PetaPixel

How to Photograph an Affordable Car Like a Supercar

citroen

If there are two things I love in life it’s cars and photography, and the thought of putting those two together sounds better to me than getting chocolate in my peanut butter! Now I don’t claim to be an amazing photographer nor hold any hopes of one day having my own photography tutorial DVD. However, I do like to talk about photography and more so, I like to get other people talking about it.

I have noticed over the past twelve months that there has been a huge growth in the interest in Automotive Photography. Without opening a huge can of worms, this is partly down to the availability of digital cameras and smartphones that out perform many of the leading camera brands best efforts of five years ago. This is a bit of a sweeping statement but car photography is also a very ‘cool’ pass-time. Think about it, if you have even the remotest interest in cars, why wouldn’t you want to surround yourself in the latest car-porn, or even better, take that achingly beautiful motor to a stunning location… And then take a picture of it!

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Sound like fun? Well of course it does. Though it’s not quite that simple. There are inherent problems with any kind of photography, I don’t shoot weddings because they are to high pressure to get ‘the shot’ over and over again. I don’t shoot animals because I have no interest in them and as for kids… No thanks. So, If you’re still interested, I have compiled a list of tips that I think would help anyone with their automotive photography, or any other type of photography. In fact, they are probably applicable in most areas of your life, read on…

To illustrate these points, I will be using a recent shoot that I did with the Citroen C1. It’s a small city car that probably won’t set too many peoples world on fire, but we still approached the shoot like we were shooting a McLaren P1… And then nearly set it on fire.

Don’t Think, Shoot…

This is the first thing many other ‘photographers’ will tell you and I call bulls*** on it. Whereas I fully agree with the sentiment, I think it is completely wrong advise to be given as an amateur. The digital age has given everybody endless numbers of exposures and the ability to ‘spray and pray’. There is nothing particularly wrong with this, but it doesn’t challenge us to think about what we are shooting.

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With the C1, it would be easy to take a couple of hundred pictures and hope for the best. Even worse, it would be easy to think ‘it’s just a small car’ and not think at all and miss the point of the car. Rule number one, ‘think’ about what it is you are shooting. What purpose does it serve? Who is it targeted at? What environment is it built for? Start thinking about these points and then you will start to have a direction for your shoot. Only when you ‘know’ what you are shooting can you stop thinking and start shooting.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail…

Ahh, this old chestnut. As with any advice, if you find yourself hearing the same things over and over again, don’t discount it because there is probably some truth there. If we could nail down the Tim Wallaces’s, Webb Bland’s, Linhbergh’s of the world, I’m pretty sure this point would be fairly high on their lists too!

Try to think of a concept, storyboard the shoot if possible and scout locations prior to the shoot. It is possible to ‘wing it’ on the day and find good spots and I have done this many times; however, it does take a lot of pressure off when you know you’ve got good locations. On a recent shoot, I was about 100 shots in when a security guard stopped me and smiled contently as he watched me delete all of my excellent work as I had not gotten permission to shoot at the location first… Lesson learned.

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It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) get the basics right. Charge you batteries the night before, check that you’ve got all the equipment that you think you will need and more. It is better to take too much equipment and not need it, than to take too little and wish you’d got that extra flash. The great thing about shooting cars is that they are great for carrying your gear in!

Focus, Take Your Time…

One of the biggest lessons I have learned to date is to slow down, take your time and concentrate on what you’re doing. I have had some great opportunities to shoot some beautiful cars but when I get home, I find myself deleting what I thought where the ‘keepers’ and going with shots that I never really liked. Why? Because I missed the focus point, or there was something in the background that I’d not spotted.

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With the C1, we had a full day to shoot and this really helps, but when time is an issue (and this will sound like completely the wrong thing to do!) take your time! Make sure you are nailing the shot because you won’t have time to move the car again and say ‘can we just go back to that last location’…

Have Heroes, But Find Your Own Path…

This one can really apply to anything you are passionate about: cooking, sports being in a band… It is great to have heroes, those that you aspire to be like and look up to, but don’t get hung up on trying to ‘be them.’ I could list hundreds of photographers that I admire, but I pretty much no longer visit 500px or Flickr because the quality of other peoples work makes me feel pretty low. By all means study other peoples work, but don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember, they started at the bottom too.

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I personally don’t think I have a ‘style.’ If anything, I slightly lean towards the dark, moody, more artistic style of shooting. Within Automotive Photography, there is a huge tendency to over-process and Photoshop the hell out of an image. This is great and it produces some incredible images (just look at the work of GF Williams for instance) but it is not something that appeals to me. I would rather get things right ‘in camera’ and then just play with levels in Lightroom.

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You have to find your own niche, don’t copy any one person’s style too much (do your research though, it never hurts to see what other are doing and how they do it!). People will always compare you to somebody else and say ‘oh, you tried to make it look like so and so…’ Ignore this, just keep following your own path and one day, before you even become aware of it, you will have found your niche.

Be Curious, Ask Questions…

This is both literal and metaphorical. If you are with the owner of a car, they will undoubtedly be passionate about it. Don’t forget, they have thrown their hard-earned money, long hours and more blood sweat and tears than you could possibly imagine into their garage-built baby. So talk to them about it, ask them what appeals to them, why they chose it, what their favorite parts of it are, and then shoot them!

citroen7

Take the C1, the Platinum edition that we had didn’t accidentally have a spoiler on the back, it was there for a purpose! Now this purpose was probably more to indicate that it is a ‘sportier’ model rather than to provide actual down-force, but again, it is there for a reason, so make sure it is in the shot.

No matter what you’re shooting, take a good look around it first, understand what it is you are shooting, ask yourself questions like ‘what is that vent for?’ and ‘Why have they used that exhaust?’ Ask questions and you will start to get the essence of what it is you are shooting, then you will take the kind of shots that ‘tell a story’ rather than snap shots.

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Don’t Be Scared to ‘Go Big’…

With all due respect, we knew that we would have to do something to draw attention to the C1. I love a bit of long-exposure photography and had experimented with steel wool in the past and though it would be great to get a huge spiral going behind a car. I had always imagined it would be a Ferrari F40, but I said to my editor Paul, ‘Why don’t we do it for the C1?′ He agreed.

citroen9

I formed a plan of how I would do it, found a location and set about organizing the shot. I chose a location in a quiet part of town to try to avoid unwanted attention. We knew that we were dealing with fire so we took all of the necessary precautions and had plenty of water and a first aid kit at hand. We chose a brick-built location free from flammables and did a test shot with the steel wool to get the correct exposure time etc.

We then set about lighting the car. This was done using a handheld LED strip light which we used to literally ‘paint’ the car with light. When we were happy that the we could combine the two, we went for it!

My trusty assistant (my girlfriend) kept watch for passers-by and small fires as I set the camera and went and found a cramped little spot behind the C1. My trusty editor Paul then started the exposure and proceeded to paint the car with the strip light. 15 Seconds later, you have the final image, all shot in one go.

citroen10

Now I have played a little bit with the levels and I can already hear readers shouting ‘the light on the car isn’t even’ and ‘you could have layered several exposures together in Photoshop!’ Which are great points, but I wanted to illustrate that with a bit of planning, research and patience, you can get decent results pretty much straight out of camera.

Final Thoughts…

It is always going to be a stretch of the imagination to shoot a small city car like a million pound plus hypercar. But my argument is, why not? Every shoot that we undertake we should be striving to make it as good as possible, push our own limits and continually try to improve ourselves.

Your current shoot should always (at least try) to be better than your last! Shooting a C1 on a cold, rainy day in the middle of Birmingham may not sound fun, but it challenged me and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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I hope that some of these tips help you and would love to hear your own tips, so please comment below and share your own experiences! Feel free to email me your images and we’ll share the best in future post on MotorVerso (email: [email protected]). Good luck and, most importantly, enjoy yourselves!

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About the Author: Ross Jukes is an amateur photographer from Birmingham, England with a passion for automotive photography (among other things). You can find more of his work on his Facebook page. This article was originally published on MotorVerso.


 
  • Banan Tarr

    Generally, I like the angles he’s working with. That said,I feel the two with sparks are my least favorite of the set. The sparks seem underexposed. There’s no reflection of them along the curves and shine of the car, the result is a bit jarring.

    Anyway because anyone can be a critic here’s a recent one of mine of the same genre (automotive)

  • Ross Jukes

    Hi Banan, first of all, Wow! That is a great image and what a location! I did say in the first paragraph that I don’t claim to be amazing, I have a hell of a lot to learn! I just thought that the little bits that I have picked up over the last twelve months or so may help others! Thanks anyway, keep up the excellent work :)

  • Banan Tarr

    Hi Ross. Thank you! I too have a hell of a lot to learn :)

  • Ross Jukes

    It’s a great field of photography to be in though, I love being around cars, I hope my skills are getting better (slowly) but either way, even if people think I completely Suck! I enjoy it, and that’s all that matters :)

  • Albo

    I don’t want to sound too harsh, but I really have no idea why someone should actually bother to read the whole article and place a value on those tips, after seeing those images. I know the author claims he’s not a great photographer, but then I don’t understand why he wrote a “how to” when he himself obviously doesn’t know how to. Really, I’m not having a go, we’re all learning through our entire lives, but this is not the first time I’ve seen tutorials or “how to” articles containing very bad images here on Petapixel.

  • http://www.felipeyang.com Felipe Yang

    I like the image but I feel it’s more of a landscape shot than a car shot. I know you underexposed the shot to preserve the highlights in the sky but that draws the focus of the image to the clouds instead of the car.

  • Ross Jukes

    Hi Albo, well I’ve absolutely put myself in the firing line so I can handle the criticism. However, when I first started to shoot cars, I personally would have found this very useful. I don’t see why it should be left to the ‘experts’ to try to offer advice. Why can’t people with lower skills support each other? Yes, my images may not be that great but is every single word I’ve written utter rubbish or may someone find it useful?

  • Bruce W.

    To be honest, the photos underwhelmed me a bit – mostly due to the overcast/rainy day. And PetaPixel’s rendering doesn’t help as their scaled images are not sharp in the article. (That’s in stark contrast to the very sharp images in the sites advertisements.)

    And I suggest that you ensure the wheels are oriented the same way in any stills – especially with mag wheels.

  • Ross Jukes

    Thanks, that’s good advice :)

  • Guest

    Thanks, that’s great advice…

  • Foz

    Can.u guys speak to g f wiliams and feature his work?

  • Matias Gonua

    Awesome picture. The landscape is wonderful, but that black cloud on top makes the whole scene much more mysterious. Great picture, one of those that “tell a story” all by itself.

  • Albo

    Of course someone could find something useful here, but thats because those are very generic advices that, like you wrote, can be applicable to every kind of photography, or everything in life. Don’t improvise, plan things in advance, find your path, focus on interesting details, be curious, push your boundaries. This is basically common sense. Something every father with no photographic knowledge could and should teach. And yeah, some of the things you wrote are rubbish (e.g. just play with the levels in LR. Really? No real postproduction? Do you think that’s a good tip for people who are interested in make a living with automotive photography?) but the real problem is that there are no guidelines about how you shoot a car and have good results. If you’ve ever seen a professional photographer shooting a car, you realize that there’s a huge amount of technical stuff, from gear to lighting, that should be covered, if your intent is to show “how to photograph an affordable car like a supercar”. In fact, that’s the problem with this and, I think, with Petapixel staff: the title is completely misleading. It should be instead something like “Diary of a cloudy day shooting a small car in Birmingham”.

  • Ross Jukes

    The title may seem misleading but the emphasis is on ‘why hold yourself back’ Approach each shoot like it is a supercar and then you should be more prepared when you get to shoot one. I’m afraid I’m clearly in no position to hand out the level of technical advice that somebody who wants to make a living from automotive photography would need seeing as I don’t make a living from it myself. It seems you have as much of a problem with PetaPixel for posting the article as you do my apparent substandard work. However, I still believe that if somebody find a few hints and tips from this useful it is a worth while exercise and if they truly want to make a living in this field, they will look elsewhere for the more technical guidance.

  • Lukas Prochazka

    try to take photos of cars next 5 years or even 1 year and after that look back….

  • Banan Tarr

    I hear ya! Thanks for the feedback Felipe

  • Banan Tarr

    Thank you Matias. Yeah it was just a hole torn into the clouds during a wind storm near Anchorage :)

  • Dave

    What kind of led strip light did you use?

  • gtsomething

    “Why can’t people with lower skills support each other?”

    Reminds me of when my immigrant parents with heavily accented English tried to teach English to their friend, who was a new immigrant. Ultimately, I guess he did learn ‘English’, but at the same time, it wasn’t good English, or remotely correct English.

  • Mark Leedom

    I don’t meant any disrespect but the topic should be “How to photograph an affordable car like as seen on billboards”

    And its not how much the car costs that makes it great. To me its as simply as how its lit.

  • Ross Jukes

    Well I can’t argue with that analogy, it is exactly the same. I genuinely don’t mind the criticisms, I can expect that. If I was making £100k a year from my photos I would expect people to shout fraud and call me on the quality of my work. However, I don’t see why as soon as someone ‘tries’ to do something, the photography ‘community’ just shoots them down, rather than offering any sort of constructive feedback. This won’t stop me from taking pictures but there is clearly no value in my opinion so I will keep it to myself in future.

  • wickerprints

    That’s the whole point of the image–to place the car in a context that is synchronous with a marketing message and its intended use: “buy this car, and you too can visit places like this.” It’s one of the classic automotive marketing tropes (another being images of seductive women posed in/on/next to the car). The uppermost cloud is a bit dark for my taste–an art director might say something like, “that looks too ominous for our message”–but it’s a very bold and striking image nonetheless.

  • gtsomething

    I think the frustration with most people here is someone who claims they’re not a great photographer but then writes a how to article like ‘Albo’ said. A lot of the shots are underexposed and low in contrast (there is a difference between low-key and underexposed), the angles are decent but in a few but some are rather boring (specifically the steel wool ones). In a lot of the other shots, there’s a lack of attention to detail; in certain shots the car looks dirty or dusty (steering wheel for example), and there are a lot of distracting backgrounds. Especially when you have such a boring car, you need to get rid of distractions in either post or in camera. For some of these shots, even if you did put an F40 in there, it would still be a lack-lustre shot because of the composition, exposure, and general junk in the frame. The lack of attention to detail makes everything feel like you didn’t really think it through or care, even if you actually did. Lastly, the shot needs to be on focus. I can understand that with panning it can be difficult to get the entire car in focus, so I won’t harp you there, but the shot with the camera alongside the door – the car is soft and slightly out of focus, which doesn’t matter because you can barely consider it to be in the frame, but even worse yet, all your lines lead to the car in front which the viewer pays more attention to (it also doesn’t help that its the only coloured thing in the frame), and it just says “I’m slower than someone else.”, and remember, there is a factor of speed or competition that says “this car is the best” involved when shooting cars.

    Now, I’m not saying stop taking pictures, I think you have great passion for what you’re doing, and you’re handling the criticism in a mature manner and that’ll help you learn quicker as you keep shooting. But until you reach a certain level, you’re technically teaching ‘bad English’. So, before writing a how-to tutorial, you really should’ve asked people for criticism on your work first, instead of asking for it after writing a tutorial.

  • Ross Jukes

    Thank you for your constructive criticism. I welcome that kind of comment as there are things there I can take away and improve upon. I won’t get into an arguement about who should or shouldn’t give out advice. I imagine that reader of blogs such as this are discerning enough to make up their own mind as to what advice to take on board and what to disregard.

    I’m also not going to defend the pictures (apart from to say that the ‘slower’ shot chasing the other car – the car in front is effectively the same as a C1 and it was more a ‘snapshot’ as opposed to being planned. I know that there are things that I need to improve upon and I’m certainly not going to blame my entry-level equipment, the ‘boring’ car or the poor conditions that it was shot in. However, clearly the lesson here is to not have an opinion, not try to help and maybe tens of years from now, when I’m maybe at a level where I feel I have something noteworthy to pass on to others – check to see if it’s appropriate first.

  • http://www.canon5dtips.com/ Tom K.

    I must say title got me interested, but
    after seeing photos, I was thinking photos must be wrong, as I read text and
    keep on going how people make mistakes, wrong advice’s, pros and amateurs etc.,
    but on the end I can’t find that photo from the title, some photos are OK, but
    non made me feel it is supercar, none are professional. I don’t want to sound
    to critic, but I don’t think these photos are good enough for professional use.

    First image: Not well lit, seeing
    background, side walls, cut off fireball, bad car exposure and lightning.

    Second image: too much ground in the image,
    car is again not well lit, background is too much clear, bad aperture.

    Third image: It looks like amateur shot,
    car is dirty. There is missing something, that mailbox cut on half, I don’t see
    point of this image if car is not moving, and it is not moving.

    Fourth image: completely regular normal
    shot, too much distractions, field of view is bad, better that you put car on
    some “endless” road between trees than this city shot on grey rainy
    day. Street looks too messy, ruins the picture, looks for me completely like
    amateur shot.

    Fifth image: maybe shot would be great if
    background was not there. It’s rather distracting; again car is not well
    exposed. Front is almost burned while back is little underexposed. This is not
    good shot, bad positioning, bad angle and lightning.

    Sixth image: Best in the series so far. But
    it still misses something, it doesn’t look pro. wall behind it looks bad,
    picture is too grey, looks like some lonely place, with the dirty poddle on the
    floor. Again lightning could be better.

    Seventh image: Distracting rain drops on
    the windshield. Dust visible. Other car is visible in the reflection of the RPM
    meter. Background to distracting. Again Lightning not perfect, should be
    softer.

    Eight picture: another distracting
    background, you opened the door, but nothing is visible inside, bad lightning.
    You even made some editing on this one. Not natural colors on bottom and top of
    the car, bottom is lighter and top is darker, looks like vignette.

    Ninth picture: Really distracting
    background, bad lightning. Not clear what did you want to say with it ?

    Tenth picture: Again missed lightning,
    distracting background. Wheels not highlighted.

    11th: car is not well exposured, left side
    is darker right is lighter. Again the background is too distracting and visible
    and yet not impressive.

    12th: too wide, not interesting background,
    it should have been something major, not that you see poles.

    13th: hotspot on the glass is bad. Different
    post process than others, you should have same process on all :) distracting different
    white balance. Interesting photo and angle, but other car is visible in front,
    that is bad, and yet another hotspot in the mirror!

    14th: whole car is not well exposured, too
    dark. Whole car is blurry, except back part, and I believe that is not most
    important part of the car, you should try more!

    15th: Interesting but why is whole wheel
    not visible? That car in the front is not good, there is nothing clear and in
    focus in this image. Flaring, overexposured lamps, underexposured car… Not
    good.

    16th: You should take two shots, one of the
    sky another of the car, now you got just bad dark, grey photo. You have very distracting
    and not interesting background. Not well lit car.

    17th: almost good photo, you should
    overexposure windshield to get white or something, not like this. Hotspot on
    sign is not good.

    18th – last image: Another amateur image,
    wheels not well lit. Distracting background, no story.

    White car is EASIEST to shoot.

  • http://www.canon5dtips.com/ Tom K.

    Exactly my point. And author even mention in his article how people talk wrong, give wrong advice’s, it sounds little bit like the author is pro, but again from pictures it is visible that at least cars are not his professional side.

  • Albo

    Ok, first of all, I don’t care about the “photography community”, I don’t care about being a part of it, I have no interest in “shooting people down”, and I generally only care about what I and other people that I respect do.
    Now, it’s not that you try to do something and people like to hate just for the sake of it. It’s that you aspire to give tips when you’re not in the position to do so. It’s simple as that.
    If you wrote an article containing your pictures asking for a feedback, I’m sure everybody would have been ok with it. But again there’s plenty of forums for that, this is not the right place.

    Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, you can go on shooting what you like, in the way you want to, and giving tips to everyone, if you feel like you’re giving good tips. The real problem here is Petapixel’s policy on content selection.

    Lastly, if you wanted some constructive feedback, here’s some thoughts:

    - many pictures are underexposed and lack of contrast. Postproduction helps.

    - most of the locations are simply ugly (e.g. graffiti wall? Really?) and distracting. If you can’t find a beautiful road on the hills, some cool geometrical building, a huge open space and so on, place your car in front of some kind of “abstract” location, a “non-lieu”. A plain white wall instead of those graffiti on the shutter would have been 1000 times better

    - I noticed you like when the ground reflects the car image. That’s cool, but you should sacrifice some of that reflection in order to leave some more space above the real car.

    - the car is often dirty. You would never shoot a dirty Veyron.

    - when you wanna shoot the front of the car, place your camera “in front of the car”, not “in front of the car but slightly on the left/right”. Use some measuring tape if you’re not 100% sure you’re in the middle.

    - light painting? Let’s master basic lighting first.

    - work with interesting angles, but avoid those that look like the camera is falling from outside the car window.

    - reflection of your on-camera flash on the back window? I’ve never seen a car adv with a hard light reflecting on the surface in my life. Broad, soft lighting is your best friend.

    - the car has too many unpleasant reflections on the windshield, windows and body. Get rid of them. The goal is to show the shape of the car, so you need smooth surfaces, no distractions, neat gradients, etc. Use scrims, black velvet, photoshop, or move your car.

    Good luck.

  • Student

    Ross, I don’t really have any constructive criticism. I love your photos. They are of cars. ‘Nuff said.
    Your style is not the same as my style, but if it was, I would not want to look at your photos. I especially like the one of the right taillight and mirror with the garage door on the right. Beautiful. I love details.
    Thanks for the advice. I have been pleased with my own photos, but I’m always looking for a kick in the pants that might introduce a new dynamic. The same old photos of the same old Ferraris get boring after a while.

  • Joey

    Humility. This article lacks humility. But I think petapixel had a hand in it as that title is rather grandiose.

    Surprise an online blog that makes money from advertising is using grandiose titles to drive interest and therefore profit.

    Keep up the good work Ross and keep learning.

  • http://www.clairestelle.com/ clair estelle

    cute car and great photography!

  • Guest

    Your 2nd picture in the post is good; all the others are quite bad.

  • Dimadozen

    I had no idea Supercars where photographed dirty, in a poorly lit manner, full of dust on the dashboard, with really distracting backgrounds and surroundings and on the crappiest of days for a photo shoot.

    Presenting tutorials like these helps nail the final coffin in the pro photo industry. It makes sure that peoples’ standards are so low, that they’ll accept THESE photos as “how to” photos.

  • hope

    Wrong and wrong.

  • Mike

    Never seen so many handbags below a post. Grow up, learn and if you can do a better article then do it!

  • oknahs

    How to photograph a super car. Give me a break. How much better would this article been if the author actually shot a real car. Very disappointing.

  • http://modelsensation.com/ ModelSensation Photography

    Thanks for the hard work it took to put this together. I learnt some things. Bravo

  • http://modelsensation.com/ ModelSensation Photography

    please… shut up. Please contribute something. Everybody has something to teach and tips to share. You don’t create anything… I am tired of trolls.