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10 tips on how to shoot a car

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This blog goes into great length explaining how to light paint, shoot rollers, even retouch. But what if you’re starting from scratch, and you want to learn how to shoot a car? You can make images like I produce, and I’ll show you how with 10 easy tips.

1 – The camera

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it here: You can create great art with the most basic camera. You don’t need my Nikon Z7. Get a used D3200, or equivalent, with an 18-55mm kit lens, and you can start shooting today.

Have a new iPhone? Even that can be used for learning basic skills, but if you want to heavily edit, you’ll need a higher megapixel count.

E92 M3 final image
Some of my favorite pics have been taken with my old Nikon D5200.

2 – The vision

Where do you go to shoot a car? Wherever you want. If you’re reading this, you must have pictured in your mind what a shot will look like. Make it happen. Use Google Maps to scout spots, and bring a friend if you’re unsure of a location for safety.

It’s a classic pose, so I used it for Pocono raceway. But I had to imagine it before I could shoot it.

3 – Lighting

There’s no secret here: Magic hour is best. Park your car in a parking lot at sunset (or sunrise). Walk around the entire car and shoot it from all sides. What do things look like backlit? Can you get a lens flair if you get low and peak up just enough to cut the sun out behind the car?

No film to waste. No client’s budget. Just go out and have fun trying.

Magic hour provides the best light, so start here if you’ve never shot a car before.

4 – Angle

Speaking of getting low…get low. Remember that we see cars from eye level all the time, and getting low (or high) gives the sheet metal new perspective.

MINI Cooper
Getting low increases the drama.

5 – Composition

The number one mistake I see people making? Composition, or where things “live” in the frame. Don’t get tight on the car so it fills the entire frame – that’s not car photography. Consider your entire environment. If you’re on a race track – show the track! Or the city.

Another mistake? Keeping the car dead center in every frame. Put it on the left, or right, and have something else balance the opposite side.

Never be afraid to try new things when you compose an image, even if you don’t like the result.

6 – Details

A car is a big, complex piece of machinery. So make it about the details too. Wheels, headlights, taillights, badges. You’re going to get inspired while you’re out there, so try things you didn’t think of prior to the shoot.

Porsche 911
Capture details on every shoot.

7 – Rollers

Yea, everyone loves rollers. They are dangerous, so bring a crew you trust.

No idea about shutter speed and aperture? Go for a ride with a friend, ride in the back seat to avoid the side mirrors, and just aim at cars passing by. Keep practicing until you see what settings you need for the time of day you’re shooting. It takes practice to keep your hand steady, so don’t get discouraged if your first set is blurry.

For every good roller I shoot…
G80 M3 blur
…I take 10 bad ones. It takes a lot of practice to make it all work.

8 – Practice with cars you love

There is no “wax on, wax off” routine when it comes to learning how to shoot a car. Get out there and do it. Daily if you can.

And if you like muscle cars – shoot muscle cars! Choose subjects that interest you, or you’ll get bored.

BMW 335
Grab your own car and practice. I love BMWs, so that’s what I shoot. Make friends with people who own the cars you love, and ask them to use it for a shoot!

9 – Should I go to school for photography? How do I start?

I went to art school, where I took…zero photography classes.

If you really love this stuff, you probably have all the training you need in the form of car magazines, blogs, and movies. Find a shot you love and recreate it.

And if you want to work with someone, or a certain company? Ask them!

Larry Kosilla
I work with Larry because I liked his products and asked to collaborate. Same goes for BMW. Never be afraid to ask.

10 – Have fun!

Seems simple, but you have to love this. I’ve been out in extreme weather, 16-hour days, covered in dirt and dust, lugging gear all over the place. If I didn’t love it, it would be torture. It’s a mindset – you’ll be uncomfortable, just accept it and look through the lens.

BMW F90 M5
A BMW Performance Center instructor splashes me while drifting inches away. I love what I do.

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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