- 1. Typically, engine compartments photos are taken with a wide-angle lens; 17–40mm is a good focal length range.
2. Park your subject vehicle, so the engine compartment is totally shaded, eliminating any shadows and stopping natural light from creating contrasting areas.
3. Shade is not uniform when it comes to exposure, so meter the low level of light to determine the proper exposure settings. Generally, ISO 200, 1/60th shutter speed and the smallest aperture these other two settings allow will work for most shaded situations.
4. Shoot in manual mode because the highly reflective chrome or polished parts and the light absorbency of black parts, such as hoses, will often fool the camera’s meter.
5. At first, your exposures may be hit-or-miss. You can try to use a slower shutter speed (no lower than 1/30th handheld) or a higher ISO sensitivity.
6. If you’re still not happy with the results, then you’ll probably need to use a tripod, so you can shoot even slower. If you must turn to the tripod option, then switch to aperture priority mode and select f/5.6 or f/8 and return the ISO to its lowest sensitivity. This will definitely result in a very slow shutter speed, but the tripod will keep the camera steady. (You may also want to use a remote shutter release, so you don’t have to touch the camera.)
7. Some of the images you’ll want to shoot of the engine compartments will be close-ups of specific parts or engine sections. Remember that many of these parts will require different exposure values to photograph them correctly. A brightly polished part needs less light than a part with a black matte finish, so make sure you meter for each close-up. Once again, because of a slow shutter speed, a tripod may be necessary to obtain sharp images.
8. Although photographing an engine compartment with just natural light is perfectly acceptable, artificial light will give you more control. Plus, shooting an engine compartment outdoors at night with lights can create dynamic images that are not possible with daylight.
9. If you’re limited to a single light source, such as a separate flash unit attached to the camera, then it’s best to bounce the light off the underside of the hood instead of directly at the compartment. Otherwise, a single, direct flash of light will cause reflective surfaces to bloom, create hard shadows and leave some areas without enough light.
10. When shooting an engine compartment with natural light or a single light source, don’t forget to try reflectors to make the light more even. If the underside of the hood is too dark, then use a piece of white art board cut to size and temporarily attached to the hood.
11. A dual-light set-up is optimum for photographing an engine compartment correctly. Position the lights at the front corners of the car, so their beams illuminate the compartment from each side, which should create more even light. An interesting variation to try is to equip one light with a softbox and the other with an umbrella.
12. Exposing for two lights can also require a bit of trial-and-error. The first combination you might try is the lowest ISO sensitivity, f/5.6 and 1/125th shutter speed and the default middle setting on your flash units. You’ll likely have to make some adjustments, especially if you want to achieve more of a balance with the ambient light.
13. Engine compartments come in various sizes and configurations. Some engines are cleverly engineered into tight spaces with small hoods, so positioning yourself above these types of compartments on a stepladder is a good option. Others are much longer than wider and typically require a wide-angle lens to reveal the entire space.
14. If possible, ask the owner of the vehicle to remove the hood to give you even greater access to the compartment.
15. Remember, you always have post processing as your fallback position, if you have trouble capturing properly exposed images of a car’s engine compartment. Do the best you can in the field and then make any necessary adjustment when editing.
Your feedback is important to thousands of PhotographyTalk.com fans and us. If this article is helpful, then please click the Like and Re-Tweet buttons at the top left of this article.