Tips and Tricks for Car Photography Mastery

Do you want to take car photography for a test drive? These easy-to-follow tips and tricks will put you on the road to success—and give you a big head start.

erik mclean ZRns2R5azu0 unsplash

Automobiles carry a lot of meaning. Since their invention, they have represented the freedom and adventure of the open road. Along the way, they became status symbols that form a part of people’s identities.

One thing has remained constant: they make great subjects for photography. Whether it’s showing off their sleek and streamlined shape for commercial photos or trying to capture some of the meaning behind the vehicle for an artistic project, car photography can involve a lot of different types of photos.

So if you think you’ve tried all the different types of photography and are looking for something new, you should spend some time exploring the world of automotive photography.

And if you want to learn some ways to take your auto photography to the next level, we have you covered. This guide will take you inside car photography and reveal some of the best tips to help you get started.

Grey scale Car Photography

But there’s also a caveat to that advice: don’t be afraid to break the rules when you feel like it. They are useful guidelines for making your car photos more eye-catching, but they are just guidelines. So don’t treat them as hard and fast rules if you have some more creative ideas.

Use a Bokeh Effect

Using a narrow depth of field to blur the background is a great way to put more emphasis on the car. This is especially useful when the background would otherwise be distracting. For example, if you’re shooting in an area with a lot of cars or people in the background, using a bokeh effect can soften those distracting details.

A simple way to do it is to set your aperture as wide as possible (such as f/2.8). This will make your depth of field very shallow. Then you can use a faster shutter speed to compensate for the brighter image. And remember that when needed, you can also control depth of field by using longer focal lengths or getting closer to the car.

Get Low or Go High

One of the simplest automotive photography tips that will go a long way towards making your images more interesting is to avoid shooting from eye level. Eye-level shots of cars can look boring because it’s the angle we’re most used to seeing cars from. In addition, it doesn’t do a good job of showing off a car’s lines.

So start by getting down low and seeing how that changes the feel of your images. When you’re shooting artistic style photos, it can be used to make a car look more imposing or larger than life. Don’t be afraid to lie right down on the ground (make sure you don’t wear your favorite clothes on your shoot!) to get your camera as low as possible.

Next, bring out a ladder or a step-stool to get a higher angle. This is great for showing off a car’s design and is popular in professional car photography. It’s also helpful when you want to hide the location you’re shooting in. For example, it’s useful when you’re learning how to photograph cars at a car show. Getting high will let you capture just your subject and crop out the people and cars in the background.

Car Interior
  • Look for interesting or unique textures, patterns, or shapes. Car interiors usually have lots to choose from!

  • Pick a subject (like an emblem, button, or knob) and get right up close to fill the frame. With all the details of an interior, if you include too much, your image may lack a clear focal point.

  • Try shooting a landscape through the windshield or another window, and experiment with using the interior to frame your composition.

Night Time Car Photography

When shooting cars at night, you can use all of the usual camera settings and techniques for night photography. That includes using a tripod, a wide aperture, and a slow shutter speed. But there’s one particularly stunning car photography lighting effect to try when shooting at night, and that’s creating light trails.

So here are some simple steps on how to photograph car headlights at night and achieve that beautiful light painting effect.

  • Make sure you’re safely out of the way of cars. (This is always important, but especially so with nighttime car photography).

  • Start with a shutter speed of about 15 seconds, and experiment with longer exposures from there.

  • Depending on the amount of light in the scene, set the aperture between f/5 and f/11.

  • Avoid overexposing the headlights by keeping your ISO settings low (anything above ISO 500 is too high).

  • Use a remote trigger. Although a tripod will keep your camera mostly still, pushing the shutter release button on the camera can cause very slight movements that add blur and spoil your car lights photography.

For some more ideas on making the most of your night photography, check out this guide: 5 Tips for Good Night Photography

Car driving on the road

Try Panning

On the other hand, if you want plenty of motion blur in the background, shooting with a slower shutter speed and panning is one way to do it. If you pan your camera to follow a moving car, a slow shutter speed will capture the motion of the background while the car stays relatively still. When you get it right, it makes for a powerful effect where you can almost feel the speed of the car.

To do it, begin by setting your shutter speed to 1/160 (you can experiment and adjust later to get the effect you want), and then set your camera up on a tripod at a racetrack or roadside.

By panning to follow the car during the exposure, you should be able to keep the car looking sharp despite the slow shutter speed. It takes some practice to get the panning movement right, so just start experimenting and don’t worry if they don’t turn out perfect at first.

Shoot from Another Vehicle

Another way to capture images of a moving car is to shoot it from another vehicle. This will eliminate the need for panning and make it easier to create motion blur in the background.

But before we go any further, remember to stay safe! Whenever you’re shooting from a moving car, you should ensure it doesn’t take the driver’s attention off the road.

To shoot from a moving vehicle, you’ll need the help of two drivers: one for the subject car, and one for the car you’ll be riding in. It’s a good idea to discuss your plans with the drivers before you begin, so you can avoid giving too many instructions while they’re driving.

Also, always keep your seatbelt on. Just because there’s the potential for a good photo by climbing around in the backseat or leaning out a window doesn’t mean it’s not both illegal and dangerous. So stay seated and just experiment with shooting out the open side windows.

Shoot from the Air

The latest technology is opening up a new avenue for shooting moving vehicles, and that’s drone car photography. There are lots of great examples and video tutorials online that show how it can be used to great effect, and they even include some tips on drone car photography editing.

Shot of a white car

Use Stock Photography Sites

There are many stock photography sites you can use to sell automotive photography, and they all offer their own pros and cons. Some things to consider include the pay rates, exclusivity rights, and the amount of exposure that each site can offer.

One benefit of selling your car photos as stock images is the potential to earn money repeatedly from the same photos, without the need to put in any more work. Some of the most popular sites worth checking out include:

  • Shutterstock is known for offering consistent earnings and fair pay rates starting at 20 percent.

  • iStock can put a lot of eyes on your images with its customer base of over 1.5 million people.

  • Adobe Stock offers high starting pay rates at 33 percent and no need to sign over exclusivity rights.

For some more tips on selling your auto photography through stock sites, check out our guides on How To Create Stock Photography That Sells and How to Price Stock Photography.

Sell Directly from Your Own Site

Another option is setting up your own online store to sell your automotive images directly to customers. This route has a few advantages over selling stock images. First of all, you’ll have complete control to set your prices and keep all of the proceeds. Another major benefit is that you can choose exactly how you want your images displayed. And instead of having your images listed right next to your competitor’s work, visitors can give their undivided attention to your photos.

Setting up your own online store is easier than you might think, as long as you choose the right portfolio builder. You should use one that’s tailored specifically to photographers, as they make it simple as possible to get an attractive and professional-looking site up and running.

For some inspiration, take a look at these guides:

Different cars lined in a row

It can take time to break into magazine photography, so be patient. But here are some tips that will make your pitches more interesting to magazine editors.

  • Make sure you are very familiar with the magazine before you pitch. Read a few issues and check out their website. This will help shape your pitch to suit the magazine’s focus and style.

  • Keep it short and sweet. Aim for just a single paragraph of writing and no more than six photos. Things to include can be a brief introduction, any of your accolades as a photographer, and why you think the photos you submitted are a good fit for the magazine.

  • Instead of just pitching your car photos, come up with potential article ideas, and then shoot the accompanying photos. This way, your query letter can supply the editor with an idea for how your photos could be used.

For some more help, use this guide on How to Write A Pitch That Gets You Published.

Get Out There and Shoot

Now you know some tricks for how to do car photography like a boss—and make money doing it! Remember: you shouldn’t treat automotive photography as some alien concept. Many of the skills and techniques from other types of photography will come in handy.

And finally, here is one of the best car photography tips there is: just get out there and start shooting, because building a strong photography portfolio is the only way to establish yourself as a pro. And to take your car photography to a new level, don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun!

For more tips on making a living from your automotive photos, take a peek at these guides:

How To Make Money With Your Photography

How To Sell More Photos

Commercial Photography Pricing: How Much Should You Charge?

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