The right backdrop can make or break a photo. That’s why it’s best to take the time to location scout, for then you know the lay of the land before you start shooting.
We can all buy the same camera equipment, so how do you create pictures that truly stand out? Here are some lessons learned over the years that will hopefully help you refine your eye, and elevate your level of picture taking!
- A location can make or break a shoot, so finding the right spot makes things much easier, and impactful. A quiet place is better, for that allows you to shoot without being interrupted by traffic or onlookers. Also, if you are planning on photographing a fair amount, it’s great having stand-by locations where you know the lay of the land. For example, in
The best locations allow you to change composition dramatically without having to move the car a great distance. The main difference between this photo and the previous one is the side from which the Pagani was photographed, for we only moved the Zonda a few feet.
the three images of the yellow Pagani Zonda F, all were taken at a location close to the Pagani factory that works well for both still and motion photography. Needless to say, I had been there before this shoot…
- The best locations allow you to have more than one point of view from which to photograph. Returning to our Pagani, by changing from the driver to passenger side of the Zonda and moving the car only a few feet, the composition becomes more interesting and aesthetically pleasing as the vines provide a lovely, textured canopy in which to frame the Zonda.
Some locations allow for good motion photography as well as static images. This panning shot was taken within a half mile of the two previous static images.
- A background color that contrasts with your subject car helps it to stand out. In the first Jaguar XJR image, if the car was black its silhouette would blend in with the background, and the Jag would fade into the image. This is another reason why it’s ideal to already know the location of where you are going to shoot, for I specifically went here because of the contrast in colors, among other things.
A background with a different color palette from your subject makes the car stand out, as it did with the Jaguar XJR seen here.
- An even more striking example of a background that contrasts with the subject is the two images of a Pebble Beach-winning Talbot Lago. In this shoot I wanted to present the car as art, and knew the yellow of this sulfur pit would really make the Type 150C’s silhouette and silver and blue paint pop. This composition is especially effective because of our fourth tip: the background is uniform and simple, so nothing distracts the viewer’s eye from seeing the car’s shape—which is especially important with a vehicle most people don’t get the chance to see in person.
Where you position the car in the photo can make a difference. In this case, having the Jaguar close to the viewer, and in the corner of the photo, gives it additional “oomph.”
- Returning to the Pagani and Jaguar images, experiment with your distance from the car. With the Zonda F, the image becomes more impactful when the viewpoint moves back into the vineyard. Conversely, both Jaguar shots have impact, but getting up close to the car and using a wide-angle lens gives the XJR even more visual punch. Contributing to the image’s tension is the Jag’s close proximity to left and bottom edges of the photo.
- A Ferrari FXX is the subject of our next tip. While the airport setting is not particularly fussy, there is still a fence “growing out of the car,” and white buildings in the background that slightly lead one’s eye astray. To minimize the impact of those distractions, I first went down low to use the Ferrari to shield most of the background. Afterward I climbed up a ladder and shot downward to eliminate the background completely, and this viewpoint brought out an intriguing angle, one where you more clearly see the FXX’s “face.” So our sixth tip is experiment with the height from which you photograph. Don’t always keep it the same, for there is no telling what you will find by changing the altitude of your viewpoint.
To help unclutter the background behind the Ferrari FXX, a low point of view hid most of it behind the car.
- The FXX was also a fabulous case study on why you should look for details and design elements, and not solely focus on the overall car. Prior to this shoot I had spent time around a handful of FXXs but never shot one, and thought I’d need about 30 minutes to get a handful of images for my last Ferrari book. But when viewing this particular Ferrari through the camera’s eyepiece it absolutely came alive, its shape, design details and red/white color scheme gloriously assaulting my eyes. Now I was no longer photographing an FXX but looking at one of the most fabulous modern automotive canvasses there is. Stunning shapes, shadows and details were everywhere, keeping me so captivated that the shoot was cut off after three hours because another appointment loomed that couldn’t be canceled!
A photo from above a car’s roofline often yields good results. Here we get a striking image on the FXX, helped by a simple background. Wetting down the pavement would have made this image even more dramatic.
- 8. Good juxtaposition between your subject and the background can make for outstanding visuals. The Talbot Lago in a sulfur pit accomplishes much of this through the use of contrasting colors, but the real concept here is to place your subject car in a location where your viewer doesn’t expect to see it. For instance, when was the last time you thought you’d come across a Gallardo Superleggera (let alone any Lamborghini) in the middle of the desert, with not a speck of civilization in sight?
Always be looking for details; here the Ferrari FXX’s contrasting colors and forms are immensely eye-catching.
- It’s natural to take photographs in landscape or “horizontal format.” After all, when using a camera, the top and bottom of the eyepiece are longer than the sides. But turning that perspective on its side can bring a different dynamic to the image. Returning to the Gallardo Superleggera, “vertical format” brings more clouds into the photo, and a slight wide angle lens lets us see all of the background while being that much closer to the Lambo so its angular shape has even greater impact.
Small details can be a picture unto themselves, as this center hub on the FXX’s wheel illustrates.
- Today’s final tip falls between photographing the overall car and close up details. Look for distinctive design elements that make the car what it is. In the image of the nose of the one-off Iso Grifo A3/L, you see the voluptuousness of the fenders, a Grifo hallmark, and the unique channel running down the center of the hood, and nose–elements a viewer could easily overlook in a photo of the entire car. The image is also a case where our subject being backlit (lit from behind, rather than in front) is beneficial as well, for sunset’s warm light on the fenders helps to highlight the taut but voluptuous curvature of their surfaces.
I hope this tips bring some insight, and help you with your photography. Should you have any questions on photographing cars, or even photography in general, please post them and I will do my best to answer.
For those curious about the camera equipment used, most of these images (Iso, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Pagani, Talbot Lago) were taken with a Canon 1V and Velvia 50 film, while the Ferrari FXX was captured digitally with a Canon EOS 5D MkIII. Lenses used were Canon’s 16- or 17-35 f/2.8L, 24-105 f/4L, 28-135 f/3.5-5.6, and a longer focal length one that I don’t recall!
Thanks for reading my blog!