Sharing is Caring
One of my favorite things about car enthusiasts is an eagerness to share. At the last cars and coffee I attended, I saw the owner of a Lamborghini Murcielago open his car and invite a little kid to climb inside and put his hands on the steering wheel (successfully transmitting the car disease, I’m sure). The owner of a first-generation Ram that may or may not be used for drag racing at non-sanctioned events was happy to tell me all about his truck, the 20 years that went into building it, and what he had in store for it down the road.
This spirit of community reminds me of another fun group of people: photographers. Like car people, I’ve met plenty of photographers who were excited to share their passion and help others immerse themselves in the craft. In that spirit, I thought it might be helpful to blend the two and visit the world of car photography from time to time.
If you’re new to car photography, don’t feel pressured to reinvent the wheel. Imitate the photos you like and try to learn something from each one. Ask yourself why you like it in the first place. Always be willing to ask questions, and never stop learning.
Let’s start with a quick snap I took at a local car meet. One of the first pieces of photography advice I remember was to avoid “pedestrian” shot composition. We experience our entire lives at eye-level, so when you take a picture standing normally with the camera in front of your face, the picture looks like the view we’re familiar with. That’s not very interesting. This Alfa Romeo Giulia looked fantastic, but we’ve all seen them before. I’m sure many of us have shamelessly walked into a showroom to sit in one.
When I glanced into the open sunroof of this car, I was reminded of how much I love the interior. Peeking in from above felt like watching a wild animal in its natural habitat on a nature documentary.
There’s nothing fancy going on here. No tricky lighting, special lenses, or expensive equipment; just a creative angle. You could just as easily capture this with your cell phone–just don’t drop it.
Here’s another situation where the cool-factor is totally disconnected from the equipment. Ignore the camera settings, because you could take this same photo with anything from a DSLR, to a cell phone, to a disposable film camera.
What struck me about this car was the contrast between decades of rust and flawless chrome. Every last flake of paint had worn off, leaving bare steel to form an even coat of rust. Chrome, on the other hand, is much tougher than paint and looked just as good as it did in the ’60s.
If you don’t have an abandoned Corvair nearby, you can still look for contrast and things that seem out of place. Snap a picture of a muddy pickup downtown. Take a friend’s luxury car into a field for a photoshoot. Have some fun with things that don’t normally go together.
This one is all about shutter speed. Forget about ISO and aperture for a minute, because the important thing here is capturing motion. For this photo, I wanted the subject car to be crisp, the foreground and background to be blurred, and the wheels to be spinning. The trick was to find a shutter speed that was fast enough to freeze the car in place while allowing the wheels and tires to keep moving. Go too fast, and the car will look like it’s parked. Too slow, and the whole car will be blurry–and that’s exactly what happened on the car’s previous lap.
See? This isn’t depth of field or motion, it’s just botched. The exposure was just long enough for the body of the car to change position and create a fuzzy image, even though all the other settings remain the same. There’s also no fire, which makes this one infinitely less awesome. You can find recommendations online, but it honestly takes a little experimentation. This little Mazda came out nicely at a shutter speed of 1/160, but the 911 GT3 RS in the next group forced me up to 1/250. There is no magic number.
To practice this, I recommend taking a field trip to your local track. You’ll get all kinds of practice with interesting cars at varying speeds. Ask nicely and offer to share your photos, and you’ll probably even get to visit someone’s garage for a tour. If you don’t have a track nearby, any busy street will do. Start with a slow shutter speed and take pictures of traffic as cars go by, adjusting upward as you go. Keep speeding up your shutter until the wheels and tires are frozen in time, then review your pictures to see where the sweet spot occurred. That can be your starting point for next time.
If you decide to invest in a camera body and removable lenses, now is your chance to get weird with focal lengths. I picked up an inexpensive prime lens (fixed focal length with no zoom capability) at 14 millimeters. This is fisheye territory and opens up the possibility of dramatic effects at close distances.
This Stingray was just begging for a low, head-on shot. A fisheye lens will enlarge objects in the center of the frame and shrink objects at the edges. That effect makes the car’s shark-nose even more pronounced and stretches that hood even longer than it really is to make the windshield look like it’s a mile away. Add in some storm clouds above those epic headlights, and this combination was too good for me to pass up.
Using a variety of lenses is an effective way to get shots that you just can’t replicate another way, but equipment isn’t cheap. Something like this also has pretty limited utility. If you aren’t taking a lot of photos in confined spaces, your fisheye lens will end up collecting dust most of the time. If you want to go down that rabbit hole, that’s great. But you certainly shouldn’t feel like you need to spend money to get awesome practice.
What do you say, do you have the bug yet?
Look for the unexpected and find creative ways to capture it. Climb high, crouch down, shoot through other objects, and generally get funky. The sillier you look taking the picture, the better it will likely be.
Next time we can do a shot-by-shot walkthrough. Later, I’ll share some of my favorite tips and tricks. In the meantime, the best way to get better at taking pictures of cars is to take pictures of cars.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. Scott works as a freelance marketer for Dingo Productions in Fort Worth, Texas. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.