Insider Tips with Joshua McKenzie: Car Photography
Joshua is a freelance automotive, portrait, and landscape photographer based out of Edmonton.
I’ve been into cars for as long as I can remember. From the Lamborghini Diablo poster on my wall as a kid to being able to shoot one for Horsepower4Hope (a charity that raises money for kids with cancer), your car is a reflection of self and modifying it to your own liking is one of the things that draws me to cars still. My passion for cars is fueled by people who are passionate about their cars!
When I approach a car shoot I generally take the vehicle in as a whole, observing the details and admiring the customization. I’m usually in my own world, taking photos as I go around the car. You can usually bank on a few shots, regardless of the vehicle: a head on shot, a front 3/4 shot (the front and one side of the car in frame), a side profile, a rear shot and a rear 3/4 shot. When I first started doing automotive photography, it took me a few tries to get a good idea of what looked good to me and what didn’t. I always recommend paying attention to others work and what piques your interest in their shots! While I’ve always been a morning person, car owners tend to prefer sunsets or golden hour in the evening to be the optimal times to shoot. Late afternoon and early evening is a good rule of thumb once you’ve adapted to shooting in different light.
Depending on the time of day, as well as the motion (or lack thereof) you’re capturing, settings can drastically change. I feel as a general rule in photography, you start to freeze motion around 1/80-1/125 of a second for your shutter. If I’m handheld shooting a still vehicle I try and keep 1/125 as my lowest shutter speed. Experiment with different apertures and shutter speeds here, trying to keep your ISO as low as possible. Tripod is optimal for all around cleanliness of the shot! There are rolling shots where you’re in a vehicle and following another vehicle at the same rate of travel (or them following you depending on the angle you’re after) where you want to shoot a slow shutter speed. Remember, a higher speed freezes motion so you want to shoot relatively slow (1/25-1/60 depending on the speed of vehicles) Also, have you tried light painting?! You should be acquainted with photoshop and layers to really see the benefits of this process. At night, you’ll want to have your car in focus (manual) and shoot for extended periods of time (10-30 seconds), walking around, lighting up the vehicle with a light (wand LED lights work best here).
I only recently started really paying more attention to the details in a cars build with photography. As I said before, I get in my own world! Any accents the owner may have placed on the car should be photographed (always overshoot, don’t undershoot!) From the wheels, exhaust set-ups, engine modifications, carbon fiber (I’m a sucker for carbon fiber and the light off of the weave in photos), decals, the interior. When you stop and think about it and what catches your eye, shoot it! I am particular about framing and try and have room to crop in a bit if I feel there’s room for different options of a frame.
There’s so many options for locations out there and Google maps should be your friend here with street view having covered so much of our roadways. When all else fails take a drive, get out and park your car in an interesting spot and see how things stack up! Leading lines can really help compliment a scene, as well as the colours in the area. I try to always ask the client if they have a background in mind or a theme they may have a vision of. Knowing the colour of the car and the scene it’s in can really put you a step ahead of things when you get there for the shoot. I started as a landscape photographer, and I try and keep that in mind with vehicles to put them in a good setting.
If there’s anything I can try and convey to people just starting out with vehicle photography, it would be to practice as often as you can. I’ve only been doing it for a couple years and am constantly seeing new things and seeing improvements here and there! Have fun with it! As with all photography, try not to get caught up with gear. Establishing techniques, angles and a solid handle of editing will go a long way. Always shoot RAW, use a CPL (takes away a lot of reflections in windows) and be comfortable with your camera and the results your settings will provide.
Be sure to follow Josh on Instagram!