5 Car Photography Tips and Tricks

Happy belated new year! Its been a little while since the last blog but we’re starting it back off with 5 car photography tips and tricks. Shout out to Timmy Allen (@anotherdaily_wrx) for the suggestion.

One: Focus

I’m kicking this list off with the basics. Nailing the focus is key to a good image.

‘Well duh, we already know this’, I can hear you saying but stay with me.

Imagine looking at each image and it was slightly blurry - it’d drive you mental, right? I know I’d rather look at a poorly composed but well focused shot than the other way around and there are a few little tricks to getting it right.

For static shots I always shoot with a single auto-focus (AF) point, allowing me to take control over where the camera will focus. By placing the AF point over the closest headlight/taillight I’m able to produce consistent results each time.

Two: Circular Polarising Filter (CPL)

Adding a CPL to my gear list provided both the greatest improvement to my raw images and the biggest challenge in learning how to use it. My CPL lives on my lens now and only comes off when its too dark to be effective.

A quick note for those unfamiliar with a CPL - CPLs are like polarised sunglasses for your camera and are designed to cut glare from reflective surfaces (i.e. cars, glass, water etc). The circular part refers to the ability for the filter to rotate and change the level of polarisation.

Applied to car photography this allows you to chose where to put the reflections and where to cut them out with just a twist of the filter. For example, I’ll either chose to have the reflections cut on the windscreen allowing you to see right through to the driver/seats/steering wheel or to have the reflections cut on the side of the car that accentuate colours/body lines etc. You can see in the shot below, I chose to cut reflections on the windscreen so we can see those seats and the roll cage.

Three: Check your background / reflections

Distracting backgrounds or reflections are one of the easiest ways to ruin a good photo I reckon.

when I was first starting out I’d always forget to check my backgrounds for distracting or annoying things - take the image below for example.

I was super pumped about this image, the car is beautiful and I was really enjoying how the set turned out. Showing a colleague this shot, the first thing out of his mouth was “Is that a camp chair?”

Dammit.

I was so focused on the car that I didn’t take the time to realise the super distracting camp chair in the background.

Ever since I try to pay special attention to everything in the frame from pieces of rubbish (kick them out of the way) to other people looking at the car (patience is key) or my fat head in the reflection of a bonnet (change composition).

Being aware of this will at best save you from extra work in Photoshop and at worst will cost you a great photo.

Four: Bracket Images

Cars present a challenge for the light meter built in to all modern camera with some parts of the car bright and others really dark. The camera will try to average these readings out, often resulting in under or over exposed images.

Bracketing images refers to the process of taking multiple shots at different exposures. The amount of images and the number of stops difference will depend on the settings. I’ll typically bracket 5 shots with 1 stop difference in exposure.

Bracketing suits static shots and is best used with a tripod as you don’t want the subject moving between images for the best result.

I won’t go into much more detail on the technical side but wanted to explain, in real terms what does it do?

By bracketing the shots, details in the highlights such as skies and bright body panels are preserved, and details in the shadows typically wheels/grills are also captured.

Combining the in post, allows you to access all of this data and add in as much detail as you want.

There is no way I would have been able to draw out the same level of detail in the image below with a single exposure so instead I bracketed the image.

Five: Learn how to edit and practice

Opening any photo editing software for the first time can be an incredibly daunting thing. There’s a thousand things you could adjust and you’ve got no clue what any of them do.

Persevere through this pain though and take the time to learn because editing will have the biggest impact on your photography, turning your work from snapshots into emotive images.

Editing images allows you to bring the vision in your head to life. The reality is photos typically look flat and boring out of camera. Don’t believe me? Look at the image below.

This is the original image - looks horrible! It’s washed out full of distracting elements and is way too dark. Using both Lightroom and Photoshop, I was able to manipulate the image to match the vision in my head.

A short time later, I’m able to share the vision that has been bouncing around in my head since pressing the shutter button and taking the shot. To me, its one of the best parts of photography.

This process will be something I continue to refine and develop over the years as my knowledge grows and my style changes.

YouTube is your best friend with millions of videos covering the topic of photo editing. Start small, go easy on the sliders and you’ll be amazed at the difference.

Bonus Tip: Make sure the car is clean!

Not so much of a photography tip as such, but making sure the car is clean before you start shooting make your life stacks easier and improve the quality of the images dramatically. I’ll bring along some quick detail spray and microfiber towels to most shoots to touch up where needed meaning way less time in Photoshop later.

So there you have it, five car photography tips and tricks. Any I missed or ones you want to know more about? Let me know!