Many posts on here are about shooting the entire car, but what about the details? As far as important parts of a car to showcase go, wheels are number one on the list (checking the price on a set of mounted HREs will confirm that).

But how do you light and shoot them? What’s the best angle? Here are six tips to keep in mind. Read on!

Tip 1: Shoot the front and turn in

I know I just said that we’ll focus on the wheels, and not the whole car, but before we do that…shoot the whole car. Get a feel for the colors, angles, and lighting of the entire vehicle, and turn the front wheels in, as I so often do on my photos.

Take this Silverstone M3, with matte black wheels that offset the light color of the car. A carbon fiber body kit ties everything together, so remember that it isn’t enough to just shoot the wheel itself, but the surrounding area with it, or else you’re shooting in a vacuum.

BMW F80 M3 in Silverstone
Dark wheels help offset a light-colored car.

 Tip 2: Bring out shadow

Cars tend to have a natural shadow on the bottom half of them, and a common retouching mistake I see is that bottom half always looking too dark. As you bring out details in grilles and scoops, also give attention to the wheels, and what they look like inside the barrel.

If you’re shooting into the sun, like on the example below, then give yourself a longer exposure time to compensate for the shadow and bring out intricate details. Two exposures are always best to pick up heavy shadow and bright whites.

BMW F80 M3 style 666 wheel
Check the flair – shot in the early AM hours.

Tip 3: Show off those brakes

Sometimes calipers matter – especially on Italian cars! Be aware of what part of the caliper the wheel is covering. If a spoke is blocking a logo, roll the car a bit to show it. If possible, also make sure the center cap is right-side up.

If a car has been sitting a bit and has some rust on the rotor, just drive it for a few minutes to build heat to remove it. Clean discs look much better, and surface rust can form after only a few minutes of moisture coming in contact with the disc. Carbon Ceramics, like on the M5 below, have a shiny look to them that really pops.

BMW F90 M5 wheel
The brake caliper and M logo show perfectly through the wheel.
BMW F80 HRE wheel
The discs and calipers on this F80 deserved their own photo shoot.

Tip 4: Get high

Just like changing up your angle when shooting the entire car brings a new perspective, so too does doing it with wheels.

The M2 shoot from Pocono is a good example – Sue’s beautiful BBS wheels are two-tone, with the face black and the rest a bright purple. She really wanted to show that detail, and I found the best way to do it was raising the camera above my arms and aiming down. It also helps to add some atmosphere, in this case, a finish line on the ground.

You’ll never see me simply shoot a wheel super tight in frame. I like to give the shot some context, and wheel arches, body colors, and body kits all help bring out the styling of the wheel more. Remember that it’s easy to crop into a shot, but impossible to add more to a scene once complete.

BMW F87 M2
Changing your angle can show off the wheels.
AMMO Audi R8
Getting low and looking up is another way to go.

Tip 5: To infinity

Finally, many wheel shots I see are from the head on angle – but what if you came around from the back of the car and pointed forward, like the AMMO R8 image above, or the G20 3 Series below. This gives a sense of perspective, and try an open aperture for an out of focus background to get great depth of field (I mean way open – as low as you can go).

BMW G20 3 Series
Coming around to the back gives a new angle.

Tip 6: Don’t be to fancy when selling

If you’re shooting a car to sell, remember to use clean, bright light that will show off any curb rash or damage. Skip the lens flairs and heavy post-processing here. About all I did on the Mercedes C Class shot below was turn the camera slightly for a more aggressive angle.

Mercedes C Class wheel
Using clean, bright light to shoot a car going up for sale.

Bonus tip: Client facings

Wheels on a car are like babies – everyone thinks their own are beautiful. Remember that you may like a car, but hate the wheels, and nothing turns someone off like the “wrong” wheels on a car. Embrace the wheel, and leave your personal feelings at the door when it comes to client photo shoots. You’re their to capture a moment with their ride!

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

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