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Photography - Car Photography

Updated on August 30, 2012
Sepia Tone Photo of the front of a Lamborghini.
Sepia Tone Photo of the front of a Lamborghini.

Photography - Car Photography

Photography is a hobby that many millions around the world dedicate a large portion of their life too. Another passion a lot of people have is the love of cars. Cars are a thing of beauty. They are mechanically wonderful; they have made the world smaller in such a wonderful way. As technology evolves the design of cars have become more and more beautiful and more and more stunning.

As a regular photographer I personally love to shoot cars. They are cold hard metallic dangerous machines, but shot in the right angle they are a thing of magnificent beauty. In this article I am going to give a few tips about taking photos of cars and some key “do’s and don’ts.”

Where to shoot

When shooting a photograph of anything that is not your personal possession or public property, be very careful. If I saw a stranger taking a photo of my car down the street I might start to think why are they taking the photo? Maybe it’s because my car is beautiful or maybe they are taking the photo for a more sinister reason. Maybe they are taking a photo of the lock so they know what tools to bring back later to break in? Maybe they are taking a photograph of my car to pull all my information based on the registration plate. There are many maybes, and many people might get very agitated if you are taking a photo of their car. Be careful.

I find a great place to take photos of cars is car shows. In London a great annual show is MPH. This is a vast show, (run by the team from Top Gear), which showcases hundreds of the most beautiful cars. Alternatively I am sure you will be able to go to a local car show in your area. You will tent to find ‘classic car’ shows are the most popular type and often the best to take your camera too. Car show rooms are often happy to let you play inside their showroom with your camera; especially if you talk to a salesman as well and talk about buying the car you are photographing.

Angles

When shooting photos of a car there is one fact that in my opinion is the most important. Don’t assume you need to photograph the whole car. This is really only a good idea if you are shooting for a car advert! To get a good shot of the whole car you often need to be elevated at a specific level away from the car and you need to have nothing obstructing you in the background. By all means play around with the whole body of the car but it is not the only option. Try to shoot the car from different angles. Try to photograph the interesting curves in the body of the car. Look for the beauty in the shapes. In the photographs below you will see I have taken shots of different parts of cars. Sometimes the focus is the wing mirror, other times the headlights at the front of the car. The bonnet and the bumper can be great photo, and don’t be afraid to eliminate the colour (by converting to a black & white photo) if you are trying to really focus on the shapes. In the photos below this is what I have focussed on.

This Photograph of a bonnet of a car is not fully sharp. The hint of blurriness gives the perception of speed even though the car is stationary.
This Photograph of a bonnet of a car is not fully sharp. The hint of blurriness gives the perception of speed even though the car is stationary.
Shooting is Sepia tone or Black and White changes the impression of any photo.
Shooting is Sepia tone or Black and White changes the impression of any photo.
I have only photographed the very front of this classic car as there is enough to focus on in this symmetrical shot.
I have only photographed the very front of this classic car as there is enough to focus on in this symmetrical shot.
Shooting from this angle really highlights the curved shape of the car.
Shooting from this angle really highlights the curved shape of the car.
The wing mirror's shape is highlighted by bright lighting from the right. Use lighting to your advantage.
The wing mirror's shape is highlighted by bright lighting from the right. Use lighting to your advantage.
Here i have varied the focus. This works well if you are trying to show the "softness" of a car.
Here i have varied the focus. This works well if you are trying to show the "softness" of a car.
These photograph shows most the length of the car. The vertical perception helps to show off certain features of the car.
These photograph shows most the length of the car. The vertical perception helps to show off certain features of the car.
Shooting from an obscure angle will pick up details that will often be missed.
Shooting from an obscure angle will pick up details that will often be missed.
This style of photograph shows the softness of the curves and the harshness of the metallic exhaust pipe underneath.
This style of photograph shows the softness of the curves and the harshness of the metallic exhaust pipe underneath.
This photo is more focused on lines and shapes.
This photo is more focused on lines and shapes.
Colour can inspire thought about who would do that to a car? You can get your viewers to think this way about many features you see.
Colour can inspire thought about who would do that to a car? You can get your viewers to think this way about many features you see.

Atmosphere

Another key factor is atmosphere. Maybe you are fortunate to be somewhere there is a buzz about a car. Maybe the car is placed on a pedestal above everything else. A favourite photo among photographers is showing the buzz of headlights going past. Maybe the car is on fire? In the photos below this is what I have focussed on.

This photo was taken in a car show. It displays the car in a unique way.
This photo was taken in a car show. It displays the car in a unique way.
A dark background and reflective dark floor help bring out the dramatic nature of this photograph.
A dark background and reflective dark floor help bring out the dramatic nature of this photograph.
Sometimes a blur of heads at the bottom of a photograph gives the impression of being a show. This can be bad as shows the photograph was badly taken, or good to build up the excitement of what is being centrally displayed.
Sometimes a blur of heads at the bottom of a photograph gives the impression of being a show. This can be bad as shows the photograph was badly taken, or good to build up the excitement of what is being centrally displayed.
Cars on fire are always fun to shoot.
Cars on fire are always fun to shoot.
Once again. Always fun to photograph.
Once again. Always fun to photograph.

Details

A final area which is great to play with in cars is details. Try to photograph a specific localised area of a car such as the headlights or the engine spark plugs. Details are a great place to start with when experimenting with car photography. Be aware not to photograph registration plates on the street if you plan to distribute images. This can be an offence in some countries. The photos below are focused on details of a car.

The detail of the Mercedes sign is always a popular photograph.
The detail of the Mercedes sign is always a popular photograph.
When photographing a manufacturers sign you don't always need to play your colours true.
When photographing a manufacturers sign you don't always need to play your colours true.
This was art work on the bonnet of the car. The focus of this photo moves totally away from cars.
This was art work on the bonnet of the car. The focus of this photo moves totally away from cars.
These four exhaust pipes from a Pagani Zonda create a powerful symmetrical image.
These four exhaust pipes from a Pagani Zonda create a powerful symmetrical image.
This details of the exhaust is very reflective and that makes it more colourful.
This details of the exhaust is very reflective and that makes it more colourful.
The detail of the grill makes you wonder what car this is from?
The detail of the grill makes you wonder what car this is from?
The colour of the photograph makes the car look dirty, or maybe to somebody it looks vintage?
The colour of the photograph makes the car look dirty, or maybe to somebody it looks vintage?
Wheels are always interesting to photograph because of the detail they hold.
Wheels are always interesting to photograph because of the detail they hold.
Hub caps are also interesting to photograph. They are often the pride of people's cars.
Hub caps are also interesting to photograph. They are often the pride of people's cars.
Lights are also fun to photograph. Many cars have very unique shaped lights.
Lights are also fun to photograph. Many cars have very unique shaped lights.
This photo show the reflection of lights off the bonnet of the car. You can also see some subtle art work on the bonnet.
This photo show the reflection of lights off the bonnet of the car. You can also see some subtle art work on the bonnet.
This photo focuses on art work on the body of the car.
This photo focuses on art work on the body of the car.
This photo focuses on the advertising style marketing on the side of the car.
This photo focuses on the advertising style marketing on the side of the car.
Engine parts are interesting to photograph.
Engine parts are interesting to photograph.
Why not try shooting through the engine grills at the front of the car.
Why not try shooting through the engine grills at the front of the car.
Sound systems are another part of the car that not often seen. They can be fun to photograph.
Sound systems are another part of the car that not often seen. They can be fun to photograph.

I hope you have enjoyed my photographs, and my article about car photography. If you have taken any yourself I’d love to see them!

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