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Photographing VIVA ITALIA

May 11, 2009

Photographing cars at car shows can be fun and challenging. At VIVA ITALIA Concours D’Elegance there were photographers of all ages and sizes. Most of the great car show photographs taken by non-professional photogs are taken with some of the simplest point-and-shoot cameras without any special equipment or even tripods.

Here are some simple tips to get better results you can share with family and friends. It is always fun to be able to brag about the cars you saw, and share the memories of the event through your photographs.

There are three main factors in creating great photographs: Patience, Light and Perspective


Take your time to frame your photo, taking an extra second or two is sometimes all it takes to avoid a fuzzy or slightly out of focus picture. Stand firmly in place and hold the camera steady. If you have a tendency to shake while taking pictures a monopod or tripod may help to stabilize your shot.

Wait a moment for onlookers to leave the frame of your photo, or ask if they could step back for just a moment.


Work in longer/lower light: in photography lighting is one of the most important factors to consider. Even though you need lots of light for photography, the best car photographs are taken when the sun is lower in the sky – morning, late afternoon or early evening. The high light of the midday sun (noon to two pm) causes harsh and distorting shadows and fades out or bleaches the colors of the image. The best images are captured with lots of evenly distributed low angle light.

Use a filler flash even when photographing in a lot of light to even out lighting and help to bring out some of the highlights of the image.

Obliquely reflected light can often help to bring out the features of the image. Obliquely reflected light is often sunlight reflected by a white or light structure, concrete pavement, glass windows or any light colored surface.

Avoid hot-spots in your photo. Large reflections from one part of the car (i.e. hood or glass) can ruin the entire shot. Sometimes shifting just an inch or two in any direction will give you the same shot without the unwanted hot-spot.

Make certain the sun is behind you. When shooting on a sunny or bright day, shooting toward the sun will cause lens flares, harsh shadows and uneven images. Even on overcast days, shooting toward the sun can cause many of the same issues.

Don’t shoot your own shadow. If at all possible frame the shot so that you are no longer casting a shadow in the frame. Sometimes taking a step back and using the zoom will get you out of the shot.

On the bright side, or the sunny side of the car your photograph will show more of the details. Consider the differences in what you can see on the shadowed side of a car versus the sunny side of the car when you are wearing sunglasses. Many of the details and subtle lines of the cars styling are lost in photos taken of the shaded side of a car, even when using a flash. If you are taking digital photos, shoot both sides sunny and shaded. You will see the better shots are generally the ones taken with on the brighter side.


First and foremost you should consider what you want to convey with each photograph: do you want to show an entire car, a particular feature of the car or would you like to convey the atmosphere of the car show?

Frame your photo to show what you most want to remember or share:

The whole auto – if you want to show the entire car – frame the photo so that the car fills the viewfinder nearly from edge to edge. Be certain to look carefully at the image in your viewfinder: are there any odd objects in the photo which can be eliminated or diminished by changing the perspective slightly? Sometimes a step to one side or the other will change the way a building or tree looks in relation to your subject.

Emblems, grilles, features – if you want to show a particular feature a straight on shot is usually best, leaving a margin around the emblem within the viewfinder. Sometimes stepping back an extra step and zooming in on the image will create a sharper image, than if you stand close to the emblem and try to focus.

Essence, ambience and atmosphere – if you want to convey the atmosphere of a car show stand back and take shots with multiple cars and people milling about. Once that photo is taken wait a moment and take the same shot with fewer or more people. Take photos of people working the show, talking with the owners and the owners cleaning their cars – they are all a part of the show experience.

Alternate perspectives can create some amazing images. Consider taking the shot from a kneeling position, the pavement level or even from higher than a standing position. Take shots of specific features from differing angles, for example the front bumper or grille of the car can be shot from many angles to give different results.

Use reflections to capture images differing from the ordinary. Capture the image of one car in the reflection of the glass, body side panel or hub cap of another car. Photograph the building behind a car as it is reflected in the hood, roof or trunk of the car.

Ask the owner of the car to close or open the hood, open or close the door or trunk for the shot you desire. Do not open or close doors, hoods or trunks without permission!

Some General Notes:

Take a moment to preview your shots using the playback and zooming in on the image with the view screen. You might find that the photos are out of focus or not lit properly. Reviewing gives you the opportunity to get it right before losing the chance.

Turn off the date feature for the images – if you are using a digital camera, the date code is embedded in the record.

Take lots of memory cards. The price for the memory cards is dropping on a regular basis and taking digital photos is virtually free. Taking multiple shots with slight changes in perspective or lighting will offer you more opportunity for the perfect shot.

Take photos of the display/dash cards if you want to remember what each car is, or who the owner was you were speaking to.

Be careful with your equipment – camera straps, lens covers, camera bags, tripods and even your clothing can scratch or dent a cars finish as you move around the car trying to get the desired shot.
Some great resources for tips on photographing your auto can be found by clicking below:
Hemmings 10 Easy Steps to Better Car Show Shots

Cobracountry Fototips

Photography Review Car Photo Guide

When Mr. Tire presents VIVA ITALIA Concours D’Elegance to benefit The Children’s Guild at Harbor East, Baltimore on September 27, 2009 you will have a great opportunity to practice and sharpen your photography skills. Many photography clubs and classes use car shows for competition or learning experiences.

Grab your camera and join us as we support the important work of The Children’s Guild.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2009 12:16 am

    Awesome tips for car and motorcycle photographers, Jeanette! By utilizing these pointers and by the grace of Photoshop, the Concours D’Elegance is sure to have some exceptional new picture shots to add to the archives!

    Keep these great articles coming. We are all so delighted to read about the auto news topics you share — they help educate everyone about the exotic car world and Italian cars all together… and whether adults or children reading here, we really learn a lot.

    [I’m looking forward to sharing this photography article with my son as part of his ongoing home school project related to discussing art and improving photography skills in both a technical and aesthetic sense as they relate to automobiles and still photos.]

    Kindest regards, always, my friend, and thank you for sharing here on the web. Your work is deeply appreciated by this car girl — and all parties related.

    Kae Davis
    Exotic Car Examiner for

  2. May 15, 2009 12:30 am

    This is a great article. As part of my profession, I attend no less than 20 events a year and my photos always SUCK no matter what camera I use. I’m hoping one or more of your helpful hints drastically improves my technique and final product. Ciao!

  3. vivaitalia2009 permalink*
    May 19, 2009 9:35 am

    One thing I forgot to mention under Patience: hold the shutter button down half way to allow the camera to focus before taking the shot. This eliminates many fuzzy shots.


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