How To Shoot Cars: </br>Feature Photography 101
Speedhunting

From the outside looking in, it might look like we just spray and pray at every cool looking car. But Speedhunting involves so much more than just firing away with a bazooka. The neat thing about it is that anyone can do it, so I wanted to let you in on a few tips and tricks that I have learned over the years photographing feature cars. I had my friend Arslan Golic shoot me, while I shot this Porsche 930 Turbo. It was Speedhunt-ception.

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Before I fire off a single shot I always take some time to look at the subject from a variety of different angles and see what needs to be accentuated. I talk to the owner about what they like about the car and the areas that they are most proud of. Sometimes that’s what it takes to understand the passion associated with the car. I also look at the lines of the car and check the cleanliness.

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Location, location, location. In my mind there is nothing more important than location. What’s behind and around the car will ultimately make the image, so it is very important for you to consider the background. Keep in mind that we at Speedhunters like to portray a realistic setting, so we never Photoshop cars into different locations. A general rule of thumb for me is to imagine the car is not there at all. If it wasn’t, would there still be a strong image? You also have to consider telephone poles and other distractions.

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Generally speaking, my style has always been to shoot with natural light. It’s fun to explore different lighting situations and methods, but strobes take up space and weight when you’re traveling overseas, so packing a portable lighting set up is generally not an option for me. Some Speedhunting trips take us to three countries at a time, so we all generally carry the minimal amount of gear required.

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I am all about moving fast, because taking less time per shot and per angle, means more variety. It also helps to be fast when I have five shoots to do in a single day!

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Focus on one type of shot at a time. Start out with exterior, or interior or engine bay – but don’t jump between them. Finishing one area before you start on the next makes it much easier to keep a mental checklist on what you have shot and what you still need to shoot.

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In order to be as efficient as possible with your time, minimize your lens-switching too.

Asian squat
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It’s easy to guess the height of your average photographer, because often they’ll tend to get lazy and shoot from standing eye level. I can’t stand that, so I utilize my Asian squat genes to my advantage.

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You can go high or low, but is much easier to go the latter if you don’t have a step ladder handy. Be creative with your angles.

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Sometimes it means having shooting at a Dutch (tilt) angle. Of course, our friend Linhbergh will give me five lashes for dishing out that kind of advice.

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It doesn’t matter how much photo gear you have, because you are physically limited to how much you can carry. If anything, having more gear will slow you down.

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I love shooting Porsches because I don’t have to spend much time on the engine bay.

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People always ask me why I use prime lenses. Granted it’s the cool thing to do, but I actually feel like I have much more control over my images.

The big guns
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Generally speaking, fixed focal lenses have a lower f-stop, which allows you to control the look of the image more than you can using a zoom lens.

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It would be much harder to get so much bokeh with a zoom lens at this focal length. So even if you had a 70-200mm with a 2x extender – effectively giving you 400mm on a full frame DSLR – shooting the same image wide open on a 400mm prime lens will not produce the same shot.

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Professional equipment is always going to be expensive, but these days it’s actually more affordable than it’s ever been. A good lens will last a lifetime, and in fact, I still have the very first pro lens that I’ve ever bought, and I use it almost everyday.

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One thing that you have to watch out for when you are using long focal lengths during the daytime, is shooting through heat waves.

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A trick that I found is that grass does not retain as much heat, therefore your shots will be clearer if you shoot over foliage instead of black asphalt.

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I don’t actually use my bazooka for range – I use it more to get the look I’m after. I zoom in and out of my subject by moving either closer or further away.

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Shooting fixed focal length lenses also forces you to work on your composition.

Inside and out
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Shooting the interior of a car is always one of the trickiest aspects. Depending on what kind of light is available, it can be super-easy or your worst nightmare.

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Luckily for me the light was very soft in Sweden and I did not have to do anything special to produce these evenly-exposed interiors. If you are shooting in harsh light the best thing to do is to find some shade, or maybe try and shoot the interior in a garage.

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It’s a great idea to spend lots of time on the details of the car, because that’s where much of its personality can be found.

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When shooting black interiors it is very easy to overexpose the shots because your camera thinks that you are shooting something that is very dark. Underexpose a bit and you will get great detail and accurate blacks.

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It’s all in the details. That is how I found out that Krister – the owner of the 930 Turbo – was a big Resident Evil fan.

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I usually like to save the car-to-car shots for last, because it’s usually the most time-consuming part. Again, due to having to travel super-light it is near impossible to bring a dedicated rig, so I am always forced to improvise.

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Luckily for me Arslan brought out his EK9 Honda Civic, but unluckily there was a J’s Racing cross-bar support in the way. Every time I needed him to slow down or speed up I would have to scream over the road noise and the Civic’s raspy exhaust note.

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It still worked out well and I only ended up with a few bruised ribs.

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I am a firm believer in giving the owners some goodies after a successful shoot. It’s a good idea to build a relationship with everyone you encounter at car meets or track days. Who knows, they may build another feature-worthy car soon enough and want to give me an exclusive.

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I hope you Speedhunters out there learned something. If any of you have any questions leave a comment, because I read every one of them. See you guys out there hunting speed soon!

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78 comments

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1

great article larry, interesting that you use primes, i figured you would travel light and take a few zooms to give you everything you need across a range.
its great to get persepective, i have noticed many of your shots seem to be slightly under exposed and pumped up, is that to get better detail ? i think it definately provides more mood in the images.

2

How much post processing do you do?

3

Faaack, if I could only afford a fraction of the gear you use... Great article either way, some solid advice I'll be sure to remember!

4

stocKAss240sx That's how I felt too, but Larry and Sean both keep telling me to just shoot my cheap Rebel as long as I can. Photography, like cars, is one of those things where the sky's the limit for how much you can spend. There are a lot of people out there with expensive gear who don't use it to its full potential.

5

KeithCharvonia stocKAss240sx   That's a good point. I'm still working on paying off my D3100. Hoping to pick up at least a 50mm by the time next summer rolls around, but that gives me time to find all the strengths and weaknesses in the kit lens for sure.

6

I have to say, it's very cool that you take time to share some of your methods with others. Nice post Larry, thanks.

7

Great advice Larry, thanks. Fixed focal length is a great teacher and there is quite affordable fast lenses. We are very blessed with the internet nowadays, there is a lot of Photography courses, advice and tips on-line, we can observe other people's work and learn a lot. It's not always about expensive gear.

Author8

Heathrussell Range is unlimited, because you can always move backwards or forwards. That is the beauty of shooting cars. Although, it's much harder for someone who has to shoot in a restricted space. Many other sports photographers have this problem. Football, basketball, Tennis etc....
I purposely underexpose for two reason, the cameras we have today do not have the dynamic range that I would like. Also I am all about drawing the eye to what is important in the photo, which means underexposing the rest of the image.

Author9

aussieANON Not a whole lot, I like to try to get it right out of the camera if possible. Some things you just can't avoid, like shooting through tire smoke.

Author10

stocKAss240sx You have to remember that I started at the bottom. I shot with my Rebel XT for years before switching to a better body. Instead of buying new gear I took my Rebel all over the world, Japan, China, South Africa, you name it. The money was much better spent shooting rather than acquiring gear.

Author11

KeithCharvonia stocKAss240sx You are right, most photographers do not use their gear to their full potential. I shoot almost every single day, and I know dudes who have the same exact gear who only shoot once a month.

Author12

stocKAss240sx When I am on vacation I bring one film camera and one lens. Producing beautiful photos is not about having the right lens, it's about being at the right place at the right time.

Author13

RyanGates Thanks, but it's time to go instant.....

Author14

koko san If you are lucky enough to have legs, then use them to move you back and forth :D

15

Larry Chen koko sanand don't walk backwards in to a busy road.  :o

16

How do you find a car's unique feature other than knowing from the owner? how you take moving shots when you cant seat at the back seat of a hatchback or SUV? i got so many questions and i wanna know so much more about cars photo shooting, any web suggestions about automotive photography that we can get reference from except from the awesome speedhunters.com?... :)

17

Larry Chen aussieANON
I see. 
I was just thinking, because there's two photos in the article, one of you taking a photo, and then the actual photo that you took.  The hue of the car is completely different when the two are compared.I assume that was all done with white balance?

18

What is a good and affordable first lens to buy for a canon. Thanks for taking time to show us all these tips :)

19

Good stuff Larry.  Nice to see the behind the scene shots where you're shooting :)  I try to follow the same mentality of finding odd-ball angles/locations to shoot from.  It really is the most important aspect.

20

Amazing article, very useful! Any advice on the car-to-car shots? Shutter speed, car speeds etc?

21

Excellent feature and guide Larry. I love to photograph cars and will take these tips into my next club shoot :)

22

señor Larry  su guía es perfecta para la gente que estamos aprendiendo a innovar en el tipo de tiro que queremos conseguir de un coche le pido por favor que echara un vistazo a esta página y que me diese su opinión para mejorar porque se lo agradecería mucho y invito a todo el mundo que le gusten los coches que la vea http://www.gapphotos.wordpress.com gracias a todos.

23
Speedhunters_Bryn

Larry Chen stocKAss240sx I'm doing a shoot this Thursday using a film camera and three lenses that owe me $100. If you want it enough, you'll make it happen.

Author24

aussieANON The ones of me were shot my by friend Arslan. He was using a Nikon. I am not sure what sort of settings he was using.

Author25

boscoschan Part of having a complete feature car is talking to the owner. If it's just a car sitting at the show we call it a "spotlight" because we can't really get into the nitty gritty about a certain build without the owner.
You can shoot rolling shots easily from any passenger side window, Just fold back the side view mirror.
Just go out there and shoot and have fun. That is what it's all about. The moment I am not having fun anymore is the moment I leave this earth.

Author26

KTaylor96 50mm f/1.8 is a good start. Shoot at f/4.5 for the sharpest photos
Also you can try the 40mm f/2.8 that is the sharpest lens for your money.

Author27

RossJukes One thing that you have to take notice is the shadow of the cars. Make sure the shadow of the car in does not get in the way of the car you are shooting.
Keep the speeds slow, otherwise it gets bumpy and shooting slow shutter would not work very well. I understand this does not work sometimes when you are on a public freeway though.
Keep your shutter speeds below 1/100 and go lower depending on how fast you are going. The slower you go the less likely the shot will come out.
Make sure you shoot with a super wide angle, preferably wider than 28mm.

Author28

GonzaloPaniego Bonito sitio web y gracias por apoyar Speedhunters.com

29

Larry Chen RossJukes Excellent advice, thank you Larry, can't wait to try this :)

30

Larry Chen GonzaloPaniegomy dream is to be a SpeedHunter    ,  your job is the best of the world. 
speedhunters rules!!!!!       thanks for answering.

31

I am currently using a Sony A77 DSLT and would love to get a decent all-round zoom lense as I could not afford getting 2 different lenses, what lenses do you recommend?

32

These little tips are great for us amateur automotive photographers! I look forward to these posts more and more, thanks Larry!

33

i see some photographers use 2 cameras, 1 with a huge lense and the second without... i noticed this in some of your shots... was this your method for this type of shoot as well??

34

great post Larry! I certainly learned a trick or two. reading this has made me somehow even more keen than I already was for this years show season (its not far from starting in australia) and I can't wait to put my canon 550d through it's paces again :)

35

Speaking of primes, have you ever had the chance to shoot with the Canon 300mm f/4 IS? I really have a lot more fun shooting with primes versus zooms and I'm wondering if it may be a better purchase than a 70-200 f4 IS (budget restrictions, can't afford the 2.8 line)... Especially since it's a lens I'd really only use for motorsports and I always find myself wanting more reach, even with a crop body at a track like Lime Rock which allows you to get quite close to the action. I was thinking maybe a 300mm and a 1.6 or 2x teleconverter.

36

RossJukes Larry Chen If I'm forced to do car to car shoots on a public highway, I've found that matching the shutter speed to the speed you're traveling works out well... i.e., 1/60 if you're traveling 60mph, etc.

37

Thanks for very good advice, Larry!
I am somewhat addicted to zoom lenses, because they can achieve a lot in terms of versatility and light travel.  I think i will still stick to my 16-105 on my Sony A57during car shows, but I will definitely try to use my 50 f1.4 during road trips.  
I am curious about what would be your general advice on composition, in terms of how to position the car in the shot? I try to follow the 2/3 principle and in my ideal shot the car would occupy bottom right facing in direction of the "empty" 1/3 (kind of like i did here http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Qh-pGkCyG6c/UkxEJcBAtEI/AAAAAAAACzo/dAtILd7TG1c/s1600/DSC09029.jpg). Kind of creates balance in my view.  Is this the right mentality or is it better to place the car in the center? 
I also generally try to avoid the top-down shots, unless there is something specific that you want to pick out (carbon roof?) 
In any way, keep up the great work and happy speed-hunting!
TokyoCarGuy 
http://t-c-p.blogspot.com

38

Gotta thank our Asian parents for those proportionally shorter Asian legs than most white people just don't have. 
Without them, we'd be doing that this:
http://www.thosefunnypictures.com/resize.php?file=pictures/6150/Funny_Pictures_6150.jpg
UhhhhHHH!!!!1111 mofugn noobs

39

I've been following Speedhunters practically since its inception, and I've always found your photos to be my absolute favorite. Photography isn't a hobby of mine, though. All I can say is that I really admire stunning photos like yours. But I do love reading the how-to articles, because I find the art and approach so fascinating. Thanks so much for connecting with us Larry, and for sharing your hard work!

Author40

TokyoCarGuy There are so many was to compose a photo of a car, it also varies on the shape and the size of the car. More importantly it's about the background. I always try to step back a bit to show more sky.
I love shooting from high places, as I think there are not enough shots of cars from above, but that's just me.

Author41

avidMedia it depends on what you want to focus on more, If you enjoy shooting trackside then the 300mm on a crop body would be great, but it is also pretty similar to using a 70-200 with a 1.4x extender, which comes out to 280mm also at F/4.
Although the 300mm will be faster focusing and it will be sharper as well. You just won't have the versatility of a 70-200.

Author42

d_rav Two bodies is mostly for speed, it is very time consuming to switch lenses, also you tend to miss more shots if you have one body. Although I shot for over 7 years with just a single body.

Author43

@ben It depends on what you are planning on shooting more, If you want to use a walk around lens for shooting car shows then I suggest a wide angle zoom lens. If you are planning on shooting trackside then you can get a cheap 70-300mm usually about $200.

Author44

avidMedia RossJukes That is a good rule of thumb, so f/125 is for 125mph? lol

45

Love your work brother , the best , is that bazooka u have a 300mm or 200mm ??? cheers mate Rich

46

Great story Larry Chen
! Hope you can do some more in this topic. I am about to buy a canon
70d or a 7d with an 75-300 f4-5,6, a17-85 f4-5,6 and a fix 50mm lens
with f 1,4. I'm not sure if it will be the perfect choice. Should I buy a
7d (i've read 70d is better in some aspects than 7d) or newer machine
with better hardvare? Or should i buy a used 5d mark II ( I am a bit
afraid of a used machine)?

Author47

viktor0matrai I would stay away from the 5D mk II, the autofocus is not very good for motorsports.
The best thing for you to do is try the 70d and 7d in your hand at a Camera store. See which one you like better. Try shooting a few frames with both.

Author48

RichieAnker 400mm f/2.8

49

Larry Chen That's a good point. I also only carry one body, so maybe I'm better off with the 70-200 (just in case the focal length becomes an issue)... For still shots/car portraits I usually use my 85mm 1.8... I'm still shooting with a 60D but have plans to go full frame eventually. I'm eyeing the 6D but not sure how capable it is for motorsport. A local guy uses one and seems to have good results.

50

If little to no work in post, your deep blue skies come from a polarizer? I have always wondered about this. They are especially apparent in your Porsche dream drive photos up Pikes Peak.

51

Awesome!  I try to utilize alot of this when shooting.  Great write up, and thanks for being the peoples champ.

52

Very good advice for an up and coming photographer like me!

Author53

midgeman I always try to use a circular polarizer and or neutral density filters when I am shooting outdoors. Also one of the reasons why the sky is so blue at Pikes Peak is because it is extremely high altitude.

54

How long would you say the typical car shoot takes and how many shots would you say you take when shooting a single car? Do you have a breakdown of % of interior vs exterior shots in mind when you go on these assignments?

Author55

Nihilation It most definitely depends on how much time I have available. Typically when I am shooting out of country I try to be quicker as we are always trying to pack in more shoots into a small amount of time. When I am back home in California sometimes I can take up to four hours depending on how far the owner of the car is willing to drive.
Sometimes cars interiors just don't look all that great, so I will excluding it and focusing on the strong points of a car. So there is no percentage.

56

Larry, are you shooting with a 400mm f/2.8 IS mk I or mk II?  For someone whose looking into stepping up to a 400mm, do you find it beneficial spend thousands more for a mk II over the mk I?  I understand the weight saving is significant, but the mk I still produces amazing images like its replacement.

57

Neat. I never thought about shooting through heat waves before. Maybe something more specific to Cali than here in Canada.
Have you ever dealt with the issue of particularly reflective cars (ie chrome bumpers etc) and getting yourself or your gear out of the photos? I always do that post but I was wondering if there was some more obvious trick I am missing.

58

Excellent Article! Larry!!

59

Love these articles, keep them coming-PLEASE!!

60

love this photography series of speedhunters
do you or any of the speedhunters guys still post on dieselstation? I knowklingelhoefer used to, but whether he still does or not I don't know.
I'd love to see an article all about composition (i.e framing, complementary colors, leading lines, patterns, what makes a photo good) or an article that breaks down a photoshopped image into what it looked like coming out of the camera
cheers!

Author61

DaveT It does not matter what country you are in, If the sun is out and the asphalt is super dark, you will get heat waves.

As for chrome, you are spot on. Just remove yourself in post.

Author62

@bladerunner I have both, and honestly you can't tell the difference in image quality or speed with either. The reason why I have the mkII is because of weight. I hurt myself pretty badly at the Nurburgring this year carrying around the version one for hours upon hours. If you can handle the weight then you are golden. I only weight 150 lbs myself. So with the 400mm two bodies and a few lenses really weigh me down.

63

First up, you are one of my favorite car photographers ever. I feel like people tend to over process car shots but you managed to avoid the photoshop bug and still have exceptional images that look REAl!
having done a bunch of car to car shots, it always seems to be a bit of a crap shoot when it comes to getting a stable image where me or the car I'm in didnt shake and mess up the shot. Any tips and tricks to keeping the camera stable or is it just luck and road condition? thanks!

64

Loving the lesson. A few new things to think of.
Will you be doing a similar post about shooting cars at speed? I have been struggling a bit with it, and could use some pointers.
Thanks for now.

65

Awesome advice, plenty of things to put into practise there

66

Great post and good read. Best point for me was the pre-shoot walk around. In the past I've found that I'm so eager to get photos that I forget to sit back for a few minutes, relax, take in, and examine the "whats" and "why's" of  a car. I need to spend more time figuring out what the strongest part is, why its the strongest, and why I should focus on it. Thanks for the great advice.

67

How would you recommend doing silhouettes and doing half car shots but getting the car flush with the frame if that makes sense? I haven't done a legit feature for somebody before but I plan too. I prefer long exposure shooting, would lens choice affect the color or light at all? I know that a lens that allows for a lower stop and changing the ISO can provide a brighter exposure but will that affect the sharpness? Sorry for all the questions, just trying to absorb info from somebody who knows what they are doing.

68

400mm 2.8 OMG do you ever get payed enough to justify that with autosport? i need to earn more.

69

some great advice! would never have come across my mid to shoot over foliage because of the heat!

70

Now I can see where I've gone wrong when I did my own "feature" shoots. You're a genius Larry!

71

This was a wonderful read. I will make good use of this advice. I think that I learned more in this article than I did in my automotive photography class in the last 15 weeks. So thanks SpeedHunters and Thanks Larry Chen! You are my favorite auto photographer. You are truly an inspiration to photo journalists!

72

Very insightful. This weekend (5/16/14) I will shoot my first event. My options for equipment are very limited, giving me a chance to come up with creative ways to adjust my shots, this article gave me some great pointers. Thank you again.

73

A month ago Automotive Photographers Association (APA) launched website. On this website (http://i-apa.com) any visitor could submit his work (photo) without registration and absolutely free.
At the moment on APA's website are published more than 500 photos from photographers all around the world.
We publish all submitted photos and any visitor could rate each photo by 5 criteria (ORIGINALITY, TECHNICAL EXCELLENCE, COMPOSITION, ARTISTIC MERIT, OVERALL IMPACT).
At December will start photo contest from partners with useful prizes. Winner will be selected only by user rating, not by the editor rating.
We are creating directory with vacancies for photographers from automotive companies all around the world, any registered user 'll be avaliable to complete specific job on his location and registration 'll be avaliable in a few weeks.
Visit website, submit your works and win prizes!
Sincerely,
APA Chief Editor.
Edward Schnitzer

74
VictorBashtovoy

Очень здорово,и какиевы в основном используетеобъективы? Исделатьэтикадры ночьюилитолько днем?

75

dude, thanks for the tips. its kinda my dream to be a featured photographer at speedhunters. this is my instagram account: @_dkshots_ id love it if you checked it out and give me some feedback or tips.  sorry for my english. and greetings from venezuela!

76
Colin N Davis

Hey Larry i just got a nikon p600 as a way to get into photography. i am about to do a photo shoot of my neighbor's Plymouth Prowler. It's a bright yellow color. what time of day should i take the pictures to really make the color pop?

77

Checkout @BadassMedia and tell me what you think, on Instagram. I'm a novice photographer. Any advice would be appreciated!

78

Dude. Larry. I lift. I'll carry all your shhh if you take me. I live in SoCal. :)

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