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Antique and Classic Car Photography Tips

written by: Larry M. Lynch•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/24/2011

Tap into the world's love of Henry Ford's greatest offering - the automobile. From "Tin Lizzies" to alternative energy efficient and electric cars, you can use these digital photography tips and techniques to get dazzling, salable images of all manner of personal and commercial vehicles.

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    Antique, Classic and Modern Car Photography

    “Oh man, check that baby out!"

    “Just look at that front end."

    “Did you see the curves on that honey?"

    “Boy, would I love to take that sweetie out for a spin!"

    That’s right, that’s right - I’m talking about cars.

    IMG 6308 If there’s ever a photographic venue that we just can’t seem to get enough of, it's cars. “Antique" cars, that is technically a car more than 50 years old, hold a special attraction for both men, women and children alike. For your information, a car older than 20 years is called a “classic" car. These are also hot prospects for automobile photography. Let’s certainly not forget the newest wheels on the block and showroom floors. Look in many magazines from sporting rags to women’s issues and teen or sports monthlies, and regardless of their feature material, you’ll frequently find car photos gracing their glossy pages. Want to try your hand a getting a few memorable, salable digital images of a local antique, classic, hot-rod or jalopy? Why not? Car buffs around the world are suckers for getting photos of their vehicles. Here are some useful car photography tips and techniques.

    (Click on any image to enlarge)

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    Car Photography Tips and Techniques

    IMG 6318 Get Photos of Everything - You’ll need to think high, medium, low and close to get a good series of car photographs. What do I mean? First, drop down on one knee and get a series of photos starting at the front of the car – pick a car, any car – and then moving and shooting at two-foot intervals all the way around the vehicle from about four to six feet away. Next, move in close – real close, and get detailed images of features like grills, hood ornaments, emblems, trim, wheel rims, hub caps and other unique items the car may have. Move on to the car’s interior, if possible, or shoot through a window if need be. The steering wheel, dashboard, instrument panels, seats, gear shift, glove or other interior compartments, controls and interior installations are your digital image targets now.

    Finished? Nope, not yet.

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    IMG 6304 Take Pictures from Various Angles - Now, it’s time to back it up and get over views of the automobile from higher up. Stand on a chair, stool, step or anything available to get your shooting eye up to six or eight feet if possible. Once again, move all around the car at this bird’s-eye height, getting all you can. That’s a good feature of digital photography, whether you shoot one or one hundred images, the cost is the same. So get all the angles and bracketed exposes that you can. Get down, and under the hood if possible. If you’re photographing a “show" vehicle, it’ll be almost "clean enough to eat off of" the engine compartment interior (but don’t you do it!). Take over view images and close-ups of parts and systems. Don’t forget to open the trunk and get a series of “inside" shots there too.

    So, are you done? Are you kidding? No, you’re not.

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    IMG 6298 Don't Forget the Details - Where to next, you might wonder? Next, we’re going for some unique “worm’s-eye" views. Start with an eye-popping front tire wheel close-up. Let’s see details in those treads, bunky. If you can, be sure to get a series of photographs with a model, person or the proud car owner and the vehicle, inside and out. Remember to write down essential information and pertinent details of the car as well. Ask if any special modifications, personalizing or changes have been made to the vehicle. If so, be sure to document them photographically.

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    Who Needs Digital Photos of Cars?

    IMG 6814 Alright, so you’ve composed and photographed a memory card load of digital images of an antique, classic or new car like this 1935 Singer convertible interior (pictured). So, who might need them or be a potential market for your digital images, anyway? Well, like we mentioned earlier, automobile photos are almost everywhere you look. Try car dealerships and auto clubs for starters. Look for car magazines and remember to check out stock photo agencies and websites too. Newspapers and local magazines certainly might want to have a look at your proofs, as might insurance companies and the owners themselves, of course. Did I mention travel, men’s and hobby magazines, online car blogs, automobile or motorcycle-themed newsletters or websites? History publications and advertising agencies and even the auto manufacturer might want to snap up a digital image or two. Look around you. Ask. Make queries everywhere you can think of. Do you live in or near “farm country"? Then don’t forget about tractors! They’re “sweetheart vehicles" in many areas of the country, you know.

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    Time to Get Rolling with Digital Photography of Cars

    York Baltimore 2003 046 While you’re thinking car photos, don’t forget about adding motorcycles, campers, vans, SUVs, custom vehicles and even trucks to your antique, classic or new car digital photography portfolio. There’s a whole new crop of electric and alternative-energy use vehicles coming out now that are just ripe for some creative digital photography. Finding willing subjects to shoot couldn’t be easier. Just ask any friend, neighbor or other proud owner of a shined and polished vehicle if you can take a few show-off photos of their pride and joy. What? You think they’re going to say “No"? I’ve never been turned down yet. Not even by complete strangers in a foreign city who didn’t even speak my language that well. Once, I even asked a Maryland State Trooper if I could photograph his Harley-Davidson official police motorcycle. Now just guess what he said, after giving me “the look", that is? (Aw, you guessed! Maybe it was the photo that gave it away?)

    So then, isn’t it about time for you to get rolling and try these digital photography tips and techniques and start a series of automobile photographs for your digital photography portfolio today?