Shooting Cars Under Challenging Light Conditions

When photographing cars at indoor shows or car museums where you’ll experience challenges photographing cars that you’ll never encounter outdoors so here are a few tips on to overcome typical problems.


Color balance: In the typical indoor situation, your camera’s AWB (Auto White Balance) setting should work fine but may not take care of every lighting condition. The first thing I do when AWB is explore some of the other white balance settings but sometime you’ll have to create a custom color balance. Don’t have a white card? Chances are a white car will be a good substitute.

ISO settings: Before even walking through a museum’s doors, you should make test shots to see how much noise you can tolerate from your camera at a given ISO setting. With this maximum ISO setting in mind you’re prepared for any lighting challenges.

Wide Angle Zoom lens: Inevitably there are going to be chains or ropes protecting the cars from overeager hands. Use a wide-angle zoom lens you can sit on the floor so you’re under these barriers and still get good photograph. Tip: Wear your grungies.


Fast lenses: Museums tend to light some cars better than others so bring the fastest lens you have because chances are you’re going to make more than a few shots wide open.

Follow the house rules: If the rules say “no tripods,” don’t try to sneak one in. They may allow monopods but if you follow the rules you’ll have a better time and make better photos.

Go during the week. It’s less crowded than weekends and sometimes there are surprises, such as the time I got to talk to Al Unser Sr. (and have my photograph made with him) at the Unser Racing Museum in Albuquerque.