Cape Town-based photographer Desmond Louw specialises in Automotive Photography, he shares with us his 10 tips to shoot better car photographs.
Article and images by Desmond Louw at DNA Photographers, Cape Town-based photographers specialising in Automotive Photography.
Taking photos of cars is such an interesting thing on its own. It’s science, light science. Every time I shoot a car I learn something from it and I have a sneaky suspicion this will never stop! I would like to share some basic guidelines to get you started and help you understand this interesting niche in the photography world.
10 Tips for Taking Better Photographs of Cars
1. Shoot at the right time of day
This is by far the most common mistake people make when shooting cars. The best time to shoot will be a few minutes after sunset (or a few minutes before sunrise). Use a tripod and get that perfect soft light on the paint! The secret here is that your light source is not from the sun only but from the whole horizon, it’s like having a huge softbox from the side. Use it! Another good time to shoot is when the sky is 100% filled with clouds, the thicker the better, this makes the whole sky a HUGE softbox, awesome!
2. Be on the lookout for reflections
You must be very careful of what reflects on the car. Have a look around you and look closely at the car and see what reflects on its surface. A car (especially a new shiny dark one) is like a mirror. Try and have an open space behind you like a field. Try and avoid shooting with buildings or trees behind you. One of the most important things you want to show in your car pictures are the design lines of the car, or as I like to call it, ‘her curves’. Reflections can spoil these curves.
Also, be very careful not to have your own reflection in the photo. If you can’t avoid your own reflection its best to put the camera on a tripod, set the timer and move out of the shot. Just look at this photo I took of a dark shiny BMW 428i, behind me was nothing except the horizon. You can clearly see the flat horizon reflecting in the car. Perfect.
3. Driving shots
One very easy way to get a cool image, is to shoot the car out of another moving car (please be super careful when doing this!). Shoot the car out of your window while driving at 60 km/h with a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second.
By doing this you will get some nice movement on the road and on the wheels. You can even decrease the shutter speed some more, but this will increase your chances to sit with unsharp photos afterwards.
4. Color of the car
All types of paint react differently at different times of the day, with different light. Most colors hate direct sunlight, but some color works really well in direct sunlight. Just look at this baby blue beetle shot in the middle of the day.
Make sure your background suits the car and the theme. Avoid having things in the background that will distract the eye. Things like dustbins, power lines and other cars can kill a picture. For this Aston Martin, I used a simple background and the yellow paint matches the car’s color.
6. Panning for motion blur
A nice way to get some motion in your picture is to stand next to the road and let the car drive past you. Follow the car with your lens in one smooth action and set the shutter speed to 125th of a second. You will be amazed how easy this is! This Toyota was shot while drifting! Shot at 125th of a second at 200mm.
7. Let the car interact with nature
Another way to make the photo speak to you is to make the car interact with its surroundings. Examples of this could be the car making dust, a 4×4 climbing over an obstacle. Look at this Chevrolet Trailblazer climbing over a rock or this G-Class AMG drifting on loose sand!
8. Shooting at night
This might sound daunting but you will be amazed how easy and awesome this is! The biggest secret here is to find a spot where it’s completely dark, any streetlights or even a full moon could make life tricky.
When you have found this spot, set the camera up on a tripod. Set your ISO to 100, the shutter speed on 30 seconds and the aperture to f/9.
When the shutter opens take a strong constant light source and walk around the car ‘painting’ the car with your light. A normal household torch (flashlight) works for this, but the best tool for the job is a big softbox. I use my Elincrhom Ranger’s model LED light for this, works really well.
There are no rules here, paint the car in different ways to get different effects; you will be blown away with the results. This technique can be used on anything that’s not moving. Here’s an example of this technique:
9. Using off camera flashes
This is something that can keep you busy for a lifetime, but if you get it right its just so good. The more you understand this technique the better you will understand light. This will also improve your photography in general.
I love to light a car with flashes, this way you control the light and if you can control the light its easy to bring out the lines and color of the car. You can use this for interior shots too.
10. Post Production
This is where your picture comes to life, I can not emphasize how important this is in the world of car photography. I have studied Photoshop extensively for many years and it still feels like I’m a beginner. You should never stop learning. The Mercedes GLA in this shot took me a few hours to edit, sometimes I just disappear in my editing room and forget about time. The internet is full of amazing teachers, for example Cape Town’s very own Manfred Werner from RetutPro, you can watch an Automotive Retouching Tutorial here.
Do you have any other car tips for car photography? We love to hear from you, so please share them with us in the comments below. Stay in touch with DNA Photographers via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.