Shooting Cars Under Challenging Light Conditions

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

When photographing cars at indoor shows or in car museums you’ll experience challenges photographing them that you’ll never encounter when shooting them outdoors. 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 doesn’t work is explore some of the other white balance settings that my camera has but sometime I’ll have to create a custom color balance. If you don’t have a white card, chances are a white car will be a good substitute. Kodak’s R-27 Gray Cards ($27.50) offer 18% reflectance on the gray side; 90% reflectance on the white side.

ISO settings: Before even walking through a museum’s doors, you should make a few 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 some of the lighting challenges you will encounter.

Wide Angle Zooms: Inevitably there are going to be chains or ropes protecting the cars from overeager hands. Use a wide-angle zoom lens so that you can sit on the floor  under these barriers and still get good photograph. Tips: Wear your grungies. Some museums offer “Photo Days,” check their website for details before visiting.

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, New Mexico.


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 at giveaway prices—less than four bucks.