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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