Photographing cars

Barry Chignell shares his tips on creating an interesting car portrait.

|  Transport
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Words and images by Barry Chignell of Free Photo Resources.

Blue car

Before you take your photo consider the following:

  • Are you going to take a photo of your car or a friends? If it is yours then great, you can choose when and where to go and how to take the photo, if however you are going to take a photo of a friends car then they will obviously need to make themselves (and their car) available at the time and location of your choice.  You will also need to ask them to clean their car (unless you are going for that ‘just driven through a bog’ look!).
  • Time of day – when do you want to take the photo, remember the golden hours, late afternoon or early morning, this will help with the light and give a nice soft hue to the photo. You can also play with the changing colours and shadows as the sun either goes down or comes up.  If you are using a location with artificial light then the time of day is less of a consideration but should be remembered as natural light will still factor in the overall effect.
  • What overall effect are you looking for? – I went for a grungy, moody look so I was prepared for a little HDR.  You may be going for an entirely different feel such as action shots, if this is the case then you may require a faster lens, flash and an extra driver.

HDR shot of a skoda in a car park

What colour is the car you're going to photograph?

  • Bright, non metallic car, red like mine for instance, then choosing a location with neutral colours that do not clash with either each other or the car will make it ‘pop’ out from the background.
  • White/grey cars will reflect colour better and so you can choose locations with more colour in the background.  Coloured lights also work well as they reflect off of the car.
  • Black cars reflect light well but it is difficult to capture the contours of the bodywork.  Try and position the car so that the light helps to show the lines of the bodywork, angle the car diagonally in front of a street light for instance so that the light reflects down the side of the doors.
  • Metallic – Any metallic paint comes out brilliantly if you bracket your shots and process them as an HDR image (detailed below). Be careful not to overdo it though.

Locations to consider which add atmosphere include:

  • Multi storey car parks – as in my example multi storey car parks are great for bright coloured cars.  They are under cover, self lit and also offer a wealth of textures, angles and shadows that add drama to the shot. Remember to get there either early or late to avoid over crowding, I went at 8am on a Sunday and had the choice of 3 floors with no other cars!  Long distance shots are great from a low position as these add a great depth of field to the photo.  When shooting in artificially lit conditions always remember to adjust your white balance accordingly and not to use AWB.
  • Office building forecourt – Great for reflections using the glass and also adds a bit of ‘class’ to the shot. Remember to ask permission if it's private property - usually the security guard is fine if you ask politely first. This location works well for both brightly coloured cars and silver/white ones as you can convert the image to black and white and you usually also get colours from the surrounding objects reflected in the glass.  Whenever using glass in your images it is wise to invest in a Polarizing Filter, this will enable you to control the strength of the reflections to your taste.
  • Industrial Estates - Loads of contours, lines, textures and interesting buildings all add to a great photo. Be careful not to include too much in the background though as you will lose the car in amongst the other objects in the frame.
  • Woodland – A bit more tricky to get a car actually into woodland (not many woods are accessible and those that are will usually cover your car in mud!) but if you can and it’s legal then the colours from the trees (especially in autumn) reflecting off the car’s bodywork add a great dimension to the photograph.
  • High Street (at night) – When everyone has finished shopping and it’s quieter, why not try the high street after dark? The numerous different coloured shop lights reflecting off your car will really look striking. It also adds an ‘urban’ feel to the shot.

Car position:

  • I like to take photos of a car from an off centre angle and low down.  This adds a ‘menacing’ appearance to the car and usually helps to capture more of the atmosphere from the location.  Angles and positions are up to you really and the only way to get to know what works well for different locations/cars is to experiment. If the car has alloys then turning the wheels so that the one on the side of the car you are taking photos from is pointing inwards will make sure you get the full wheel in shot.

To see how Barry created his shot taken in the car park click on the link to read his 'how to' tutorial.

Whether you're a beginner looking for a compact camera or a pro in the market for a high-end DSLR visit Nikon – the company who has photographic gear to suit everyone.


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