- Whether it’s digital photography, or any other hobby, pursuit or profession, you must have the right tools to give yourself the opportunity to succeed. To capture the beauty and excitement of automobiles, be it yours in the driveway, the latest designs on display at a show or big-engine jobs tearing around a track, requires a minimum level of photo equipment. Without it, you will neither bring home the great images you imagined nor will you enjoy yourself in the process. This two-part PhotographyTalk.com article details which camera, lens and accessories you’ll need to compose stunning car photos.
Compact, or point-and-shoot, cameras are being upgraded constantly. There are even some with interchangeable lens and important functions (shutter priority, aperture priority, manual settings, etc.) that the photographer can control and set. Despite these advancements, excellent automobile photography, in all its different forms, is not possible without a DSLR camera. The broad array of capabilities of a DSLR, especially shooting in low light or the fast action on a track, are absolutely essential if you expect to duplicate or surpass any car photos you’ve seen online or in magazines. It’s also important to choose a DSLR camera body that will accept a large selection of lenses, from the same manufacturer, or others.
Which brand of DSLR you purchase is a function first of how much you can spend. That will be a primary factor of any photography equipment purchase. Obviously, if you are a professional or planning a professional photography career, with automobiles your primary subject matter, then you need equally professional-grade equipment. In that case, the thousands of dollars you may spend will be a “business” investment, which should pay for itself. If you’re both a digital photography and car enthusiast, then it’s likely you’ll spend much less than a professional. There are plenty of excellent DSLR cameras at lower price points; however, keep in mind, these cameras’ capabilities are generally limited compared to professional-grade models.
Of all the various features and functions of DSLR cameras, sensor size, crop factor, ISO range, auto-focus and frames per second in continuous shooting mode are the most important to compare when selecting a camera to photograph cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc.
Automobile photography takes many forms, from the full-frame beauty shot to close-ups of the interior and engine compartment to the fast action on a track. To be equipped for each situation requires a number of lenses.
If you choose a lower to moderately priced DSLR camera body, then it may include a kit lens, which is typically 17–55mm. This zoom lens provides focal lengths from wide angle to approximately normal. Although a kit lens does have its value, it is too limiting if you expect to capture all the various forms of car photography, and well. For the professional or serious car photographer, three different lenses are needed.
Wide-angle lens: The focal length of this lens is preferred for full-view exterior photos and the details of various exterior parts of a vehicle: wheels, exhausts, spoilers, mirrors, etc.) Photographing the engine and interior of a car is where a wide-angle lens is a must.
Mid-range zoom lens: Many digital photographers have discovered that a mid-range zoom lens, 24–70mm lens, for example, is the most versatile, and that includes car photographers. It provides the wide angle you need, normal focal length and just a bit of telephoto, which will make many of your photos more dynamic. It’s not unusual for experienced car photographers to shoot an entire show or assignment with just this size zoom lens. If you can only buy one lens initially with a DSLR camera body, then this is probably your best choice.
Telephoto zoom lens: The third lens should be in the 70–200mm range. It can also be used for many car photos, but its primary advantage is capturing the fast action on the track. The focal length is not the important characteristic, however; it is the speed of the lens, as indicated by its lowest-number f/stop. An f/2.8 70–200mm is a favorite of racetrack photographers and virtually all sports photographers because it is fast enough to stop the action and give the photographer more control of depth of field.
Read Part 2 of this PhotographyTalk.com article for more of the digital photography equipment you need to shoot automobiles.