- Excellent digital automotive photography is a challenge because there are many concepts and techniques that must be thoroughly understood and practiced, and eventually become virtually automatic to the photographer. When you first decide that you want to try automotive photography, whether you’re an amateur looking to expand your experiences or a pro motivated to learn a new income-producer, you must start with some rather basic steps. These include identifying the vehicle you want to shoot, time and weather considerations and selecting an appropriate location.
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Identifying Your First Subject Vehicle
Assuming you’re new to this type of photography, the easiest choice is your car, or one of the family cars. This will allow you to take all the time necessary to learn and experiment with the various techniques, without the time constraints of a paying assignment.
You can also ask a family member or friend for the use of their vehicle; however, it may not be available to you when you’d like to shoot it. His or her car may be a better second choice, since it likely will be different than your car, which will give you experience photographing a car of a different size, style, lines, etc.
You may then be ready to contact a local car club and ask permission of a member to shoot his or her car in exchange for free images. You might consider this your “graduation” test before seeking actual clients.
Time and Weather Considerations
During this initial learning curve, it’s unlikely you’ll be photographing your car or your friend’s in an interior setting of sufficient size. This means your first practice shoots will be outdoors, which brings the time of day and weather into the equation.
The same rules/guidelines apply to photographing a car outdoors, as any other object or subject. The best times of the day are sunrise and sunset when the light is soft, or virtually any time during an overcast day when the clouds serve as a giant diffuser, again creating soft, even light. The midday sun is too glary and will cause bad reflections and areas of the car to be too bright. If time constraints make it necessary to shoot at this time of day, then you have two options.
First, you can park the car under the shady canopy of a tree or the shadow cast by a wall or other large object. If this option is unavailable, then try a circular polarizing filter on your lens. Because the filter turns, you can adjust it until the bad, or overly bright, reflections are lessened. A more involved solution using this filter is to shoot multiple images with your camera on a tripod and with the filter turned to different positions. The images can then be blended into a single photo in editing software.
Precipitation, in the form of rain or snow, can enhance your automotive photo shoot, assuming you can keep your equipment dry. Obviously, there will be cloud cover, which creates that even lighting, plus a car parked on wet pavement will give your photos an added dimension. You can capture some cool reflections of the car if it is parked in a bit of standing water. A bright, colorful car covered in an even pattern of raindrops or water beads can also be quite interesting.
As a beginner car photographer, you may want to schedule practice shoots under all of these exterior lighting and weather conditions, so you have experience with each.
Where To Shoot
Although you can first try to photograph your car or another “test” car in your driveway or parked in front of your house, these are not optimum locations, even during this learning process. The right locations depend somewhat where you live and the kind of car you’re photographing. The parking lot of a public park is better than the shopping mall parking lot. If you live where there is access to the seashore and mountain and wildlife landscapes, then these can be good choices. There may be urban settings or downtown streets that match the style of your vehicle.
Remember, some of what may be the best locations, such as the beach, may be off-limits to vehicles, or require a permit from the appropriate municipality. Be cautious about using such locations spontaneously. It’s best either to avoid them or check with local officials. Obtaining a permit will be too much of a hassle just for practicing automotive photography, so save this headache for when you have a paying assignment.
You can also select a location because its environment creates a contrast to your subject vehicle. It’s easy to imagine a Mercedes or Jaguar placed in front of a mansion, but the image that would surprise and startle people is a little, square, graffiti-covered, urban, hip-hopmobile parked in front of that luxury “crib.”