of the car that a lot of people don't see very well.  It's a nice view.  And always take it from a corner of the car, never from the straight side.  Try to see 3 wheels if you can with this angle.

6- Get close and specific to highlight the features of the car:

Doesn't every car have something on the exterior that is just "sexy"?  The headlights, the taillights, the painted stripes, or something?  Take a look at your car, and what is it that you really like about the exterior?  And get the angle that gets that part along with the car, and you have a winner:

7- Take pictures of your car in motion.  Use "panning" to get a great effect.

In Photography, the word panning is the type of photography that means:  you follow your moving subject at the same rate as it is moving, while blurring out the background.  I actually like the definition that Wikipedia gives of "Panning":
When photographing a moving subject, the panning technique is achieved by keeping the subject in the same position of the frame for the duration of the exposure. The length of the exposure must be long enough to allow the background to blur due to the movement of the camera as the photographer follows the subject in the viewfinder.
The exact length of exposure required will depend on the speed at which the subject is moving, the focal length of the lens and the distance from the subject and background. An F1 car speeding along a straight might allow the photographer to achieve a blurred background at 1/250th of a second, while the photographer might need to go as slow as 1/40th to achieve the same amount of blur for a picture of a running man.[2]
The faster shutter speed allowed by fast moving subjects are easier to capture in a smoothly panned shot. With slower moving subjects, the risk is that the panning motion will be jerky, and it is also harder to keep the subject in the same position of the frame for the longer period of time.
To aid in capturing panned pictures, photographers use aids such as tripods and monopods, which make it easy to swing the camera along one plane, while keeping it steady in the others. A low budget option is to tie a piece of string around the lens, then to drop the other end to the floor and step on it to pull it taut. This will allow a little bit more stability and allow for smoother blur.[3]

Here are two more great example shots of panning.  You stand still and follow the car, have the shutter speed set at around 1/60th of a second, or even 1/40th of a second as Wikipedia suggests, and follow the car at a fairly good speed, and snap the photo.  The background will blur, but the car remains good and sharp (except the tires, but, who's noticing them).

8- Taking pictures of the interior of your car:
When looking at photos of a car, not too many people really want to see pictures of the interior of your car.  But, if you think your interior has something special, like you have done some real special remodeling, rebuilding of the interior, then maybe you should consider taking pictures of the interior.  But, here is some tips to taking pictures of the interior:
When people see the interior, they want to see more than the steering column and the surrounding area.  They want to see the whole dashboard it seems.  So, here are the rules of the game on this:  A-  there are only two places you can put your camera.  1-either where your head is, or 2- open the door and look at the interior with the front door open.  Example # 1 is a bit tough.  If you want to take a picture where your head is, you have to generally take it without you being in the front seat.  So, hopefully, you get in the back seat, put the camera where your head would be, and take the picture.  It might take several shots.  You will need a real good wide angle lens to get it all.  If you were sitting in the front seat yourself taking the picture, you would get a picture of your legs in it.  Doesn't look so good.  So, you have to get behind the seat, put the camera over the front seat and put it where your head is.  Here is an example of how that would look:

Ok, now we are going to give you the second choice:  Taking a picture of the interior with the door open, and shooting the picture from outside the car, looking down through the front door.  This way you would look all the way to the passenger door:

Hopefully, you can see the difference.  Either one is good.  In some cases, one is better than the other.  You have the choice when you take the picture.  Remember, a wide angle lens will be the key in this case.

9- Should I use a photo editing system to enhance my photo of my car?

I answer that.... why not?  Lot's of people do.  It will do a few things for you.  It will enhance the contrast.  Contrast is one thing a lot of photos lack.  That is something you can add in post production.  Special effects?  Sure, make your photos look even more snappy.  But, my feelings are:  don't change the way the car looks, just enhance the effect of the lighting, add speed effects, make it mysterious if you want, do those kind of things, but don't change the car.  Especially if you are trying to sell it. 
This type of idea is only for fun.  You will not sell your car doing this, but, you will only get your name on the list of people who do crazy photos.  Or Hollywood may come looking for you, who knows.   But, there are some cool things you can do that are subtle, that I like:
Remember the Mustang earlier in this article?  How about using the same photo, and now making it look more like a piece of art, rather than a photo?  I kind of like this effect.  This was done with PicsArt, and I am sure there are other tools out there that do something similar. 

You can use these computer tools to make an existing car do things without you even taking your car out on the road.  That makes it much more interesting. Whether it's truthful or not is up to you:

So, that is how you take photos of your car.  So many ideas, so much fun.  This article was designed to give you guidelines, and help.  There are obvious rules that are out there that I hope I have put forth to help you really show off your car.   So, try these things.  You will love your car for it.


About the author:
Article written by:  Lanny Cottrell.  He has written many articles about all different types of photography.  Currently has a daily blog on his own blog site:
Has been involved in Photography for over 25 years, been manager of a photo store, expert instructor of photography and has won national awards for his photography and locally.   Been asked to be a judge at county fair for the photography division several times.  Currently, besides working on his daily blog, takes photos of everything, and anything. 

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