After a request in a desktop pictures thread of mine, I've knocked together a rough guide on how to help you get some great pics of your cars. Hope it helps!
The four main factors that are going to get you the best results are....
The best thing, especially if you're shooting digitally, is just shoot lots of shots. Do different exposures of the same set-up to see how it has an effect on the final result - this is how you'll learn things for the future.
- Location. The setting of the shot is going to have a big effect on the feel of the shot. All personal choice, do you want a shot by the sea, in the country, urban shot (maybe at night) etc etc.
Can you get the car onto the spot without being told to move on, or becoming dangerous to shoot.
- Light. Without good light you're onto a loser. The best times to get great light for car photography are around sunrise and sunset. On a car shoot we'd be getting set up long before the sun rose so that everything was in place - car and camera - for the first bit of light that came up and then shooting again as the sun was going down again. Very long days if you're shooting in summer!!
The advantage of the winter months is that you don't have to wait until late to get the sunset, or get up at silly o'clock for a sunrise - you can be shooting 4/5pm for a sunset shot, and 6/7am for a sunrise.
A bit of research can help you avoid wasted trips. You've found a nice location, but where does the sun set/rise? Take a compass, find out. Sun rises in East, sets in West. In winter the trajectory of the sun is lower than in summer - so bear this in mind. Will that large nearby building block out the light, just at the time you want to be shooting? Depending on the location, and the angle/position that you want the car at, you may find that it will only work with a sunrise, not sunset. Work this all out.
Little tip: Grab a Dinky Toy, or whatever, - the bigger the better - and take it with you to the proposed location. Just hold it in the air, turning it, and you can quickly work out the angle that the light will work best on the car.
Timing - get there a good bit (a good hour or more) before the light is at it's best. It's going to take a little while to position the car etc. Once the light is at it's best, it goes really quickly - so you want to be shooting then, not frantically trying to position the car!
- Positioning - of the car in relation to the light, and the camera in relation to the car.
This is where a second person can help as they can be moving the car, whilst you're looking through the camera. A small change in angle can make a big difference in where the light is reflecting off the car. I did the shot above by myself but it is definitely quicker with a second person.
This is where your Dinky Toy could save you time. You'll know the angles/spots that you want to put the car in. You'll need to twiddle the car position and camera positon to get the light the best on the car, as well as getting what you want, or don't want, in the background.
You can have the car at whatever angle you want, but a good starting point is the 'front 3/4' angle - like above (although I chose to show a bit more of the side). Experiment, look at the car a bit more front on or side on. You can apply the same technique to a rear shot. Each time you're going to have to move the car to get the best angle.
- Camera. You can get decent pics with a 'snappy' camera, you don't have to have an extremely expensive bit of gear. But the cheapest ones will have limitations - specifically in quality and features/manual settings.
Quality/Size. Whatever camera you have, if it's got a quality setting (fine, extra fine, normal etc) always set it on the highest quality you can. If you don't, then you're already compressing the image more than necesary and this will ultimately degrade the quality.
Same with the image size, set it to the highest pixel count that you can. This means you are capturing as large a file as possible. Yes, it will be too big to put onto a forum, but you just downsize it in your image program. It means you've got a large enough file size for, say, doing a print from. If you shoot a low-res and then want to crop it, you may end up with an image that isn't large enough.
Manual override. A camera with a manual setting, or some sort of exposure compensation, will be very useful. This allows you to overide/control how the image is exposed. A shot like above, dark car at dusk, is going to cause most cameras to overexpose as it sees a lot of dark areas and overcompensates - opposite for silver/white cars. You'll want to be able to override the camera to adjust this.
To get the maximum sharpness on the car, you'll want to be able to set the aperture on the camera so that you can choose a small aperture (large number). Some cameras won't give you this option.
Shooting on a small aperture in fairly low-light is going to result in a slow shutter speed, so some sort of support (tripod) is essential.
- Flash. If it's got an option to turn off the built-in flash and not make it fire, use it. The flash will just kill that beautiful light you've spent all that time arranging the car in. It'll also make your number plate zing out like a good 'un!!
Lens. Don't stick the camera on a wideangle/standard setting and get close to the car - unless you're specifically after a distorted/unusual effect/angle. Zoom to the longest telephoto setting you have and then move yourself backwards to get the car framed how you want it. This will have two effects...
Firstly, it will compress the perspective. The car will look a bit shorter and not look like it's tailing off into the distance i.e. it will give it a 'meatier' look.
Secondly, it will throw the background out of focus so that things like trees etc that may be distracting, will go more blurred.
Experiment with angles etc. If it doesn't work, so what, just delete it and try more. And above all - HAVE FUN!!!
Here endith todays basic car photography lesson!!