A Beginner's Guide to Great Car Photography

20th Jun 2023

By Daniel Hitchman

Car Photography Tips

Is there anything more rewarding than capturing an incredible photograph? Those moments where the scenery aligns perfectly with the subject you're capturing are often unforgettable.

If you're a car enthusiast, then you're fortunate enough to have a wide range of subjects to capture; ranging from racing cars through to classics. Question is though, how do you do these cars justice with a camera?

In this guide for beginners, I cover a variety of tips and advice for capturing great car photography.

Master the equipment you own

Orange BMW 1M at car show

The bane of every professional photographer's life is when someone asks them what equipment they're using. That's because it discredits the other factors that go into creating a great photo, as well as the knowledge that's required.

Whilst top photographers will own some of the best equipment available, there's a high chance they started with entry-level equipment too. What distinguishes them from others is that they took the time to master that equipment, which allows them to make the most of what they have.

Whether it's a smartphone or DSLR you're using, take the time to understand the settings it has available, and learn how to make the most of them through practice.

Learn how to use photo editing software

Ford Fiesta on Adobe Lightroom

You would be astonished by the difference photo editing software can make to an image. A professional can take a seemingly lifeless image, and turn it into a vibrant photograph that's worthy of a place on your living room wall.

There's no secret to this, it comes from experience and continuous practice on editing software such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. If you're looking to make basic edits to things such as highlights and shadows, then I'd recommend using Lightroom. For in-depth alterations to an image, such as removing visual distractions, you'll need something like Photoshop.

There are plenty of helpful online videos and classes available based on your skill level, so it's worth exploring some of them and then practising for yourself.

Get to grips with manual settings

Grey Citroen e-C4, parked next to bridge

Modern cameras are great because they're advanced enough to take a great photograph with minimal input from the user. In fairness, that's absolutely fine for everyday photos.

However, if you want to maximise the quality and have more control over the image you capture, then you need to use the manual settings in your camera.

In manual mode, you'll be able to control key settings, such as the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Depending on the environment you're shooting in, and the type of image you're trying to capture, you'll be able to alter the settings accordingly, which you can't do in automatic mode.

Learn about the exposure triangle

Vauxhall Mokka-e headlight

There are three key pillars you need to take into consideration when taking a photograph in manual mode:

  • Aperture
  • Shutter speed
  • ISO

The exposure triangle refers to the relationship between the three pillars above. To take the perfect photo, or at least capture the artistic vision you have in your mind, it's worth understanding the impact they each have on each other.

Aperture refers to the amount of light that your lens lets in, which is like the pupil of your eye and how it adjusts itself based on the darkness of the room.

Shutter speed is the length of time light is allowed to hit the camera's sensor. This is the setting that's altered when capturing a motion shot, which then has a blurry background.

In basic terms, ISO is a camera setting that can brighten or darken a photo. Low ISO is preferable for most situations, since high ISO can cause grainy photos. However, there are times when a high ISO is beneficial (for example, when capturing a fast moving car without any blur).

A variety of tutorials and guides are available online that explain the exposure triangle in greater detail, which are worth exploring. Once you understand it, you'll have more control over the images you capture.

Take the time to consider the composition

Green Porsche 911 RS wheel

What aspects of the car do you want to focus on when taking the photograph? How much of the scenery do you want included? Where does the subject fit into the scene you've found or created?

These are all questions that relate to composition, which refers to how you set up a scene during photography. Some of the most dramatic photos don't always contain the whole car, they place emphasis on finer details or the scenery in which you're shooting in.

Next time you're capturing images of a car, take the time to explore its best features and the scenery in the background. I'd recommend finding some professional photographers on social media as well (Mark Riccioni is a personal favourite of mine), you'll learn a lot about compositions from simply observing their work.

A great example of composition can be found above, and was taken by Edward Cook.

Get involved with car culture

Datsun 240z engine bay

If you're a car enthusiast, then it's likely that you'll have visited a number of car shows. However, if you aren't, then I'd recommend exploring the different shows and meets that are available, and getting yourself involved.

Not only is this a great opportunity to find plenty of subjects to photograph, you'll end up meeting some similarly enthusiastic owners. Because the world of cars is so broad, you'll be able to diversify your portfolio relatively easily.

Get involved with car culture

This guide is a great place to start if you're looking at getting into car photography. There's plenty more to learn outside this guide, but the great thing is that there are no limits on the amount you can practice. If you get a good handle of a camera, composition, and editing software; you'll be creating some great images in no time.

For more great advice on all things motoring, please feel free to head over to our blog section, which is updated with fresh content on a regular basis.