5 tips from the pros for taking better photos of cars

Retro car parked in old European city street
Photo by symbiot/Shutterstock

Come across a Lamborghini in the supermarket parking lot and want photographic evidence to share with your friends? Or maybe you’re selling your own car and want to take some glamour shots of it to help attract more bids.

Whatever the reason you’re attracted to automotive photography, there are certain techniques and approaches that can help you take better pictures in this creative niche.

Roam New Roads caught up with two professional photographers, both of whom are no strangers to shooting four-wheeled subjects, and asked them for pointers. Here’s what they shared.

Pay close attention to details

”You always want to be careful of details,” cautions George Bucur, a photographer who has worked for BMW Canada and Driving Emotions, a high-end Toronto-based auto shop, among others. “What a lot of stuff people miss, for example, is they leave one of the sunshades down, the windows are open—little things like that that kind of take away from the picture.”

Shoot close-ups

Bucur also recommends sometimes focusing on specific parts of a car to show off details. “My favourite thing to shoot on a car is definitely the headlights,” he shares. “I shot a Mercedes S63 coupe, and it has Swarovski crystals in the headlights… how many cars have crystals in their headlights?” Photographer Liz Leggett— whose photos have graced the pages of glossies Revolution Motorcycle Magazine, Canadian Hot Rods Magazine, as well as Postmedia newspapers—shares similar advice. “Get really up close and personal with the details of a car,” she says. “A car is almost like its own being,” she continues. “The thing that makes us all different are our little details and our little differences.”

Make the most of lighting during “golden hour”

“Photography’s all lighting,” Leggett states, noting that her favourite time of day to shoot is during “the golden hour,” which occurs around sunrise and sunset. “Depending on the time of year, it’s between five and seven o’clock,” she ballparks. “It’s an hour where the light just goes to this kind of hazy perfectness,” says Leggett. “Get there early enough to pace around the car, shoot the car, figure out what angles of the car you like, and then when the golden hour’s there, shoot those shots that you like… in that light—just pay attention to where your shadows are and where the highlights are,” she adds. To figure out when the golden hour will occur in your area, try using the calculator at www.golden-hour.com.

Don’t forget the background

Sure, the vehicle may be the main focus of your photos, but the background can play an important part in the composition of your shots. “Crouch down and use the shape of the vehicle or your angles to maybe hide or highlight different aspects of your background,” Leggett instructs. And if you can choose where you’re going to shoot a particular car, Leggett suggests selecting an environment that either complements a vehicle or provides an interesting visual contrast. “If you have a very sleek, black car with minimum details, perhaps shoot it in front of a wall of graffiti,” she says by way of example.

Learn how to pan

Not all subjects will be at a standstill—cars were meant for driving, after all. Try the panning technique to emphasize motion when capturing a moving car. For the best results, Leggett says you should shoot with both eyes open: one looking through the viewfinder, the other looking directly at the subject. “Lock your focus onto the vehicle,” she says. Then, keep panning so the car stays in your viewfinder. Whether you’re going from left to right or vice versa, shoot midway through your pan. Even after you’ve clicked the shutter, don’t forget to follow through. The result, if done properly, should be a car sharply in focus and a background with motion blur.

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