If submitting your own pictures, please use the handy photography tips below.
1. Lighting – good photography is 90% lighting. Since many of us don't have access to a studio large enough for our cars, we have to do with what natural light is available to us. Plan your photo shoot carefully. Avoid midday sun, as the light is very harsh and will wash out the top of your vehicle. Late evening/early morning horizontal light is the best. If you are lucky you can get some very good photos right at sunset. You have little time to get the perfect shot, though. That's why I recommend starting with sunrise time instead as you won't run out of time after the "perfect" moment. Make sure the light source is behind you, but don't let your body cast a shadow onto your shot!
Some say to use a fill flash, but I don't like it for exterior shots. It looks unnatural to me, and anything reflective on your car (like license plates and decals) will be way overexposed. Instead, always use a tripod so that you can shoot without a flash. A flash is often necessary for interior shots and underhood engine shots to fill in the shadows. I like to find some bright shade for these shots and use my flash. Watch out for harsh sun and shadows if you can't find bright shade.
2. Composition – Here are some basic tricks that I have learned through much trial and error:
***Turn your wheels so that the face/front of the front exposed wheel is aimed at the camera. Nobody wants to see your tire treads. This is a common mistake, and the easiest error to avoid. No amount of Photoshop can correct this critical mistake of having tires pointed at the camera.***
Please don't park on grass, striped parking lots or gravel. The reflections of the ground surface will appear on your car. Ground cover also covers up the bottom profile of your tires, which can't be cut out.
For a great aggressive looking muscular shot, get down to the ground at bumper level and take some ¾ view shots of both front and rear. You will have to move your car around to get both front and rear, as you must keep the light behind you. Park the car on a LEVEL surface. Mount your camera down real low so that you can see all 4 tires touch the ground through the camera view finder. The more you can do to create an imaginary line touching the bottom of all 4 tires, the better. This is a good starting point for many spectacular shots. Move around and experiment from that point on. Try to avoid “hiding” one of the rear tires from the shot. Use a telephoto lens of about 100-150 mm and stand back far for this shot so as not to distort or “bulge” out the front of the car.
You can tilt the camera 10-15 degrees to create another dramatic effect. Get close up shots of all the cool features and emblems that make your car unique. Play with various angles on those as well as straight on shots.
Use a ladder or climb on a roof and take some perspective shots from up high. This works great with convertibles and cars with over the top racing stripes. The ladder is also very helpful for shooting the underhood shots.
When doing a “profile” shot, you must use a tripod and get the camera set up so that you are looking through the side windows as cleanly as possible without seeing the other interior door.
Always roll up the windows during a photo shoot, except for convertible shots with the top down.
Be aware of your surroundings. Look for reflections in your car showing parking lot stripes, telephone poles and wires, busy tree branch/leaf reflections, clouds, building windows, people, and the camera/photographer! If you can find an open clear area with a nice clear horizon behind you, you have a great spot. Fill the car in your viewfinder and don't cut off anything. For a Showboard, I will cut out the background, so it isn't important. Best to work on just avoiding the reflections.
If you want a good portrait of your car, pick a good location/background that doesn't detract from your car and that contrasts with the car's color/paint nicely. If choosing a location such as a store or gas station, always choose a location that appears OLDER than your classic or antique car.
Don't be afraid to take 100 pictures of your car - you may only get a dozen that you can actually use! Digital media is cheap - your time for a re-shoot isn't.
3. Equipment and settings
Contrary to what you may have been told, you don't need an expensive camera to take good photos, and a good camera will not automatically make your photos better! What ever camera you use, learn it's features and how to take control over the manual settings. You can take good pictures with a $250 camera. Use a digital SLR only after you know how to use it. These cameras will be best. Again, learn some of the manual settings and you don't have to spend a fortune here, either. I have shot pictures published on the covers of a catalog using only a $800 camera and lens kit. If you master lighting, composition, and how to control the settings in your camera, you will be happy with basic equipment.
For exterior shots of the whole car, I like to use my zoom lens, tripod and stand far back from the car so that I'm shooting at 100-150mm. If you are too close to the car, it will look distorted. Sometimes, that's OK, if it's what you are trying to achieve. For most of us, we will be happier with truer proportion shots.
If your camera has DIGITAL zoom, please read your manual to learn how to turn it off. It will destroy your photographs.
Since my photos are always enlarged, I set my camera to ISO 100 speed. ISO 200 works OK for smaller engine and interior photos where I have less light. I can get away with ISO 400 in a pinch. Your equipment will vary with how much noise you get at various ISO speeds.
For depth of field, I set my aperture to about F8 for full car shots. I can't do this without a tripod, as my shutter speeds slow way down in low light. I'll go handheld and F3-F5 for engine and interior using a flash when I have to. If I'm forced to go handheld, I watch my shutter speed so that I don't get into the “blur” range of my steadiness ~ 1/50th/sec.
The other necessity is a circular polarizer. If you have a DSLR, you can get one of these for your lens, which will drastically reduce reflections and glare from the car when you use it correctly. I can't do my job without this valuable tool in the bag.
Finally, if your camera supports it, and you have Photoshop, shoot in RAW image mode. It will allow you to change exposure, color temp, contrast, etc using a true digital negative.
Don't forget to have fun!
These tips are the copyrighted property of Troy Kruger, and cannot be reproduced or copied without permission from the author - Thank you.