Panning for Vehicle Photography Gold!

So you picked the perfect location for your vehicle photo shoot, everything went well and it looks like you have all the shots and angles you need to make the perfect addition to your portfolio.
Then it happens.
Your customer smiles, looks at you with wide eyes and asks...
"Can we do some motion shots?"
Your only response should be, "Hells yes!"
There are two common methods used to get the job done.

The idea here is to convey a sense of speed!  Standing in a stationary position, you need to stay focused on the vehicle as it passes by you, this will keep most of the subject in focus while allowing the background to blur. The closer the vehicle is to you, the faster you will have to pan your camera to keep up.  The end result will be more background blur. Here are some important steps to take in order to achieve this amazing look:

a picture of a motorcycle travelling left through the frame at a high rate of speed
  • try to find a road that has minimal traffic. This will help to avoid a unwanted vehicles getting into your frame.  It's also safer for you as the photographer, as your mind will be on the shoot and not on the traffic around you.
  • find a spot to stand just off of the road that your subject will be travelling.
  • if the vehicle you are shooting is coming around a bend, make sure you have an assistant with you to let you know when to shoot.
  • you can adjust your shutter speed to increase or decrease the amount of motion blur.
  • use the manual focus on your lens to preselect a focal distance and be sure to use your cameras burst mode.  The autofocus feature on most cameras just can't keep up.   

Shooting From a Moving Vehicle
By focusing on the car or bike in your frame, and keeping your shutter speed fairly slow (1/60s). You get the added bonus of built in blur, and the car will end up looking clearer.
This method is usually reserved for the pros or for those with suicidal tendencies!  The way to accomplish this photographic feat would be to have someone drive your vehicle ahead of the one you are shooting and match their speed, then hang out the window and blast away!
This will require a driver for your car, a sunroof for you to hang out of, and copious amounts of life insurance!!

Using motion in vehicle photography can produce some fantastic quality shots, and is one of my favourite things to do!
In a previous article on vehicle photography, I talk a bit more about what type of lenses that are the best to use, location and the angles to shoot at. Take a look at that, but don't forget to come back and leave your comments!!
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Vehicle Photography...The 4 Most Important Tips Known to Man!

It's time to look at some of the elements involved with the art that is Vehicle Photography and how to make the most of it! 
People love their vehicles....LOVE them!  I know I loved mine! Whether you are taking shots of a vintage BSA Lightning, or brand new Aston Martin DBS, remember that you are getting up close and personal with someone's gem!  You are taking the the thing that they might care about even more than their spouse and making a permanent record of you'd better get it right!!

The first thing to pay attention to is WHERE to shoot.
Scouting a location or two prior to your shoot is priority one.  You never want to be caught looking like a fool in front of a customer! Professionalism is key. When deciding on location, try to keep a vehicle in it's element, preferably on pavement, or in the case of a ralley car, some place that vaguely resembles a road!  Taking a picture of a performance machine on grass is a no-no in my books...just like driving one on grass, it's not going to turn out very well!

Try to keep your background attractive, but never let it overpower your subject.  The focus is that sweet set of wheels, not the mountains behind it!  If you decide to take the pictures in an urban environment such as a parking lot, beware of things like painted lines or cracks in the pavement or concrete that may detract from the composition.

The next thing to look at is WHEN to shoot!
The time of day that you plan your shoot for will have a dramatic impact on your final product.  The best time to photograph someone's masterpiece is early morning, or late afternoon.  Try to avoid taking pictures at high noon, as light is always harshest around this time.  If you are taking pictures of a car that has very reflective paint, you risk overexposure on the roof area.
Another thing to remember is to try to position yourself between the sun and the automobile that you are framing, although there are exceptions to this rule.  Having the sun behind the vehicle works if you are going to be using fill flash or bracketing your photos,  because a single shot will most likely have some areas with extreme under or over exposure.

Lens choice is a very important element in getting that perfect look.  In my experience, having a 17-55mm lens works pretty well in most situations.  Using extremely wide or long lenses poses two problems:

  • using an extremely wide lens (10mm) lets you stay very close to your subject, but will distort the natural lines of the bike or car you are framing...this is no good, unless that is the specific look that you are trying to attain.
  • trying to take pictures of a vehicle with a large zoom lens is another problem simply because of room restrictions.  You may not have enough space to back up in order to get everything in the shot.
I love to use my 50mm f/1.8.  It is a fixed lens, and it takes longer to frame a shot due to the lack of a zoom function, but the image quality is far superior.  The lenses are in a fixed position, and that allows for a much clearer picture.

The angles of your photos are another important factor to consider when you take on this type of project.  A great way to find out which angles look best would be to pick up a popular car magazine, or do a quick Google search.  There's no better way to get a feel for what works than to look at photos of others who have had success in the field!  Here are a few things to consider:
  • the front 3/4 view.  Taken from an elevated point of view or very close to the ground...both will produce dramatic results.
  • the rear 3/4 view.  Nothing better than getting a look at some crazy wide meats and the business end of a custom exhaust!
  • macro shots.  This gives you the opportunity to reveal the hidden beauty of the machine before you! Details like custom interior stitching, the headlights, vehicle emblem or hood ornament are fantastic things that deserve a close look!
Vehicle photography is one of the most coveted and difficult areas of photography to get into, but can also be one of the most profitable. 
An easy but effective way to get photos of great cars or bikes is to head down to your local show and shine, and approach people that own vehicles you love!
Every vehicle has a great story behind it that a proud owner would love to share. Maybe consider offering them some free prints of their metallic masterpiece in exchange for allowing you to develop your portfolio!

Take a look at a blog post of mine that deals with how to properly compose the subject in your photos using the rule of thirds!
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