Car photography

OK, now this is not becoming a photoblog, but in the interests of fostering some enthusiasm for car ownership, I thought this’d be a worthwhile exercise.  I love hosting the Saab O The Week section of this site and I’m very excited about showcasing some of the best Saab photography around, taken by Saab owners and enthusiasts, in the desktop calendar series this year.

I therefore thought it worthwhile to extract a few photo tips from my own resident lens genius, Stu. I’m hoping that these might help those of you that are interested in taking more photos of your car.  I’ve done a few photography courses with Stu and personally, I’ve learned that a few basic tips can go a long way toward improving your images. 

So, over to Stu:

G’day!,   Swade has asked me to provide you all with some tips on photographing your cars.  Despite Swade’s glowing testimonials I’m certainly no expert, but here’s a few things that I’ve discovered while firing off a few frames that may help you all.

  • If you’re photographing a moving vehicle you don’t need to have a fast shutter speed or expensive camera to get that standard crisp shot, you can use a slower shutter speed and pan the camera with the car as it moves. This will create the nice blurred background and give that sense of movement and speed.
  • Shooting on an overcast day gives a nice diffused light and rich colours.  It also may give some good looking clouds for some interest in the sky.  I’ve found it’s easier to edit shots with your imaging software when they have been taken in the even light provided by overcast conditions. Sunrise and sunset can provide some great backdrops for your photos. Just be at your location well before the sun starts setting so you’ve got plenty of time to get set up.  Be aware you may only have a few moments to get those magic shots as the sun goes down.

  • Get up close to the car,  take shots of the detail.  Eg. Badges, lights, spoilers, Alloys etc.
  • If you’ve got an SLR, get yourself a Polarising filter, this will cut down flares and reflections off shiny surfaces and enhances the colour. Using a Polarising filter cuts down the amount of light getting through to the film or sensor so you may need to use a tripod in lower light conditions.
  • If you’re not sure exactly how to frame your shot, it’s always better to take a wider shot than you may think as you can easily crop it down later.
  • Don’t tell your wife that you’ll be back from your shoot in time for dinner, as this cannot be guaranteed and will only cause marital problems. (Sorry Janey!!  My fault – SW)
  • If you find a great location but you have a feeling that perhaps you shouldn’t be parking a car there, then perhaps you should get permission from the land/property owner before you set up (just ask Swade!)
  • If you’re shooting digital and you’ve got the perfect sunset shot, put your camera on a tripod, take a shot metering off the sunset, then take a second shot metering off the vehicle.  Throw them both into Photoshop and stick ’em together. This gives a great result.  (Sorry guys , I’m presuming you’ll have some idea of how to do that as I’d be here all day if I had to go into detail).  This technique was used on the shot below.
  • Try to make friends with a staff member of your local Photo lab (Very important).
  • If working with Digital, then shots can come back looking a little flat.  It’s easy to give them a tweak using your imaging software. Turning up the Saturation, adjusting the Brightness and adding some Contrast will give them more life.
  • Use a Canon camera (only joking!!!)
  • If using a flash remember that you may get some ugly, bright, flares and reflections off the number plates.  You may need to change your position to ensure this doesn’t occur, or take off the plates!
  • If shooting in the middle of the day, in bright sunshine, you need to park the vehicle either in the full sun or completely in the shade.  Large shadows going across the car will only cause you problems with exposure and looks a bit ordinary.
  • Black or dark coloured vehicles are going to cause you some problems with your exposure.  I’d love to give you the answer to taking great shots of dark vehicles but I’d only make a fool of myself.  On the outing with Swade and Drew I found that with Drew’s Black 900 I needed to meter off the surroundings to get his car looking good.
  • Try some different angles. Take a small step ladder with you, dig a hole, shoot from on top of another car, lay down on the ground, get up on a the shoulders of a passer-by!
  • When going out on a photo shoot you must always ride in the beautiful SAAB  that you will be taking photos of.  Do not drive to the location in your own Automatic Toyota Camry sedan,  this will only leave you with a very hollow, feeling as you limp home, with a tear running down your cheek. (From personal experience)

For those interested in photographic equipment, all photos I’ve been taking recently have been on a Canon EOS 350D Digital Camera (though I’m hoping to upgrade to a more professional Canon outfit sometime in the near future). It has a 18-55mm (28-80 equivalent) Zoom Lens, and for car shots I screw on a Polarising filter.  I have a Skylight filter permanently attached to the lens both for protection and for those overcast days.

I use a tripod and cable release as much as I can though I love the freedom of handholding the camera.

I’ve still got my film setup but love the digital, with my 1GB card I can currently take about 400 shots at the medium level.  I use the quantity to get the quality.

I’ve been editing most of my shots in Photoshop 7.0.  Its not an easy program to use at first but I’m gradually getting the hang of it.

I hope this helps you a bit, take it easy!


And if I can add my two cents worth as well (which I can), I’d say the following:

  • Using your imaging software, try converting a few of your shots to black and white.  You might be amazed at some of the moodiness that can creep into the shot, adding interest.
  • If you’re really interested in photography, then you’re photos can only ever be as good as the glass you’re looking through to take them.  Invest in your equipment.
  • Always use a Nikon camera (haha Stu!!)
  • The light is "coolest" during the first few hours after sunrise and in the few hours before sunset.  This is when the shadows are grey, rather than black, and using this time of day will most likely provide you with more consistent results (as well as some dramatic sky in your background)
  • One of the greatest tips I ever got was to "Dance the 3-step".  A lot of people take shots with the subject centred and an even amount of surrounding space to the left, right, top and bottom.  "Dancing the 3-step" means that you set up your shot where you normally would and then take 3 steps forward, to fill the frame with your subject.  You can also take 3 steps back from your original spot too, in order to open up the vista surrounding the subject too.
  • Placing the car to one side of a panoramic view can allow more of the view to be seen, see below (tho this photo has a number of other flaws, it demostrates the point OK):
  • Have fun!!

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  1. Hi. Any tips for shooting cars in showrooms?Full car shots.Trying to minimise reflections from lights and other cars,etc.Polariser has limited success.Thanks

  2. Hey Michael. Good tip for lighting car photography especially in a crowded car environment. 1) Wait until the evening and light it yourself, more control. 2) Flags are you friend, and if none of that works you maybe able to request to have the car moved to a better location whether it be outside or a private studio. Good luck

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