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One of my biggest pet peeves? When someone spots a beautiful supercar and then gets their mate to take a photo with them standing next to it. Why are you doing this? Are we meant to believe it’s your car? Is it a memento to remind you that you were there at the time?

Whatever your logic, stop it now!

Just browsing my portfolio will tell you I’m a car nut. Give me my camera, put me in the vicinity of a rare, vintage, modern or unique car, and I’m in my element.

There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to automotive photography. It’s the scene and location which dictate the shot more than anything else. The car in question is, in most cases, irrelevant.

Motorsport photography is a whole different ball-game, requiring a different set of skills and camera settings. We’ll cover this separately another time. For now, let’s focus on static shots.

Take a Step Back

With static automotive photography, there is no rush to take the shot. The subject car isn’t going anywhere. This gives you time to take a step back and think for a moment about what it is you’re trying to capture. Is it the overall shape of the body? Is it a detail such as the headlights or the deep chrome alloy wheels?

Frame the shot using your own eyes prior to looking through the view-finder. Not happy with the composition? Then walk around the car until you find an angle or detail which pops.

Shoot the Sunny Side

If you’re shooting outside, always try to capture the side(s) of the car lit by sunlight. If you’re indoors, such as a car show, choose the side which is best illuminated by the artificial lighting. This way you’re ensuring the curves, details and paintwork are showcased at their best. Using a flashgun or built-in flash, even on a sunny day, will help the features of the car jump out that little bit more too. Shooting the shadow side of a car lends itself to a dull looking photo.

Get Down Low

If you’re shooting a relatively wide shot, such as a ¾ shot (ie, covering the front end plus the side of the car), get down low. Shooting at, or just above, ground level generally creates a much more evocative shot.

Watch Your Aperture

A shallow depth of field (low F/stop) is great for detail shots, as it draws attention to the object in focus. However, if you’re capturing a wider shot, up your F/stop to ensure you keep all of the car in focus.

What’s in the Background?

If you’re composing a wider shot, you’ll need to ensure you strike a balance between the car in shot and what’s in view behind and around it. If there’s something unsightly in the shot, think about re-framing slightly. Sometimes the background is unavoidable. If there are people around the car, play the waiting game.

For the following shot, I had to wait twenty minutes for that moment when nobody was leaning in to the car. More often than not, the wait will pay off.

Chances are, you’re photographing a car which most people will recognise. So don’t take the obvious shots such as a square-on side profile. If you want this photo, just go on to Google images. It’s been done before – a lot.

Try to capture something which you’d like hanging in a frame on your wall. My rule-of-thumb is – if I wouldn’t pay to have the shot printed and hung on my wall, then it’s not a good enough photograph.

Author – Oliver Pohlmann

Watch our video editon of this article below!

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  1. Collette says:

    Thank you for your video, very helpful. I have 36 shots to take of a car for a project and your tips are really welcome. I have no doubt they will help my composition.

  2. Matt says:

    Interesting article. I do however disagree with the ‘get down low’ advice, (if it’s your general rule). The only thing this does is subtract the hood surface, roof, truck lid, etc. from view, and possibly introduce us to a few hoses. It certainly does let us get a better view of the tarmac, though.

  3. Hi,

    Thank you for sharing the points. How can i get more information on automotive studio lighting…..?


    • We Are SO Photo says:

      Hi Satheesh. There are quite a few professional automotive photographers out there who have done videos and articles from on location. Have a browse through Google 😉

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