Obtaining Correct Exposures When Shooting Cars

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

One of the classic rules in photography is that light has four major qualities: color, quality, quantity, and direction. As photographers seeking to master the art of exposure, seeing that light is the key to mastering the art of exposure, especially when it comes to photographing cars.

Learning to see light is not difficult but takes some practice by not only constantly making new images but also taking the time to analyze those photographs after you’ve created them. For example, the exposure for the black Jaguar (above) was 1/320 sec at f/8 and ISO 400, which is one and one-third stops less that the camera indicated as “correct.”

I’ve always thought camera’s designers realized that no amount of automation will produce a perfect exposure under all possible lighting situations and what some people might like others might not. You are the final arbiter of what’s really correct. To help you home in on an ideal exposure, your camera’s Exposure Compensation feature lets you increase or decrease the automatic exposure by one-half or one-third tops to get the exposure you like. Using the camera’s LCD screen and histogram will help you fine tune what what you really this is best.

One of the first tips that I give aspiring car photographers is that they should underexpose black cars to render them as black and overexpose white ones, so they look white. When you think about this concept, it makes perfect sense: By forcing the exposure to middle gray tones, you’ll end up with a white car that looks gray or a black car that looks gray too. For example, the exposure for the white Nissan Skyline (above) was 1/500 sec at f/10 and ISO 200, which is two-thirds stops more that the camera indicated as “correct.”.

For more on this subject, check out my post Understanding Digital Exposure Techniques when you have time.


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Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s out-of-print but new copies are available for $21.88 or used copies for giveaway prices—less than three bucks—from Amazon, as I write this. Kindle version, for some reason, is really expensive.