Jim’s Blog: Three Steps to a Better Car Photo

Whether we’re buying, selling, or just admiring, all of us need to take a car picture every once in a while. Of course, you want a gleaming shot with everything looking right. That’s hard to do, but here are a few tips to help you get there.

1. Look at the bigger picture

Busy backgrounds are the biggest problem with most car photography, and it’s one of the main things that we look to avoid with ACC’s cover choices each month. What you want is something that’s not going to visually distract from the car. The rule of thumb here is that simple is better — so finding an area to shoot that doesn’t have houses, power lines, signage, a bunch of trees, etc, is best.

Sometimes you’re stuck with some busy items, and other times some other lines in the background can actually help the image. Regardless, though, the car should be the focus of the shot. And make sure you get the whole car in the photo as well. Try to have it centered in the frame. Experiment with other than eye-level images, too. Kneel down or get up on a ladder. That’s where some cars look their best.

2. Use the light

Photography is all about light. The most dynamic shots are taken in the morning and evening, when the sun is lower on the horizon. The lower the sun, the more texture your image will have, and it also helps to eliminate the harshness you’d get with the sun at high noon. I like to shoot with the light behind me, but you can also get great shots with the sun behind the car as well. It’s trickier, but doable.

3. Back up and use a tripod

Getting further away from the car is helpful, as there are a lot of reflective points in paint and chrome. You don’t want to be in the photo. So back up, and while you’re at it, use a tripod and a slower shutter speed with a higher aperture. That will balance out the depth of field, and will make both the background and the foreground sharper and in focus. The tripod will help keep things in focus, too.

If in doubt, experiment with your settings and your surroundings, and take more photos!


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  1. Jim:
    Love your column. It’s easily the most interesting and informative in ACC month in and month out. How about a column helping out us amateur car sleuths? To wit: I have a 1965 Falcon sedan delivery – about 650 produced that year, making it, by all accounts, pretty rare. But how rare now? How many are left, and how do I find out? I often read that a particular car is “One of 50 remaining.” How is that determined? And how does rarity relate to value?
    What other tips could you offer those of us trying to research our cars’ background/history? Carfax and Mr. Marti are actually pretty limited, and most other search engines I’ve found won’t even accept my antiquated VIN. Any help you could offer would be appreciated.

    Steve Switzer