Automotive Photography - Advice Needed

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by GForensic, Jul 19, 2013.

  1. GForensic macrumors newbie

    Jul 18, 2013
    Hello All,

    I am currently a hobbyist who shoots with a little older Canon 40D camera. I would like to get a little more serious and go into automotive photography (if this is the actual category). I grew up liking cars and as I get older it is becoming more of a passion. I have had the good fortune of owning a few corvettes with another one on the way in a year or two and find myself taking many pictures of my cars. I also like to attend as many car shows as I can as well as take in any local races.

    I recently bought a new mac pro for general use with the thought of maybe doing something more with it and I also have an older macbook pro (Early 2011) that I am considering selling and upgrading to a retina using my friends discount at Apple. I figure if I travel around at all or visit a client from time to time I could show off my work better on the retina. Thoughts?

    I bought the 40D as a kit a while ago which came with the basic lens (please don't laugh….lol) which is actually pretty good but I know it's not up to the task. Many people here stress buying lenses over a new body so any advice as to what would be good for "automotive" photography would be most helpful. My first thought is shooting a lot of "still" cars and eventually moving up to cars in motion.

    I would like to approach this with the possibility of turning it into a part time business so I want to be smart with my money and do this the right way. If it doesn't work out that way then at least I will be shooting what I love. Also, I am working a little with Lightroom 4. Is there any software suited better for this type of photography or am I really over thinking this?

    Thanks in advance to anyone who can offer some good advice! :)
  2. swordio777 macrumors 6502

    Apr 3, 2013
    Scotland, UK
    I'm not an automotive photographer so you can take or leave my advice, but in my personal opinion the most important element of photographing cars is the lighting. It's light and shadow that define shape and texture - the images in car brochures (and adverts for expensive watches) show this clearly. You don't really give much indication of the style of images you'd like to take (ie - on location vs studio shots), but regardless of where you take them I think learning a bit of off-camera lighting would be a great place to start.

    Your canon 40D is a fantastic body and certainly capable of taking the kind of shots you're after. You say that you know your kit lens isn't "up to the task" - what makes you say that? if it's something like an 18-55mm f/3.5 - f/4.5 then I'd have thought it's perfectly suited to the job - you're probably going to be shooting about f/8 or f/11 anyway, so there's no need to go out and drop a thousand bucks on f/2.8 glass. Rather than spending any money at all on a new lens, I'd spend about $300 on 3 or 4 used manual flashes (you don't need TTL ones) and some cheap lightstands. If you're not sure where to start with off-camera light then head over to and start reading - it's an amazing & educational blog where David Hobby shares an absolute wealth of knowledge about using flash in every conceivable circumstance.

    The retina screen and software used are both completely irrelevant at this stage - don't blow money on those things until you really need to (especially if you're hoping this venture will make you money rather than cost you money). To answer your question - you are over-thinking it a bit, but only because the gear doesn't matter as much as you think. The important thing is learning the skills to create the image that's in your head - don't worry, a really great photo will look fantastic regardless of which camera captured it, the monitor resolution you look at it on, or which software you did the editing in.

    Hope that helps!
  3. GForensic thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 18, 2013
    Thank you very much for taking your time to respond! I will definitely use this advice.

    With this being said I'll definitely check out the website you gave me. In addition to that are there any other resources (Websites...books...etc) you can point me to? I don't mind doing the research at all but if there are a couple of websites or books that are most popular I would like to start there first.

    I've seen some awesome photos published to this website and I know there is a wealth of knowledge floating around here.

    I'll take a look at the lens for the specs and post here. I would be interested probably at first more on location shots and also live action shots during a race or competition.

    Thanks again!
  4. AlaskaMoose, Jul 19, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2013

    AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

    Apr 26, 2008
    While swordio777 gave you good advise, in my view the kit lens quite often is not wide enough for such type of photography. What I would do is to buy a super wide lens such as the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. The Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/4 would also be an excellent choice, but it's a lot more expensive than the Tokina, and the later has a wider aperture (f/2.8). Besides that, you would need a better flash than the 40D's built-in one. I would suggest a Canon Speelight, although these are more expensive than most flashes. The 580-series Speedlights have a built-in trigger that can be set to fire other flashes.
  5. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    Yes, that is a actually gere of photography. It is not easy. The 40D is an ideal body of this. The kit lens is OK. You do NOT need a fast lens for a subject like this.

    Cer photographers tend to shoot as if they where shooting a movie. They prep everything, clean the car, prep any props and finally hose down the driveway and street, (they always seem to like wet pavement) claen the car again. then walk back to the tripos and trip the shutter.

    Yes get a BIG tripod one that goes tall. And take your time if the car is not moving.

    The biggest problem is lighting, it's like any other kind of "product photography" but the product is bigger. You either have to wait of the perfect light or have people hold some wopping huge reflectors, silks and whatever.

    If you are working around a car show and only get to take snapshots, be sur and have some kind of defused lighting, something really soft.

    Got a polarizer filter? I think you might need one. Gets the glare off the glass.

    Interior shots are hard. The pros actually saw the roof or side off the car. You likely do not have that kind of budget, so a wide lens might help
  6. Caliber26, Jul 20, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2013

    Caliber26 macrumors 68000


    Sep 25, 2009
    Orlando, FL
    Although you didn't mention it, I'm assuming you'll also be shooting the interior of the cars? If so, you might find yourself struggling with the kit lens as it probably doesn't go wider than 18mm, making your field of view a little too tight for the inside of a car. I, too, recommend the 11-16mm Tokina. I've used that lens on several occasions. Not only is it crazy wide on a crop sensor but it's also a very sharp lens.

    Another suggestion is buying a fisheye lens. I realize they're not for everyone but, depending on your style and creativity, you could produce some very interesting results. Rokinon makes an 8mm fisheye that's ridiculously wide and is perfect for shooting in tight spaces, such as a car. I've personally never shot with this lens but a couple of guys I know own it and both say they love it. And for $249 it's a great deal. (Canon doesn't make fisheye lenses for their crop sensor bodies, such as the 40D, so you'd have to go with a third-party if you wanted a fisheye lens. Tokina and Sigma also make fisheye lenses for Canon crop sensor bodies but their versions cost upwards of $600.)

    Here's a couple of car interiors shots photographed with the Rokinon fisheye:

    Attached Files:

  7. Caliber26 macrumors 68000


    Sep 25, 2009
    Orlando, FL
    Very good point!
  8. glenthompson macrumors 68000


    Apr 27, 2011
    While the others have covered stationary cars pretty well, I'll address cars in motion since I do some race photography. You will need a long lens. Hard to get close enough without getting into dangerous areas. Finding a good location is important. Knowing your camera and how much delay the shutter has lets you get the pix at the right moment. Lighting is something you have little control over so you have to make the best with what you have.

    Here are a couple of pix I took at this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona. I had the advantage of being a corner worker so I could go almost anywhere on the track during my off time. One is an example of daytime where I could take advantage of a fast shutter. The other was a night shot where I used a slower shutter and panned the shot. The red glow on the wheels is the brake rotors heating up since they were braking into turn 5.

    Attached Files:

  9. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    All of the advice above is good, as far it goes. As an amateur (doing it for the love of the activity) there really aren't any 'rules'.... However your original post implies that you would like to get paid for the work. In which case, what and how you shoot is set by the client.

    Think of this as if you are applying for a job. Find employers who are hiring (i.e. buying photos) and then find out what they need, and provide them with the images they need. Look at what they have already published to get a sense of what they are looking for. Usually they will be perfectly happy to tell you what they pay for's probably a set price per photo, perhaps adjusted for prominence when posted (front page or inside, for instance). You may also be surprised that they don't pay much at all.

    Good Luck.
  10. GForensic thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 18, 2013
    To all who have responded thank you very much for taking the time to do so. Although I am on this forum a lot I don't post too much but I have found that many people here are very friendly and very knowledgable.

    The lens that came with my kit is a 28-135.

    As far as making money I'm definitely thinking part time for now and probably mostly local stuff....maybe personal car shoots for someone with a classic hot rod or maybe poster boards that enthusiasts can display with their car at a car show or something to that effect. I am certainly not aiming high but If I ever get good enough then maybe I'll go for the bigger My goal is to learn the proper techniques with the right equipment first and then like so many people here learn to sharpen my skills and eventually try to get really creative. At the very least I'll be shooting what I love and maybe what I learn can be applied to other areas to make money. I am certainly in no rush.

    Also, one last question. A friend of mind learns a lot of his techniques through Kelby training online and loves it. Has anyone else here used them?

    Glen - Nice shots. That's the type of stuff I would eventually like to take. I am a big race fan so I understand the glowing rotors. I love shots like that. I have been to Daytona many times and really like it down there for the big races. We have Lime Rock Park up here in CT so that might be a good place to start.

    Thanks again!
  11. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    Car photography as you call it is akin to "model" photography as it is a very broad term.

    Keep your camera, use your zoom lens and practice. Things that come to mind is to also learn about lighting (akin to product photography), using software to fix distortion from wide angle lenses, colour correction/improvement etc. and most of all - just keep challenging yourself with more difficult tasks.

    Next, grab a bunch of car mags, brochures and more and try to emulate the images within. This is the best education on learning about shooting, equipment, equipment limitations, lighting, and more...

    Consider renting lenses for projects rather than buying blindly and assuming you will use the lenses more than you might really do.

    Software to consider
    DXO (very cool software)
  12. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California

    You do NOT need an f/2.8 lens to shoot a car. More like f/8 or f/11. You need depth o field. Light is EASY, use a tripod and as long an exposure as you like, the car is not moving, 1/2 second exposures work fine. You can also use strobes, big ones.

    Think of this as studio product photography on a big scale.

    The kit lens is OK for any exterior shots. Inside is harder.

    The advice about NOT thinging about gear is good. This is NOT a gear intensive genre, unless you get into lighting, then it is. However DO buy the biggest tripod you can afford.


    The other "kit" lens the 18-55 is worth picking up. Although Canon's version is not so great as Nikon's 18-55. But price is under $100 on the used market so it's almost a no-brainer.
  13. steveash macrumors 6502


    Aug 7, 2008
    Lots of good comments here. It is a very rewarding area to shoot but is also a tricky thing to master. As most people have said, your 40D is perfectly suitable as is a kit zoom. In time you might want some speciality lenses but ultra wide and fish eyes have limited use due to the distortion. Many car interior shots are actually multiple shots stitched together.

    Lighting really is key to getting a good shot, particularly on anything as reflective as a car. On location you can use strobes or big strip boxes depending on the effect you want. Some car photographers (myself included) make their own lighting gear in order to get a really long, thin light source. The studio is where you can best control the light. Huge soft boxes or reflectors mounted from the roof can give a great effect.

    On the other hand, good natural light, in the right setting can also work but you do need to become a master of it to avoid getting ugly reflections in the paintwork.

    Most moving shots are taken with something called a rig. This attaches the camera to the car so you can take a long exposure while the car is slowly moving (usually pushed!). The effect is of a car travelling at high speed but with pin-sharp details.

    Private commissions can be a good way to earn some money but be careful to charge enough. Car collectors have plenty of money. If people aren't willing to pay, either your work isn't up to standard or more likely they don't appreciate it. Look for a client who does.

    Kelby Training is a good place to go for automotive tutorials. Lots of good stuff from Tim Wallace there.
  14. Keleko macrumors 68000

    Mar 26, 2008
  15. onepremiere macrumors regular

    May 16, 2012
    A lot of good stuff here, I will just add some examples...

    These are all shot on a 40D with a kit lens. A 40D that is 5 years old, with 80,000+ actuation's and A LOT of desert silt, still going strong!

    It can be done! Dont be afraid of it, just try anything and everything.

    Attached Files:

  16. GForensic thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jul 18, 2013
    Thanks everyone for the help!

    Good to know "onepremier", that gives me a lot of confidence in my 40D....

    Nice Shots by the way!

    I'll definitely check out Kelby and the software suggested. Looks like I have a lot of homework to
  17. InTheMist macrumors member


    Jun 22, 2013
    I shoot both shows and motorsports.

    I find that a 24-70 equivalent (16-55 ish on crop sensor cameras) is good for static cars. Get a circular polariser for the lens because it cuts out the reflections from overhead lights.

    At a show, no special pass:
    Geneva Autosalon by InTheMist, on Flickr

    Geneva Autosalon 3 by InTheMist, on Flickr

    Car as Art by InTheMist, on Flickr

    John F. Kennedy's Limousine by InTheMist, on Flickr

    You don't necessarily need a fast lens if you can set up a tripod, but its really helpful at shows where you usually can't use a tripod unless you get in on media day.

    One thing I've never done is shoot strobist (with flashes) but I know from being around that you'll want big (huge) softboxes if you want to do that, but a lot of the most successful professional photographers have a mid-sized softbox on a pole that they use and make composite images from many shots with lighting for individual details.

    If you happen to shoot sports, I like the 300 f2.8 but usually the light is good and you don't need that fast, actually. Any of the latest xx-400 will do.

    Don't forget the polariser. A touch of flash doesn't hurt, but it's also not strictly necessary. I really like Adobe Lightroom for all my editing but many Mac fans like Aperture.

Share This Page