Car Photography

Photographing cars using strobes and available light

Photographing cars has always been notoriously difficult for me as a photographer. People want more than just a snap shot of their vehicles and getting photos that stand out as being professional, takes quite a bit of planning. I have photographed cars for magazines before and the brief is always different. Check out my blog entry Magazine Christmas cover Photography to see a sexy Santa and some classic cars.

bmw 320i photograph

This is a work in progress and I am learning as I go, which is one of the wonderful things about photography. There are so many avenues that you can pursue as a photographer. Portraits, wildlife, sports, landscapes and fashion are just some of the fields that if you take time to learn and specialise in, you can stand out from the pack. I must admit that cars are a soft spot for me although I specialise more in other fields, so when the opportunity arises to photograph cars, I leap at the chance.

The story

I was asked to photograph some cars and so looked at locations around Auckland City. There are so many possibilities when photographing cars. Rather than go all close and funky with weird angles, I decided that a traditional composition might be more what the client was after. I remembered a location that I had been to a while back that would give nice views of the city in the background if the cars were parked in the right place. I thought this could work especially well if there was a good sunset. I like to photograph cars out of the direct sun and have control over the lighting using strobes (flashes) if I can. This way I can create any mood or feel that I want.

Mitsubishi Evo 5 photo night

With the location sorted, I had to plan what gear I was going to take and what angles I was going to photograph from to get the best overall images. After planning out the shoot, it was just a matter of taking the photos. We set off and I have to say that I was quite impressed with the vehicle as it was a turbo and running 18psi boost. Perhaps I got a little more than I bargained for and there may have been a few white knuckle moments.

three blurred city photos

When we arrived at the location, I set up the gear and took some test shots as the sun was still too bright. After a few test shots we decided that the location needed to change slightly because of a wharf in the background which was not anticipated. I think being flexible with your planning is quite important as often things do not go the way you might think they will.

Finally the light and the location were right and the serious photography began. You have to work quickly in the setting sun as your window of good usable light is quite short. Everything was coming together nicely and we had attracted a small crowd of spectators. I even asked one or two of them to be my assistants and they eagerly helped out, so a big thanks to Dylan and Mel. After about 30 minutes and some shuffling of cars, we were done and I hope you enjoy some of the results.

Photo of subaru legacy

Tips – Things to consider when photographing cars

Location is very important! If you have your car in a great place, half of the work is done for you! You can have the nicest car and have an average location and your photo is just never going to be that good.

A car is reflective! This a something that some people may forget. Have a look at the car you are photographing and see what is being reflected. Are you getting unwanted lights or patterns? Are you getting people or yourself reflected in the body work and if so, are these reflections going to compromise your shot? Is your lighting reflecting badly and if so you may have to move your lights (strobes) so that you can get the light onto the vehicle without hot spots.

Lighting your car! Sunset is a great time to get beautiful, punchy photographs of vehicles as the light gets very directional. You can use this to bring out the contours of what you are photographing. Not just cars but people and even architecture. If you don’t want to use strobes, then this is a great time to shoot.

Subaru Natural Light photograph

Closing thought

Taking car photographs can be technical but the results can be very rewarding if the photography is done right. If you have a classic car, a favourite mechanical beast or just some vehicle that you are proud of, contact me and arrange to have it photographed and immortalized. If you would prefer to give it a shot yourself, experiment and find out what works for you. Do you use off camera flash or do you decide to photograph mid day in the desert? The possibilities are endless and you won’t know how the photos are going to turn out until you give it a try.

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