The vehicle and/or tire should always be the center of attention. While the location and scenery is an important aspect of the image, it shouldn’t draw a viewer away from the vehicle. As the focal point of the picture, try to enhance the attractiveness of the vehicle and determine beforehand if you are going to be shooting in natural or artificial light.
Depending upon the feel you’re looking for, there are several different options available. For a gritty and moody feel, try the top level of a parking garage overlooking the city or industrial part of town. For a clean and classy feel, consider shooting in front of more modern architecture or against the reflective glass of office buildings. If you’re going for the classic shot, think about the crest of a hill with an open expanse overlooking a landscape scene, preferably west facing in order to have the sun setting in the background. Finding that great location will make your photograph stand out, enhance the atmosphere of the shot and highlight the features of the car.
Try not to be overly adventurous with the location selection. While the setting and surrounding scenery is an important aspect of the shot, be careful not to take the car too far out of context. When considering a location, think carefully about how the surroundings relate to the color of the vehicle and if the tones in the shot will complement each other.
Depending on the location and timing, it’s best to use natural light. Try utilizing the golden hours, just before and during sunrise in the morning and through sunset in the evening. This way, you’ll get a warm wash of sunlight on your vehicle and you’ll avoid the overtly harsh brightness of the midday sun, which will cause problems with reflections.
While natural light is preferred, there is also the option of using artificial lighting. Although there aren’t necessarily any right or wrong ways to light a car, when setting up lights, try highlighting the different aspects or angles of the vehicle as you see fit. Avoid over lighting the car which will prevent the light sources from doubling up on areas of the car. Remember that lighting is a very individual preference and will define the personal style and mood of the shot.
When considering how you want to portray the vehicle, determine whether there are any features that you would like to highlight and decide what angle to shoot from. Start by shooting from eye level, but in order to make your shots stand out, you’ll need to exploit different angles and vantage points. A popular angle is to shoot from just above the ground which will give the vehicle an overbearing menacing look. Always remember to experiment and see what works for you and your car.
After finding an angle or vantage point that shows your car off best, try moving the car around to varied positions within the same setting. Try to avoid distractions behind the car such as trees and phone cables. For full car shots, a tripod is recommended in order to provide that extra sharpness. For more dramatic angles, you’ll need to go handheld.