If you want to be looked at as a “pro”, the best tell tale sign is a properly lit subject. Photography is really just making sure to use proper lighting.
When it comes to cars, it can take some practice. The bottom half is always in heavier shadow and can hide details that matter. And the car should always be separated from the background. If you can’t tell where the car begins and ends, it’s not going to help tell the story of the car.
You may have seen shots that have a certain “heavy contrast” kind of style. Sometimes it’s intentional, but just because it’s mainstream does not make it correct.
1- Use a tripod
I see it a lot on Instagram…no tripod. Shooting the car with the camera hand-held. Stop this. Use a tripod. It allows you to:
- Plan your shot
- Take multiple exposures
Instead of a spray and pray technique, slow down and take a minute to explore the scene around you. More importantly, it means you can take at least 2 exposures. One for the car, which means holding the shutter open longer, and one for the background and sky, which will be brighter, and require a faster shutter speed so it isn’t over exposed.
2- Use free light
The sun. It’s up there, and it’s free to use. Even on the most rainy, cloudy day, just before sunset, holding the shutter open longer will let you expose the shadows on your car. Pros can and do use separate light sources to get the results they want and control the light more accurately, but you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on lighting equipment.
3- Remember the Star Wars rule
My dad actually taught me the most important lighting tip of all – where the light comes from. Let’s take a picture of the Millennium Falcon.
Notice how the ship is perfectly lit, with the light source coming from the top left, based on shadows. But, if the ship were truly in deep space, it would be pitch black. There is no light source in space unless you’re near something giving light.
It’s not a mistake – the ships need to be seen for all those amazing space battles. We do the same thing with our car shots.
The shot above shows an example – in real life, the difference between clouds and sun were not as dramatic, but we can stretch the truth. Just make sure too have a shadow somewhere. Don’t put a lens flair behind the car if it’s being lit from the front. Keep things subtle.
And use appropriate lighting!
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