Shoot to Thrill: 14 Secrets to Taking Great Car Photos From a Professional Photographer (2023)

If you have a car you’re proud of, eventually you’re going to want to take some memorable—and sharable—photos of the wonderful machine. You can, of course, take it to a cool spot, snap some images with your smartphone, and be done. But if you put just a bit more thought and effort into it, you can create images that you’ll be as proud of as you are of the car itself.

The 14 examples below—learned over my years of automotive photography—illustrate some key considerations and strategies for shooting cars. The overarching take-home, however, is essentially the same as it would be in other forms of photography: Think about what you’re doing. Don’t just take a snapshot in front of a cool building or a mountain; instead, pay attention to composition, lighting conditions, background, angles, camera settings, and so forth. You don’t have to know everything about photography, but just taking your time and thinking out even a couple of the many aspects that go into a good photo can make a world of difference.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #1: Chase the light

The rule of golden-hour shooting is hugely important. The hour after sunrise and the one before sunset offer the best light for photos; low-angle sunlight adds warmth and texture to the image, and the generally-dimmer lighting allowing you to balance the image elements more easily. But don’t pack it in once the sun goes down: I shot this BMW i8 one evening when it was clear that the sky was shaping up to deliver some spectacular colors after the sun set. Pay attention to clouds, and work hard to get the shot dialed-in, relative to the exposure.

Also, remember that if you want foreground and background equally sharp, bump up the aperture's f-stop to higher values—between, say, f/14 to f/20—while adjusting the exposure to compensate for the increasingly dark image. This was shot at about f/14, but I should have gone a bit higher, since the background is a hair out of focus. (Higher apertures also generate the flares from points of light, as seen in the headlights.)

Also, try to keep the ISO as low as possible, to reduce the amount of grain in the final image. The best way to do that is to use longer exposures, which you can do in situations like this—even just one or two seconds—if you have a tripod.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #2: Control your depth of field

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De-focusing the background—a technique called bokeh—highlights your subject. You do this by setting the aperture as wide as possible (f/2.8, f/4) and compensating for the brighter image by boosting the shutter speed. If you compose the shot right, the image will be stronger, and have the benefit of a dash of artistic flair as well. Thus, the Bugatti Chiron image above, shot in Los Angeles.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #3: Pursue your visions

Sometimes you get a little tickle of an idea driving down the road. I had this Rolls-Royce Phantom for three days in Los Angeles, and thought it would be fun to shoot the car with an airplane in the background at the airport. There are plenty of great spots to observe the airplanes at LAX, but there aren’t many places to set up a shot like this one. While I was studying the area on Google Maps—a great resource in general for automotive photography—I noticed all the long-term parking lots directly under the approach path. So I drove up, paid my way onto the lot for $8 per hour, and found myself with an enormous expanse of quiet, low-traffic pavement right under the airplanes. I shot there for two hours—tracking incoming airplanes via an app called FlightRadar24—and came away with dozens of cool images.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #4: Surprise people

Sometimes a direct, straight-down-the-middle shot can be surprisingly impactful, especially when you do something novel with the context. This Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class was shot in Beverly Hills during the holiday season—hence the extra lighting. It took about 20 laps around the block to get it, but it was fun and a surprising way to feature the environment I shot it in.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #5: Get inside

Interiors are important part of the driving experience, but capturing them can be a challenge. I like to shoot with something to see in the window, so for this image of the Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid, I lined it up with some mountains and hotels in the Dolomite mountains of northern Italy. The background is blurred slightly, but I could have made it sharper via a higher aperture—or even made it the opposite, with a sharp background and blurred foreground.

(Video) iPhone Photography Tricks for Shooting Cars

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #6: Avoid shooting at eye level

An easy trap to fall into is always shooting at eye level—as in, the view you get while standing in front of the car. Though that’s the most natural starting point, it’s also the least flattering angle for a car, partially because it’s familiar but mostly because it’s not how cars are best viewed. So go high or go low. You can use a ladder or step-stool for the high angles, of course, but in this case I only had to hold the camera up as high above my head as I could.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #7: Avoid the obvious shots

Shooting a car in a parking lot is easy. The trick is to make it not look like you’re shooting in one. To do this, get in tight or down low, to ensure that the surface markings don't betray you. This also helps make background objects—in this case Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles— look stronger.

Note, as well, that you don’t have to feature the whole car in every shot. Capturing just a sliver of it can make for fascinating images.

Eric Adams

Also try to avoid the obvious side-of-the-road shot. You see these in national parks, at scenic overlooks in the mountains, and especially go-to driving spots like Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. If you have a gorgeous setting, work to create a great composition that takes advantage of it. This Porsche 718 Cayman GTS was shot by the side of the road amid the redwoods of northern California, but I pulled the car a bit farther into the trees to ensure no actual road was visible. (Sometimes, of course, you want the road in the shot, but make sure it’s done in an interesting way—seen through the windshield, perhaps, or with the road swinging past the car while you shoot between the two, from down low.)

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #8: Use the location to your advantage

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In each of these cases, I set out to find a location that took advantage of the context—a snowstorm in one, the energy of downtown Seoul in the other. But driving around for an hour both times paid off.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #9: Capture the quirks

Some cars have unique features that you’ll likely want to celebrate. The scissor doors in the BMW i8 are great examples, as is the Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament on the Rolls-Royce Phantom, shown here. Focus on finding novel or surprising ways to shoot these features. For this image, I mounted a GoPro directly behind the hood ornament and then drove around town with the camera in time-lapse mode shooting two-second exposures. After a few miles, I had hundreds of frames that ordinarily would be stitched together into a single movie. But that wasn’t my goal—I just used that specific feature to get the camera to shoot continuously. I went through the images, found the 5 or 10 with the best light streaks, and processed just those.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #10: Shoot vertically

Vertical images look better on mobile devices, so don’t forget to fold some into your shooting. The challenge is creating satisfying vertical composition of overwhelmingly horizontal subjects. The answer is partly obvious—don’t shoot the car from the side—but it also involves finding nicely balanced strategies for filling the frame, It could be using a segment of the car or having prominent foreground or background objects.

The image on the left is a personal favorite: the Starlight Headliner in the Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge, with the actual Milky Way in the background. This was in Death Valley, California; it took me two hours in 110-degree heat (after dark, no less) to set it up. I had to place gaffer tape on all the interior lights because the exposure needed to be 30 seconds to pull in the Milky Way, and the lights would have blown out the image. Shooting this was a great adventure, and a memorable night—made sweeter by the fact that I successfully executed the vision.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #11: Use backlighting

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Shooting with the sun in the background is a challenge, and requires some editing work after the shot. To get images like this, expose the frame so that the sun looks as you want it, and then go in later and brighten up the foreground by raising the shadows and lowering the highlights, both of which are easy settings to adjust in most photo editing software.

Try a variety of settings while shooting, and see which one lets you balance the image the best later. (Learn how to use editing software to touch up your images, as they rarely come out of the camera perfect. Most every image you see from the pros has had some work done to it.)

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #12: Fill the frame

Many photographers start with wide-angle lenses, most commonly a 24-70mm zoom. It’s a great lens, but I’ve found you can fill the frame better with a telephoto. A 70-200mm zoom lets you compose much tighter images, with distant background objects nicely magnified, as here with the Porsche Panamera. You might have to walk 50 or so yards away from the car to get it, but the results can be fantastic.

Another tip: Don’t forget to turn on the headlights while shooting, since that usually makes for a stronger image. If it’s during the day, use the brights, too.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #13: Rope in your friends

Shooting car-to-car is a thrill, but use common sense. Don’t do it on public roads—parks can be good for stuff like this—and don’t roll around the back of an SUV. If you don’t have a proper harness setup, just shoot from the back seat of a hatchback with the rear lid open.

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When shooting cars in motion, “drag” the shutter by setting it between 1/40 and 1/60 of a second in shutter-priority mode. (That's the “S” on the control dial—it lets you adjust the shutter speed while it sorts out everything else.) Hold the camera steady, and fire away.

Eric Adams

Car Photography Rule #14: Don’t hit them over the head

It doesn’t have to be entirely about the car. In fact, sometimes the most beautiful images emerge when you dial down the car’s presence in an image, as I did here with the Rolls-Royce Dawn in Cape Town, South Africa. Let the environment lead you to the best shot—just remember that it may not be what you expect.


What are the top ten tips for taking a great picture? ›

10 Tips for Taking Great Photos
  • Invest in quality equipment.
  • Pick your focal point.
  • Use the rule of thirds.
  • Change your angles.
  • Pay attention to framing.
  • Use ideal lighting.
  • Use filters and settings.
  • Take lots of shots.

What are the 7 tips for taking good photographs? ›

7 Tips For Taking Better Photos
  • How To Compose Great Photos. Great photos start with great composition: how you frame the shot and where you position different elements within the scene. ...
  • Keep It Simple. ...
  • Change Your Perspective. ...
  • Add Depth To Your Images. ...
  • Use The Sun To Create A Silhouette. ...
  • Look For Reflections. ...
  • Find Symmetry.

What camera settings should I use for car photography? ›

Use a wide aperture size (f/5 or lower) to blur out the background, or a narrow one (f/8 and up) to keep both the car and the background in focus. In general, you should also use a low ISO setting and a quick shutter speed.

How can I make my car look professional? ›

6 Easy Ways to Make Your Car Look Better
  1. Give it a clean. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. ...
  2. Replacing faded or damaged trim. ...
  3. Replacing factory features. ...
  4. Changing your look. ...
  5. Painting your wheels. ...
  6. Cleaning under the hood.

What are the 3 most important things in photography? ›

The three variables that matter the most in photography are simple: light, subject, and composition.

What are the 4 things that a good photograph should have? ›

In this article we will look at the five Fundamental Elements of Photography. Basically, there are five common elements that great images typically have; Good use of light, color, a captivating moment, correct composition for the given situation, and the photographer's choice of distance to their subject.

What is the most important thing when taking a photo? ›

Exposure. This is one of the most fundamental elements of photography. How much light you use in your photos is extremely important in ensuring how you pictures will come out. To capture stunning images, you have to ensure that there is a balance and that your photos are not subjected to underexposure or overexposure.

What are 5 principles of a good photograph? ›

5 Key Principles of Using Photography in Presentations
  • Rule of Thirds. One of the most well known principles of photography and one that is most important is the rule of thirds. ...
  • Depth of Field. ...
  • Natural Photography. ...
  • No White Backgrounds. ...
  • High Quality.
7 Apr 2014

What are the 7 common photography mistakes made most often? ›

7 Common Photography Mistakes to Avoid
  • Shooting in JPEG.
  • Poor Image Composition.
  • Shooting in Auto Mode.
  • Not Giving Importance to Background.
  • Wrong White Balance Settings.
  • Blaming Camera for Blurry Images.
  • Using Auto ISO Mode.
18 Nov 2021

What angle should my car pictures be? ›

Viewpoint & Angle.

Try not to shoot from eye-level, it's lazy and gets old quickly. The most popular level to photograph a car from is down low. Experiment with crouching or even lying down, as well as standing tall and shooting from above. If there's a platform available to stand on, use it.

What size lens is best for car photography? ›

What is the best lens for car photography?
  • 35mm f/1.4 — If the car is sitting still, there's no better lens than the 35mm. ...
  • 24-70mm f/2.8 — The 24-70mm is a great all-around lens for car photography.

What is the most attractive car color? ›

White, Black, Gray, and Silver continue to top the list of best colors for cars.
However, check out PPG's PPG's 2021 list of the top car colors in North America for all vehicle categories shows a few changes compared to 2020 data:
  • Red (9%)
  • Green (2%)
  • Natural (1.5% – down 1%)
  • Other, Two-Tone (1% – up 0.5%)

What color car looks the cleanest? ›

White is the easiest color to keep clean over time.

It's the best color for hiding imperfections and scratches, as well as water spots. White also hides dirt easily, so you don't have to worry about black or grey making it look like you have a dirty car.

What is the most disliked car? ›

  • 4.1 VAZ-2101/Lada Riva/Zhiguli (1970–2013)
  • 4.2 AMC Gremlin (1970–78)
  • 4.3 Chevrolet Vega (1971–77)
  • 4.4 Ford Pinto (1971–80)
  • 4.5 Morris Marina (1971–80)
  • 4.6 Vauxhall HC Viva "Firenza" (Canada) (1971–73)
  • 4.7 Lancia Beta (1972–84)
  • 4.8 Reliant Robin/Rialto (1973–2002)

What is the most professional looking car? ›

Dressing for success
  • BMW 3 and 5 Series. There is good reason for thinking of a BMW first when considering your business car options. ...
  • Mercedes-Benz C- and E-Class. ...
  • Tesla Model S. ...
  • Audi A3 and A4. ...
  • Jaguar XE and XF. ...
  • Volvo S90. ...
  • Alfa Romeo Giulia. ...
  • Skoda Superb.
26 Mar 2020

What makes a photo beautiful? ›

They capture a personality through just the eyes. They capture (or evoke) emotion. They use leading lines, the Rule of Thirds and other framing techniques to create a compositionally strong image. Beautiful photography has the right timing, the perfect color and many are bursting with creativity.

What is rule of third in photography? ›

What is the rule of thirds? The rule of thirds is a composition guideline that places your subject in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two thirds more open. While there are other forms of composition, the rule of thirds generally leads to compelling and well-composed shots.

What are the 6 key elements of photography? ›

There are seven basic elements to photographic art:
  • Line.
  • Shape.
  • Form.
  • Texture.
  • Color.
  • Size.
  • Depth.
7 Mar 2021

What makes a photo stand out? ›

Avoid using a distracting background

By using a plain background, the picture will emphasize your subject and give you a much better result. A noisy and distracting background will draw the eye away from the subject and make the whole picture look messy and amateurish.

What is the first basic tips in taking a good photography? ›

  • Learn to hold your camera properly.
  • Start shooting in RAW.
  • Understand the exposure triangle.
  • Wide aperture is best for portraits.
  • Narrow aperture is best for landscapes.
  • Learn to use Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes.
  • Don't be afraid to raise the ISO.
  • Make a habit of checking the ISO before you start shooting.
1 Jan 2021

What are the 9 rules of photography? ›

9 Essential Photo Composition Rules
  • Rule of Thirds. Chances are you are already familiar with this Rule of Thirds. ...
  • Golden Ratio. ...
  • Golden Spiral. ...
  • Simple and Clean Background. ...
  • Frame Your Subject. ...
  • Leading Lines & Straight Horizon. ...
  • Fill Your Frame. ...
  • Center Position.
17 Oct 2022

What are the golden rules of photography? ›

10 Rules of composition to follow for the best shots
  • Rule of thirds. With the rule of thirds, you have to train yourself to split your camera screen into a grid. ...
  • The Golden Ratio. ...
  • Leading lines. ...
  • Diagonals. ...
  • Frame within a frame. ...
  • Figure to ground. ...
  • Fill the frame. ...
  • Center dominant eye.

What makes a face more photogenic? ›

Are Some People Just Naturally Photogenic? Some characteristics translate more gracefully to film than others. Sharp cheekbones, a square jaw, and other angular facial features make for attractive subjects in photography because they better capture the available light.

How do you pose for a professional photo? ›

6 super helpful tips on how to pose for a professional headshot
  1. Have good posture. One of the most important thing you need to pay attention to during a headshot session is posture. ...
  2. Stay mindful of your chin. ...
  3. Don't face the camera directly. ...
  4. Lean on something. ...
  5. Relax your hands. ...
  6. Let your smile reach your eyes.

What is the 500 rule in photography? ›

Term: Description: The 500-Rule states that to obtain a clear image of stars without trails, take the number 500 and divided it by the focal length to get your exposure time. For example, a 20 mm lens would call for an exposure of about 25 seconds and theoretically, still obtain the stars without trails.

What is the 30 60 rule in photography? ›

The idea is that the 60 percent color anchors the space and also serves as a backdrop for what comes next. Your 30 percent is the secondary color. You'll be using half as much of this color as your main color.

What should you not do in photography? ›

7 Common Mistakes Photographers Make (and How to Avoid Them!)
  4. NOT HAVING A “PLAN B” ...
25 Oct 2017

What is the best time of day to photograph a car? ›

In general, the best time for car photos is a few minutes before sunrise or after sunset, when the light is soft and colors are slightly muted. This helps give your photos a beautiful glow without any harsh glare. You can also shoot at night.

What is the best shutter speed for taking roller shots of cars? ›

Settings and Equipment

Locking the shutter speed to 1/30th ensures a decent amount of motion blur, whilst keeping the car sharp. Hold the camera as steady as possible to help reduce camera shake.

What 3 lenses should every photographer have? ›

The Three Lenses Every Photographer Should Own
  • 1 – The Mighty 50mm. If you only have budget for one extra lens, make it a 50mm. ...
  • 2 – The Ultra Wide-angle. If your budget allows for two new lenses, buy the 50mm and then invest in a wide-angle optic. ...
  • 3 – The Magical Macro.
21 Nov 2017

What lens is good for full body shots? ›

A 50 mm lens is best for full-body portraits at waist level, both in the studio and on location. But, if you want to take a head or shoulder portrait, getting too close to your model can cause distortion because the facial features become too small, the face is too thin, and the nose looks bigger than it actually is.

Is a 50mm lens good for car photography? ›

50mm is almost the perfect focal length for shooting cars as it maintains their proportions, where a wide angle can distort.

Do professional photographers shoot in auto? ›

Yes, many professional photographers do sometimes shoot in auto mode. There is a large number of photographers that use semi-auto modes like shutter priority or aperture priority. The scenarios in which they use it can vary greatly.

What is car photography called? ›

Also known as car photography or vehicle photography, automotive photography is a deceptively challenging field. Photographers in this niche are specialists in capturing the best features of every vehicle they work with and help to build stunning photographs that speak to the emotions of the viewer.

How do I take sharp pictures with my car? ›

General Tips for Maximum Sharpness
  1. Use the Sharpest Aperture. Camera lenses can only achieve their sharpest photos at one particular aperture. ...
  2. Switch to Single Point Autofocus. ...
  3. Lower Your ISO. ...
  4. Use a Better Lens. ...
  5. Remove Lens Filters. ...
  6. Check Sharpness on Your LCD Screen. ...
  7. Make Your Tripod Sturdy. ...
  8. Use a Remote Cable Release.

Which F stop is sharpest? ›

If you're shooting flat subjects, the sharpest aperture is usually f/8. My lens reviews give the best apertures for each lens, but it is almost always f/8 if you need no depth of field.

How do I make my pictures sharper all the time? ›

10 Tips For Taking Sharp Photos With Your Camera
  1. Focus On The Subject. ...
  2. Use A Fast Shutter Speed. ...
  3. Use The Right ISO Setting. ...
  4. Find Your Lens' “Sweet Spot” ...
  5. Use Remote Shutter Release Or Timer. ...
  6. Use Mirror Lock-Up. ...
  7. Use Image Stabilization. ...
  8. Make Sure Your Lens Is Clean.

How much should I charge to photograph a car? ›

Comparison of average Los Angeles automotive photographer costs by shoot duration
Shoot durationTypical market cost in Los Angeles, CASnappr cost - value package
1 hour photoshoot$361$89
2 hour photoshoot$578$149
3 hour photoshoot$795$209
4 hour photoshoot$1,012$269
4 more rows

Is a wide angle lens good for car photography? ›

Wide apertures let in more light, so you can keep your shutter speed up and reduce motion blur — which is especially important when shooting fast cars.

How do you shoot professionally? ›

How To Take Professional Photos: A Beginner's Guide
  1. Master the Fundamentals of Composition. Choose a Strong Focal Point. ...
  2. Make Sure You Have Good Lighting. ...
  3. Get Some Lighting Equipment. ...
  4. Learn How to Edit Photos Like a Professional. ...
  5. Learn Your Camera's Settings. ...
  6. Pick Up a Tripod. ...
  7. Upgrade Your Gear. ...
  8. Show Off Your Shots Like a Pro.
26 Feb 2019

How can I make my car feel like luxury? ›

40 Cheap Upgrades That Will Make Your Car Feel Like a Luxury...
  1. Add a Steering Wheel Cover. A steering wheel cover increases the interior's flair. ...
  2. Wax Your Car. ...
  3. Put On a Car Bra. ...
  4. Get a Trunk Organizer. ...
  5. Shine Your Tires. ...
  6. Install a Backup Camera. ...
  7. Add a Tire Pressure Monitoring System. ...
  8. Put On Seat Covers.
16 Nov 2022


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