Lenses For Photographing Cars Indoors

by | Apr 28, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Wrapping up Monochrome Month…

Photographing automobiles can be lots of fun. Cars come in a staggering variety of sizes, shapes and colors and each one is interesting to photograph for different reasons. There are the strong vertical grilles of vintage cars, classic lines of street rods and sports and foreign cars abound with their own styling idiosyncrasies and flourishes. All of these fascinating kinds of cars make great photo subjects and the fact that they’re gathered together in museums, collection or (post virus) car shows makes it possible to photograph lots of them on the same day. That doesn’t mean they’ll be easy to photograph – or does it?

In the world we used to live in (let’s hope it changes soon) on any given weekend there’s a car show or Concours d’Elegance happening somewhere. You will find information about these shows in newspapers, enthusiast publications, and the Internet.

How I made these shots: I photographed this pair of images at The Mathews Collection using a Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO Lens. from the same camera position. The shot at left was made at 7mm, the below was shot at 14mm and seems like it was made with a much longer length.

The lenses you need for photographing cars is much different than what’s needed for making portraits. Cars are BIG and are often displayed in museums and indoor car shows in cramped spaces. And don’t get me started on the kind of lighting you’ll encounter. At outdoor shows lighting is seldom a problem and focal length can be longer. Indoor car shows have their own sets of challenges when working with a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Using feedback from the camera’s LCD screen makes it (relatively) easy to adjust color balance and ISO settings but one of the complicating factors at all shows, indoors or out, is that they’re crowded with people, hardware, and other distractions.

Shooting cars indoors at a show, collection, or museum have many things in common. With some exceptions, the cars are parked close together, the aisles are narrow and the light—what there is of it—isn’t that great. Any lens for photographing cars indoors should have have two main attributes: They have to have a fairly fast aperture and be as wide as your Gold Card will let you own.

But how wide is enough? It all depends on your camera’s focal length multiplier; it can range from 1.0 to 2.0 for cameras using the Four Thirds system that was used to make the featured images. A lens such as Sigma’s 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens is a great choice with a full-frame DSLR like my Canon EOS 5D (1.0 multiplier) but less so on my EOS 60D (1.6 multiplier.) In this case, you might be better using Sigma’s 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM Lens that’s designed specifically for cameras with smaller chips and produces the equivalent angle-of-view of an 18-29mm less.

Which lenses do I use where? It depends on the multiplication factor of the particular camera that I’m using. Depending on your camera’s multiplication factor a longer focal length, even the sometimes derided 135mm lens, while it may be tight fit indoors, will create a lovely perspective that this lens produces.


Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s available from Amazon for $21.88 with used copies starting at giveaway prices—less than six bucks.