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How to shoot a car in the afternoon

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You always want to shoot a car at dawn or dusk. But sometimes schedules work out for an afternoon shoot, and that means high contrast lighting.

When Phil of the famous Detailer’s Domain wanted a shoot with his M2, the only timing that worked was mid-day. Here are five tips for dealing with high contrast during an automotive shoot.

Tip 1: Watch the Shadow

If you look at the banner image for this post, you’ll notice lots of long shadows being cast on both the ground and car itself. I took this shot as a demonstration – shadows get long and dark at mid-day, so watch for odd shapes as you compose your image.

Tip 2: Polarize me maybe

Depending on the car, a polarizer is even more important during a mid-day shoot. Brighter light means more harsh reflections on the side of the car, so set up a tripod and make sure to rotate your polarizer to clean up some reflection.

Give yourself less work and choose a location that isn’t to busy. The opposite side of the brick wall you see here was devoid of clutter.

BMW M2 Rear
Clean reflections are a result of good location and a polarizer.

Tip 3: Add some real flair

Depending on the time of day, you can use the sun to your advantage with some dramatic lens flair. Look at the car from different angles and try hiding it behind a spoiler, mirror or roof. These work best with detail shots, but take a few minutes to play around and see if you can get a dramatic shot of the entire car like this as well.

BMW M2 badge
Get low and aim up for a dramatic lens flair.

Tip 4: High contrast details

You might think that having a ton of natural light would make the car nicely lit, but not always. Be sure to watch for heavy contrast on the lower half of the car where wheels, exhaust and grilles live. Bringing out the details is just as important now as it is later in the day.

BMW M2 lower grill
The lower grill here was in heavy shadow. Retouching it brought out the grille details.

Tip 5: Retouching high contrast

Phil’s immaculate M2 was both clean and painted a color that worked well with this lighting (check out those BBS wheels!). But you can add drama with my lens flair pack. Just make sure to add the flair in the right spot to match the lighting.

BMW M2 profile
The sun is on the left here, so that’s where the flair is placed. A nice detail to help add some drama.

Special thanks to Phil and Kevin for getting the car prepped and making the time!

Commissions may be received for product links on this site, so help out if you can. I only write about products I use and believe in.

I use Nikon camera bodies and lenses, a Westcott Ice Light 2, Manfrotto tripod, B + W filters and an iMac Pro to make the art you see here.

Email me at with any questions.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls


Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, I cannot guarantee against improper use or unauthorized modifications of this information. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio assumes no liability for property damage or injury incurred as a result of any of the information contained in this post. Use this information at your own risk. Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio recommends safe practices when working on vehicles and or with tools seen or implied in this post.

Due to factors beyond the control of Machines With Souls LLC and Mike D’Ambrosio, no information contained in this post shall create any expressed or implied warranty or guarantee of any particular result. Any injury, damage, or loss that may result from improper use of these tools, equipment, or from the information contained in this post is the sole responsibility of the user and not Machines With Souls LLC or Mike D’Ambrosio.

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