Who doesn’t love whipping out a few photos of their pride and joy to share with friends? And if your ride is truly righteous then only the most flattering shots will do. This is especially true whether you want your car to gain some notoriety among your peers in forums and social networks, you want your classified ad to fetch the best price or even have your car featured in a magazine.
Although having a professional camera and different lenses certainly makes a difference, you’d be surprised at some of the amazing shots you can get using your own digital camera or even your camera phone. Here are a few tips on nailing that “money shot” of your car or truck that will crush the competition – nothing too fancy or technical here, just some solid guidelines.
1. Don’t Let the Background Steal the Spotlight
This is the hardest element to get right in a photo because even the most amazing cars can disappear against an ugly or distracting background. A messy garage, people or parked cars in the distance, a busy street, or your house can unintentionally become focal points that can leave your car feeling more like an extra rather than the star attraction. Take a look at how cars are photographed in some of your favorite magazines and you’ll note that backgrounds always compliment or even enhance the car rather than compete with it. And that perfect backdrop is usually closer than you think, if you learn what to look for.
A quaint woodsy street in your neighborhood, a local open field, tall foliage, or textures created by stone or brick walls, as well as barns and warehouses are all good options. Just be sure you’re not getting too many reflections from trees or other objects on your car’s shiny paint. If you find a breathtaking scenic landscape remember to crop in closer to the car, otherwise people will get swept away by the amazing view. I’ve also seen some creative photos against graffiti art on building walls in the city but you have to be careful that the art doesn’t overpower your car.
2. Work the Angles
Most people are going to walk back until the car fits into the shot and then snap the photo. You don’t want to be average and neither does your ride. Get creative with your angles by trying different distances and heights. Even turning your wheels a bit gives it more interest and personality. Study up on a few magazine photos for ideas on positioning yourself and the car.
- Headlight or Eye-level Angle: Getting down on your knees so that you’re about headlight-level to the car is a popular angle used by professional photographers because it gives your car a more aggressive appearance while using the car’s own body to hide potentially distracting objects in the background.
- Bird’s Eye View: Get up on a tall ladder or shoot from a second-story window down to your car for another interesting perspective. This is great for showing off any hood art or full-body paint job.
- Bold Tilted Angles: Tilting your camera by lifting the right your left side so that your car appears diagonally across the frame can give it a motion effect, like it’s going to drive right out of the photo. But this takes a little practice to get right because if you tilt too much you’ll find yourself also tilting your head to see it correctly. If you tilt too little, then it looks like you got bumped or made a mistake while taking the shot.
- Ground Shots: Setting your camera on the ground can add an interesting foreground dimension to your photos, especially if there’s a bump or change in elevation.
3. Switch Up the Car’s Position
People want to see more than just the front of your car. Move around it, taking pictures as you go. This is really important if you have the kind of paint job that changes colors depending on where you’re standing. If you’ve done extensive work on the suspension and undercarriage, don’t forget the ramps and jack stands. Try moving your actual car or turning it around to re-position it from different sides against the background rather than just walking around it for more variation.
Nail down some good “meat and potato” shots which for a car are the front three-quarter and rear three-quarter. While kneeling or sitting down low for these positions, you should be able to see all four wheels in the photo.
4. Showcase the Details
Cars have a variety of stunning details that you can highlight. Are you proud of the model, year or trim you have? Emphasize what makes it unique! Certain years or models have instantly recognizable features like taillights, body curves, badges, grilles, gauge clusters, upholstery, shifters, wheels or headlights that you can focus on. If you’ve done any customizations be sure to capture it from a variety of angles. Don’t forget to pop open the hood and grab some engine shots, especially if it’s a main selling point or has been customized to differentiate it from other cars. Keep rags and Q-tips handy to wipe off any dust or lint that shows up uninvited.
5. Harness the Light
Avoid shooting at noon or in the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest. To your eye, the car looks great under all that bright light and you can see all the details. The problem is that cameras can’t capture as much of the dynamic range as our eyes can see so your photos end up looking like a contrasting mess. The smallest shadows look black and the bright spots are blinding. Another problem is that shiny paint will more easily reflect the sky and clouds making those areas significantly brighter relative to other parts of the car.
The best time to take outdoor photos is during what professional photographers call “the golden hour” – one hour before sunrise or sunset. When the sun is low in the sky it produces warmer tones of light in a narrower dynamic range, allowing your camera to capture an image that more closely matches what you’re seeing with your eyes.
Now get out and shoot!
While this is certainly not a complete guide to automotive photography, you’re ready to go outside, wash your cars, find a good spot and start taking some spectacular photos of your ride! If you have any of your own tips and tricks, share them in the comments.
Photo credit: Brett Levin Photography