Car/Auto photography


No longer a newbie, moving up!
Nov 27, 2012
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New Orleans
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I have an opportunity to get into some really high end auto photography. Cars are my first passion in life and I am very excited about this. A good friend of mine has a very successful car detailing company that just expanded into a huge shop. The shop is full of exotic cars throughout the week and he has agreed to let me come in any time I want to do some shooting to expand my portfolio. I have agreed to give him use rights on any photos I take for his facebook page but they will retain my watermark for my own marketing for the local "car guys".

I have not had a real opportunity like this and am looking for advice on gear to use. The shop is pretty big with lots of natural light coming in. I'm really looking for any tips from anyone experienced in this realm of photography.

I'm shooting with a D7K and figure my 50mm 1.8G will be the go-to glass for this type of work. I guess I should get a CPL? I don't have a flash and have been meaning to get one, but do I need a flash for auto photography? This is not going to be studio shooting, but general atmosphere shooting of the cars in the shop and the workers as well as photoshoots scheduled outside of the shop.
Sounds like a great opportunity. I have watched a few video's on youtube about lighing cars. Here is a blog post from Scott Kelby about some he's done. I've seen a video of his that I found really good too.
Thanks for sharing. That's some gorgeous work he has there. Looks like I need some lighting for sure. So, SB700/YG560EX or should I get some strobes or something?
Most shops ive been in were poorly lit. they may seem good till you start shooting and realise how dark it is. natural light is good if your doing a portrait, but with something the size of the car chances are the window isnt going to let in the light you want and if it does shadows could play a part depending on the window design. just had to say without knowing what exactly is there. 50mm is probalby going to be okay inside the shop but will just depend so much on the shop and where your setup. I generally use my 70-200 more then anything when shooting autos, just like the look it gives me. Lighthing wise, i will use anywhere from a ab400 to that plus three other flashes to get the light depending on how i'm setup. the light i'm working with, the size and shape of the car, etc.
I've never done any car photography but I have photographed plenty of indoor areas where there are lots of reflective surfaces on the target. In a nutshell, it can be a nightmare. The best you can hope for is bright shade, probably from an overcast sky. Using a flash will cause a bright spot on the car's surface which will detract from the image. There are ways around that such as using an umbrella, using reflective flash, etc. I'm not a flash expert although there are plenty of them here. I've just used flashes for photographing museums with their reflective display cases. Like I said, it can be a nightmare.

I've used circular polarizing lens before. I don't use them anymore. They don't work at all on Plexiglas and mine degraded the image. I paid a few hundred dollars for what I thought was a pretty good one. I soon discovered it was useless for the photography I was doing. I put it aside and never used it again. I have no idea how they would work on a car's surface. They typically work on water and glass. If there are any ripples on the water they're not much good. Mine was only marginal in removing some but not all the reflections from glass.

I suppose there are two philosophies when it comes to taking photos. Many folks like to shoot with a fixed focal length prime lens then either crop to get what they want or keep changing lenses to a variety of primes until they get the photo they want. I'm the exact opposite. I like to use super zoom lenses and fill the viewfinder with the image. It makes for a lot less time spent on the computer for post processing and I've been happy with the results. If I was going to shoot what you have in mind I would use my Sigma 18-250mm macro on my Canon 7D. That would allow me to stand back away from people a little bit and zoom in on things. The macro feature would allow me get a really good photo of the detail work being done. Zooming down to 14" at 250mm provides some excellent detail.

I think your best bet is to start shooting, check each shot and keep practicing.
I'm shooting with a D7K and figure my 50mm 1.8G will be the go-to glass for this type of work. I guess I should get a CPL? I don't have a flash and have been meaning to get one, but do I need a flash for auto photography?
Yes you do ... You must be able to control the light, whether use strobes or speedlites, natural light & one lens isn't going to make the grade!
Although I've not photographed cars (except in an outdoor show a month ago), I've done enough indoor of static subjects (Christmas tree displays) to learn two requirements...a tripod and a remote shutter release. Together, they allow for the longer exposures necessary to accomodate low lighting, and guarantee there is no blurring due to camera movement in the picture.

One other issue...white balance. To accurately reproduce the colors, I used an X-rite Color Checker. With high end autos, I'm sure WB accuracy is a must!

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