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Car Shots

Having a flash unit ready to go gives you more options. If time is limited and the weather suddenly turns cloudy or dark, or if the chosen background proves to be too cluttered, auxiliary lighting can separate a car from its surroundings. When it comes to photographing interiors, trunks and engine compartments, then open shade, diffuse lighting or low-angled sunset light usually excel. Fill-flash or "painting" with a modeling light also can add needed highlights. Don’t forget to straighten the steering wheel before shooting interiors.

1960s Steering Wheel In Porsche 911, Monterey, CA

Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon 17-35mm lens at 35mm, 1⁄6 sec., ƒ/19. This is a straight image of a vintage MOMO steering wheel and interior shot during a magazine shoot on a foggy morning at Monterey’s Laguna Seca Racetrack. Only natural light was used. I sat in the driver’s seat, braced the camera against my body and shot with the lens stopped down to ƒ/19 at 1⁄6 sec. I got clean reflections on the gauges by positioning the camera to reflect the overcast sky. Overcast is like Mother Nature’s softbox, and it’s often ideal for automotive shooting.


Lamborghini Gallardo, Seattle, WA

Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon 24-105mm lens at 100mm, 1⁄100 sec., ƒ/14, portable flash. This Lamborghini was photographed at a car show in Washington state and self-assigned. I chose a cloudy day and brought along a small portable flash, which I placed on the ground and fired remotely. Small, remote flash units are excellent to have with you for exactly these sorts of situations.

1973 Porsche 911 RSR Slide Valve MFI Motor, Monterey, CA

Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon 17-35mm lens at 17mm, 1⁄60 sec., ƒ/16. Engines can be difficult to photograph. This one proved to be visually interesting with its rare slide valve injection and thinly screened thr
ottle bodies. I used a wide angle to create a more dramatic, albeit distorted, look. Because I was able to use the directional, hard sunset light, I didn’t need any artificial light.


Action photography of sports sedans, SUVs and exotics allows several options. You could simply park the car on a deserted road and create all the desired "at speed" effects in Photoshop using a motion-blur filter in several layer masks. Or you could enlist two drivers and shoot car-to-car from a truck or convertible or through an open car window or sunroof. Another option is to use panned action photography from the side of the road. Or you can get really complicated and attach a camera to the car with a window mount, body mount or underbody automotive rig.

The advantage in using an automotive rig is that the camera moves at the exact same speed as the car being photographed. This gives a blurred look to the background while keeping the body in perfect focus. Long shutter speeds and coasting often are necessary for these shots to be successful. Just be aware that most rigs need to be visually removed from the final image in Photoshop.

Shutter-speed selection will determine how much blur is needed in action photography. Try using everything from 1⁄250 to 1⁄4 sec. initially to see what works best. By monitoring your progress and image sharpness in the camera’s review monitor, you can be guaranteed of good results. Always ensure that you have authorized access, and enlist all safety requirements when shooting from a vehicle, using a closed track or driving on any public road.


It’s a good idea to obtain property and model releases for all your automotive shoots. That way, you can continue to market your still images and video at a later date.

I try to work with the minimum of equipment, making sure I have a sturdy tripod and enough charged batteries and empty memory cards on hand to complete the shoot. My gear currently consists of a couple of Canon EOS 5D Mark II bodies and 15mm, 17-35mm, 50mm, 24-105mm, 70-200mm and 500mm Canon lenses. My lighting case holds a Canon flash with a Quantum turbo battery, an umbrella, a light stand and an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra Kit.

What makes any photograph memorable is nuance combined with colors, shapes and lines that strike a universal chord in the viewer. The photographer who has a deep connection with his or her subject is more likely to be ready to fire the shutter when a special moment appears in his or her viewfinder. The challenge is to make every car photographed look unique.

See more of Randy Wells’ automotive images, as well as a range of his other work and blog, at


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