How to Take Amazing Car Photos: 5 Automotive Photography Tips

There are so many types of photography to fall in love with, such as landscapes, products, and portraits. One genre that combines all of these is automotive photography, and that’s what makes it so exciting and daunting.

Car photos work amazingly well on Instagram, VSCO, and anywhere else you post photos online. As long as you have your own car, it’s like having a subject with you at all times, so it gives you plenty of practice opportunities.

Here are our tips for getting the best possible car photos.

1. Turn on the headlights

This sounds like the simplest advice out there, but it’s amazing how many times we see a car in front of a beautiful landscape, but the photographer forgot to turn on the lights. Headlights and taillights are the most important parts of a vehicle’s personality, so taking a photo without them is like taking a photo of a beautiful model without her face.

Even if you’re shooting on a bright, sunny day, headlights give the viewer something to catch the eye.

Take the photos above, for example. With the taillights off, the photo still looks great with good framing and lighting and shows the shape of the car. However, with the lights on, it adds a whole new element to the photo with the backlight matching the color of the beautiful sunset in the background.

This simple tip can make all the difference.

2. Know the best vehicle angles

The next most important part of a car’s personality is its stance and body lines. To get the best possible photos, walk around the vehicle on location and get comfortable framing the vehicle at every angle.

It’s also helpful to see how the sun hits the car at every angle, which can make for some amazing photos depending on the color of the car and can accentuate the body lines extremely well.

To get you started, here are some of the most popular angles for photographing the exterior of a car: the front, front three-quarters, rear, and rear three-quarters.

As mentioned in the previous section, headlights and taillights are some of the most important parts of a vehicle photograph. Close-ups of the headlights and taillights make great shots, and the front and rear three-quarters is what it will take to show the vehicle’s overall length and body lines.

The more you know the best angles of the car, the better photos you will get.

Using a tripod can help you get sharper images while the vehicle is in motion. Here are some things to consider when shopping for your first tripod.

3. Choose a beautiful background and foreground

Pay close attention to where the car is shooting; As with product and portrait photography, background and foreground make a big difference. This doesn’t mean you have to be in an area with mountains and vast scenic landscapes, although that will allow you to take some great photos; just be intentional about where you’re taking photos.

For example, in the photo above, the McLaren 765LT was photographed with red flowers in the foreground. This made the photo much more interesting than shooting the car from the front, and the red flowers blended well with the orange paint.

You can achieve this even without flowers. The photo of the red Mazda 3 was taken with an 85mm lens because it wasn’t in a very scenic part of town; the compression blurred the background nicely, while still adding some color and texture to the photo. Instead of warm tones, the photo came out more rustic with the autumn leaves in the foreground and the dark brown house in the background.

Be intentional with your choice of background and foreground for beautiful results.

4. Experiment with a unique composition

After learning the best vehicle angles, it’s time for you to move on to areas that give your photo a unique perspective.

Shooting at a lower angle can be a great way to show off the low stance of a sports car, or to get a beautiful reflection in a puddle. Getting a higher angle shows more of your background and can lend itself to lifestyle shots of the vehicle; for example, this could be used when filming a car off the road as it drives through dirt and hills.

If you’re not trying to get specific shots like the examples above, a general rule of thumb to follow is to set your camera at vehicle height. Put your camera on a tripod and position it at the height of the car’s side view mirror. This angle gives you more professional and modern shots often seen at dealerships when they post cars for sale.

Check out our photography composition rules to gather some ideas.

5. Get the right lighting

Lighting is a very important part of product, portrait, and of course car photography. Most days when you decide to shoot, you’ll have the best natural light going for you: the sun; however, sunny days also have some disadvantages. Glossy painted cars will produce a lot of reflections on the hood of the car, often resulting in a dull image.

Using a polarizing or UV filter on your lens will help reduce flare dramatically, making your editing process much easier.

Taking advantage of the sun is one of the best ways to illuminate your subject and will accentuate the vehicle’s body lines. If you want to be more intentional with this, strobes and even smaller portable lights can help you better illuminate the vehicle with more freedom. Experiment with light in ways that affect shadows or make the paint color pop.

If you’re new to using artificial lighting on subjects, here are some of our top tips for using strobes in or out of the studio.

Enhance your automotive photography

Automotive photography really is a combination of shooting landscapes, products, and portraits, which is great because it gives you the skills to get better at each of those genres.

It teaches you how to position and light your subject, play with colors in the background and foreground, and your car is a model that will always be there for you when you want to take some great photos. Continue to practice shooting at various locations and master your craft.

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