There are so many types of photography to fall in love with, such as landscapes, products, and portraits. One genre that combines all of these is automotive photography, and that’s what makes it so exciting and daunting.
Photos of cars do amazingly well on Instagram, VSCO, and everywhere else you post photos online. As long as you have your own car, it’s like having a subject on you at all times, so it gives you lots of practice opportunities.
Here are our tips for getting the best possible photos of cars.
1. Turn the Headlights On
This sounds like the simplest tip out there, but it’s amazing how many times we see a car against a gorgeous landscape, but the photographer forgot to turn on the lights. The headlights and taillights are the biggest parts of a vehicle’s personality, so taking a photo with them off is like taking a photo of a beautiful model without their face.
Even if you are shooting on a bright, sunny day, the headlights give the viewer something to draw their eyes to.
Take the photos above for example. With the taillights off, the photo still looks great with good framing and lighting and shows off the shape of the car. With the lights on, however, it adds a whole new element to the photo with the taillight matching the color of the beautiful sunset in the background.
This one simple tip can make all the difference.
2. Learn the Vehicle’s Best Angles
The next most important part of a car’s personality is its stance and body lines. In order to get the best photos possible, walk around the vehicle at your shooting location and get comfortable framing the vehicle at each angle.
It’s also helpful to see how the sun hits the car at each angle, which can make for some incredible photos depending on the car’s color and can accentuate the body lines extremely well.
To get you started, here are a few of the most popular angles to shoot a car’s exterior: the front, front three-quarters, the rear, and rear three-quarters.
As mentioned in the above section, the headlights and taillights are some of the most important parts of a vehicle photograph. Close-ups of the headlights and taillights make for some very cool photos, and the front and rear three-quarters are what you’ll shoot to show off the full length of the vehicle and its body lines.
The more you get to know the car’s best angles, the better photos you’ll get.
Using a tripod can help you get sharper images while the vehicle is in motion. Here are a few things to consider when buying your first tripod.
3. Choose a Beautiful Background and Foreground
Pay close attention to where you’re shooting the car; just like with product and portrait photography, the background and foreground make a huge difference. This doesn’t mean that you have to be in an area with mountains and vast scenic landscapes, although that will make for some pretty cool photos; simply be intentional about where you’re taking photos.
For example, in the photo above, the McLaren 765LT was shot with red flowers in the foreground. This made for a much more interesting photo than shooting the car straight on, and the red flowers went well with the orange paint.
You can achieve this even without flowers. The photo of the red Mazda 3 was taken with an 85mm lens since it was not in a very scenic part of town; the compression blurred the background well, while still giving some color and texture to the photo. Instead of warm tones, the photo came out more rustic with the fall leaves in the foreground and the dark brown home in the background.
Be intentional with your choice of background and foreground to get beautiful results.
4. Experiment With Unique Composition
After getting to know the vehicle’s best angles, it’s time for you to move yourself to areas that give your photo a unique perspective.
Shooting at a lower angle can be a great way to show a sports car’s low stance or get a beautiful reflection in a puddle. Getting a higher angle shows off more of your background and can lend itself to lifestyle shots of the vehicle; for example, this could be used when shooting a car off-road while it’s driving through dirt and over hills.
If you aren’t trying to get specific shots like the examples above, a general rule to follow is to set your camera to the height of the vehicle. Set your camera on a tripod and position it to around the height of the car’s side-view mirror. This angle gets you more professional, modern shots that are often seen from dealerships when listing cars for sale.
Check out our rules of photo composition to gather some ideas.
5. Get the Lighting Right
Lighting is a very important part of products, portraits, and of course, automotive photography. Most days when you decide to shoot, you’ll have the best natural light to your advantage: the sun; however, sunny days also come with some disadvantages. Cars with glossy paint will produce lots of reflections on the hood of the car, often resulting in a blown-out image.
Using a polarizing or UV filter on your lens will help drastically to reduce reflections, making your editing process much easier.
Using the sun to your advantage is one of the best ways to light your subject and will accentuate the body lines of the vehicle. If you want to be more intentional with this, strobe lights and even smaller, portable lights can help you light the vehicle better with more freedom. Experiment with the light in ways that will affect the shadows or make the color of the paint pop.
If you’re new to using artificial lighting on subjects, here are some of our best tips for using strobe lights in or out of the studio.
Step Up Your Automotive Photography
Automotive photography really is a combination of shooting landscapes, products, and portraits, which is great because it gives you the skills to get better at every single one of those genres.
It teaches you to position and light your subject, play around with colors in the background and foreground, and your car is a model that will always be there for you when you want to take some cool photos. Continue practicing shooting in various locations, and master your craft.