Photographing your car's appeal

By Jeffrey Fazio
Special Sections Writer

So you love your car, maybe even obsessively, but do you love the photographs you have taken of your car? Having worked in many photographic labs through my college days, I have seen hundreds of photographs that people have taken of their beloved cars. Along with their pictures, I also have seen some common things that get overlooked by amateur photographers that could make their photos that much better.

The three biggest things that make the difference between a good picture of your car and a great photograph are lighting, location and angle. If you carefully consider these three items, the picture almost takes itself.



Spring time is here and the love between you and your automobile is reacquainting itself with beautiful driving weather. The first warm, sunny day of the year arrives and you roll your machine out of hibernation in the garage. You decide to do a serious spring cleaning and give the car a really good wash.

When you're finished, you think, `What a great day to photograph the car,' right? Wrong.

The sunny day described above will be the start of a bad photograph. Bright sunlight does not complement most objects in a picture, but it is worse for cars. Direct sunlight will cause major glaring on the chrome and glass, which can be distracting to the overall effect of the car. If you are just photographing details, like rims or chrome engine components, the bright sunlight may add to the inherent sparkle of these items, but it is best avoided in a complete portrait."

Another bad side effect of direct sunlight is the hotspots you will see on the car's paint. These bright spots fade quickly into the car's real color, giving uneven lighting to the paint job. Harsh shadows from the car's details create another disagreeable effect from sunlight.

The best time to shoot images of your car is on an overcast, but still bright, day. Large clouds on an overcast day diffuse sunlight the same way a studio photographer's umbrella or light box does. The soft light on overcast days will actually make your car's paint seem brighter, richer and more evenly coated. Take notice sometime of the difference between the colors of flowers on overcast days compared to the same ones on a sunny day. This soft light allows chrome to shine without drawing attention away from the whole car. Also, in this type of light, glass will appear clearer and cleaner.



You may have a wonderful house and even be lucky enough to have a beautiful driveway, but this is not the spot to take a great photograph of your car. You spent a lot of time washing the car and you happen to have a perfect overcast day to take a photograph, but don't let the great shot get away from you by leaving the car where it is to be photographed.

Take a drive to find the right spot. Remember that you can always keep your eyes open for good locations even when you are not out to take a picture. This is a great benefit when you have the right day, because you already have an idea of where to drive to.

It is going to be personal taste as to what location best fits you and your car. The point is to find a place that is not distracting and adds to the character of your car. The most distracting objects that end up in automobile portraits are buildings, signs and people. If these items do not directly add to the idea of the shot, then make sure they are not in the shot. A random stop sign in the background will draw attention away from a car, as opposed to a curvy road ahead" sign that may add to a photograph of a sports car. Along with signs, curbs also can be very distracting. If a building in the picture does not directly relate to the car, avoid it. The only exception may be a nice skyline of a city. People always command attention, so be aware of them as well. Any person that ends up in your photo will battle your car for the viewer's eye.

Natural settings with the absence of other man-made objects tend to be the most attractive for cars. If the car is sitting on asphalt, look for a clean piece of road without potholes and patches. Stone and dirt roads also can be great locations for car pictures, but keep an eye on the dust/dirt on your tires which will make them look unpleasant.



The exact angle at which to photograph your vehicle will depend greatly on what you drive. A good rule of thumb is to photograph the car from a three-quarter angle. This allows the viewer to see most of the car and get a good sense of the overall design. The three-quarters angle works great from either the front or the back of the car. Your car is a 3-D object and is best shown as such. Just like most people do not look their best from straight-on or direct profile, neither do cars.

The height of the camera also should be taken into consideration as well. Trucks and muscle cars look more intimidating from lower angles because they look taller and more overwhelming. Sports cars look great from higher than normal eye height because the car will look lower, flatter and faster. Average hand-held camera height works well for most sedans, antiques and luxury cars.

It does not matter if you have the best camera on the market, a point-and-shoot or even a disposable camera; the tips outlined here can add to anyone's ability to photograph their car. These are all things we know already from viewing the world around us, but we may not have taken time to think about them. Now that your mind, and your eye, are conscious of them, your pictures will be that much better.