Car Show Photography: Tips, Tools & Techniques

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Since there is only one outdoor car show left on my local calendar, I wanted to share some thoughts on shooting cars at indoor shows. And since SEMA is right around the corner I thought today’s post would feature a few images from past shows, even if the cars themselves are more subdued than normal.

Next to your camera, the most important thing to bring to a car show is lots of memory cards. You will need larger capacity cards too because you might want to bracket some shots. That’s because exposure is even more tricky when shooting indoors than outside. In fact, you should keep in mind one of Farace’s Law of exposure when photographing cars:

Be sure to overexpose white and light colored cars and underexpose black or dark colored ones. When using automatic exposure, I typically bracket in one-third stops using aperture-preferred mode to maintain consistent depth-of-field,  One or more of the three shots I make is always usable.

While I shoot most cars in color, I sometimes use the camera’s black and white mode to produce images with a vintage look. Can’t make up your mind? Set the camera in monochrome mode and shoot it in RAW+JPEG and make that decision later. Of course you can just shoot in color and convert to monochrome later in the digital darkroom if that  fits your workflow better.

Caption: A few years ago at SEMA some company had the bright idea of having a party featuring nice cars and pretty models and then filled the whole room up with smoke! This image uses the AWB color balance and when I tried to correct it in Photoshop, I liked the warmer tone better. Shot with a Canon EOS Rebel Xs and EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens with an exposure of 1/25 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 800.

Be sure to make images of parts of cars. Don’t be frustrated by the lack of space and crowded conditions you’ll encounter at some indoor shows. Use this to your advantage by finding small details, such as close-ups of a car’s grille or the sensuous lines of a street rod’s fender and capture them in sharp focus.

That’s why I prefer to use wide-angle zooms that let me get close and fill up the frame with part or even the entire car while eliminating distractions. I start by working in close and gradually back off the zoom until extraneous details appear in the frame, then I prefer to crop them out—in camera. A low angle like the shot at right also helps to simplify the background or in this case, make it more interesting.

Caption: For this shot I ignored color correcting the image again and instead used the color that was SOOC. Camera was a Canon EOS 7D with EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (at 18mm) with an exposure of 1/6 sec at f/3.5 and ISO 1250.


If you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to treat Joe to a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), click here. And if you do, many thanks.

Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available from Amazon for $21.88 and used copies starting at giveaway prices—less than two bucks!