Suggestions for shooting car shows. Part: Deux

How to take good photos at a car show

Disclaimer: These are merely suggestions. Take them for what they are worth to you, one thing will not always work in every situation, it’s up to you to figure out what and when. I’m not responsible if you muck it up.

Car show season is upon us and I know a lot of new comers are really going to want to mingle amongst the gear heads and slap a few backs while stroking your handle bar mustache. Here are a few things I’ve learned from 15 years of car show experience and working as a freelance automotive photographer and writer.

“All of your photos will suck — or at least %99 will”

Let me first preface this by saying; Car shows are HARD to get quality photos from. Pure and simple, just plain HARD. Here’s a good example of why I say that.

Look at all the JUNK that’s in the way and none of it looks good in your photos. Some dude picking his nose or worse, his belly button, is not a way to enhance your photos nor does it compliment the car.

Just remember, %99.999999 of your photos will suck for this very reason. Shadows, reflections and baby strollers will hamper your desire for a clean shot.

Leave the wide angle at home

Rarely does a wide angle lens work.

Most people will tell you, “you want to get the entire car in therefore, bring the wide angle”.

Just no. No, no, no, no aaaaannnd NO. Not only do you get the entire car in the shot, but you get the car, some dude scratching his pants and everything within a 50ft radius that will destroy your photo.

Here’s a good example.

I only kept that photo because I felt it was mildly amusing to see some old codger pointing to the owner of the Spyker.

Leave the wide angle at home and remember this tip someone wise once told me: “Never show the entire subject”

Instead, my suggestion is to bring a long lens (at least a 70-200 or greater) and a LONG macro and that’s it.

What defines the car you are trying to shoot?

Since we can’t use our wide angle lens, what do we have left? Details.

My friends and I have this game where were show each other a picture of a VERY small part of a car and we all have to guess what make and model the car it is. It’s a challenging game because some of my friends are sadistic, twisted fools who will show you an arm rest and that’s it. Bastards!

Cars are not about technical data or a technically perfect photo. They are about passion and emotional connection. Cars are an extension of who we are as people and they say a lot about who we are. So, when you look at a car, what defines the car? What calls out and says, “love me, drive me”.

Use the details of the car to your advantage. Here’s a photo of a 1952 Jaguar XK120. The signature piece of the car is the 5 humps in the front. The fenders, the head lights and the hood culminate to make a beautiful profile.

You don’t NEED to see the whole car to know what it is. You don’t NEED to know what kind of car this is to see the lovely lady lumps. (Which is the title of the photo, Lovely Lady Lumps).

Lovely Lady Lumps

Lovely Lady Lumps

Want to make money by selling it to the owner?

Sad and honest truth. You won’t. Sorry. Look around you at the next car show, how many people have fancy cameras? How many times you think that owner has been approached by a schmoe like you?

Forget it, unless you have something NO ONE else in the entire world can get, I’d leave this idea at home. People will not pay you for a photo shoot of their car, car people are cheap. I should know, I am one.

Just go for fun and to look at the pretty machines.

Details, Details, Details.

I can’t emphasize this point enough. Car people spend a lot of time polishing their machines and making sure each detail is spot on. The reason why is that every time a car owner looks at his/her car, they see something that just isn’t quite right, so they are constantly improving and upgrading their cars and they want people to notice!

If you look hard enough you will see what I mean when you look at a car. Look at wheels, brakes, exhaust, interior…etc… it’s there.

Jag Shifter

Jag Shifter

If you touch my car….

…I will make your life a living hell.

Do NOT under any circumstances touch another mans car. We’ve already established that car people are attached to their cars in a deep emotional way and that their cars are an extension of who they are a person. So, whatever you do to the car, you do to them.

Ask permission, easy as that. You want a closer look or want to see something inside the car? Ask.

Car guys love to talk about their cars. They are like their children and that’s almost as important as their cars!

Showing a little bit of interest in a guys car will go a long way and they will be more than happy to open a door, hood or tell you what makes their car special above the rest.

Car shows aren’t about cars.

They aren’t. They are about the people. The cars are vehicles to posterity, progeny and nostalgia. When you are out there shooting people’s cars always remember that. Your photo must represent what the car stands for as well as the passion that goes into the machine.

Good luck and expect part trois soon!


This entry was posted in Photo Techniques, Writings. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Suggestions for shooting car shows. Part: Deux

  1. Richard Lucas says:

    Thanks Eric. Very good read indeed! I am a car guy myself, so at least I did manage to understand the basic psyche of a car guy. Now if i can just hide the wide angle from myself, it will be all good!