How To Take Better Pictures Of Your Car

Have you ever wanted to take your automotive photography to the next level?  Use these four easy, yet incredibly powerful tips to dramatically improve your images.

1) Choose the right location

The location you choose for your shoot is going to be one of the most important factors in making your images amazing. It is essential to tying your image together.  The wrong location can be like trying to take a one year old's birthday picture in an assembly line plant. It just doesn't fit. Even with perfect composition, lighting and angles you can still have a technically great but boring picture. This is your opportunity to express your creativity and take your automotive photos from "blah" to "Wow!"

Choose a location that is free of distracting elements such as trash cans, telephone poles, radio towers, etc. Then find a location that matches your cars personality.

So how do you know what location fits your car? You need to take into account the color of your car and the type of your car.

You should try to find a background that compliments your car color without letting it blend in too much.  Let's look at some examples. The following two images are examples where the car blends in to the surrounding background colors. To make these image better, these cars should have been placed in a location that had a background to make the car "pop" a little more. The primary focus of the image is your car. It needs to stand out against the background.

Now let's take a look at how using the cars paint color with a similar background color can make the car stand out to become your focal point. In this case, the car color matches a small piece of the mural in the background therefore making this Tahoe really stand out.

In this example, the car is white and the background colors are dark. This contrast in background and subject makes the Charger easily the main focus of this image.

The next step in choosing the location for your car's photo shoot is finding a background that matches the personality of your car. What is it that makes your car interesting? What is it's natural habitat?  If you have a truck, Jeep, rally car for example, you might consider selecting a rugged outdoor scene. If you have a sports car, you might consider a cityscape. Really take this time to becoming creative by thinking about what you intend to convey about your car.

Large trucks, like this Dodge Ram are often that is often known for their abilities to go in rough places, be work trucks and overall great for the outdoors. This location is perfect for representing all of those qualities.

2) Choose the best lighting for your shoot

Lighting is a crucial element to proper photography of any kind no matter what your subject is (cars, people, pets, buildings, etc.). So what makes good lighting? You want to look for environments that will reduce glare from the car exterior, remove harsh shadows and add interest.

Naturally, you might think the more light, the better. While having sufficient light is necessary, that is not always the case. Typically you want to avoid any type of harsh lighting situations. This would mean shooting in the open sun ( meaning an area that does not provide any shade) in the middle of the day.

If you cannot avoid shooting during the middle of the day, try looking for large areas of shade or shooting on a cloudy day. If you have advanced Photoshop skills, you can always add in a fake sky to remove the gloomy look. (That will be covered in a different tutorial.)  Try thinking outside the box when it comes to looking for shade. For example, parking garages are a great option when shooting during the day.

You can also find large areas of shade under trees, behind large buildings, etc.

Shooting when the weather is gloomy and overcast is great way to diffuse the harsh light.

You can easily add appeal and drama to your images by choosing interesting elements like golden hour (sunset/sunrise times)  and stormy conditions.

3) Add interesting angles and composition

Let's take a look at the two pictures above of my Challenger. In the top image (with the stormy sky) I was standing (slightly bent over and forward) to get the angle you see. As a result, you (the viewer) are above the car. This gives you the feeling superiority by looking down on the car. In the bottom image (with the sunset), I was lying flat on my stomach and my Challenger is actually higher than me giving the Challenger a more aggressive and powerful appeal. Also, by lying on my stomach and photographing the bottom picture above, this perspective will enhance your depth of field.

Look for unique ways to frame your shot. Get creative here.

You have probably heard of the rule of thirds. It is a basic composition technique that you should also apply to automotive photography. In the image below, the anchor point of the Subaru  (the emblem on the grill) is locked in the anchor point of the bottom right third of the image.

4) Make little adjustments before you take your shot

  • Before you take your shot, check your frame for any small distractions you might have missed. Sometimes you can find a simple fix like using your car to block the distractions or adjusting your position.
  • Straighten your tires. Unless you are specifically demonstrating your car turning or going through a curve, you will want to straighten your tires or adjust for only a small turn in the tires.
  • Turn your headlights on. It adds emphasis to your car.

By using these four tips you can dramatically improve your automotive photography skills. We will later build upon these skills and show you post processing techniques that will advance your photography even further.