7 secret tips to taking great vintage car photos
5 July 2019
If you have a car you’re proud of, eventually, you’re going to want to take some memorable—and shareable—photos of the wonderful machine. You can, of course, take it to a cool spot, snap some images with your smartphone, and be done. But, with a bit more thought and deliberate effort, you can create images that you’ll be as proud of as you are of the car Itself.
Every vintage car has a story, and your pictures should help to tell it. Here are a few incredible photography tips to help you not just take a picture of your car, but to put it to use as the work of art that it is.
1. Always choose the right light
Lighting is one of the most important and basic aspects of photography. When taking pictures of cars, especially beautiful vintage masterpieces, lighting helps to make the difference between a simple snapshot, and a well-composed work of art.
Schedule your shoot close to dawn or dusk, to provide plenty of soft, natural, low-angle light. Then, walk around your car to find the perfect angle from which to best capture an image.
Pay attention to environmental reflections in the car’s windows or finish, which will often act as a mirror. You’ll want to avoid accidentally including a reflected image of yourself, or a random ugly building that you happen to be standing near.
Instead, pick out reflections that will enhance the picture overall, and consider deliberately incorporating them into your composition.
2. Use a polariser when you need one
Nothing feels quite as annoying as lining up the perfect shot, only to have the image ruined by blindingly bright glare coming off of a nearby window, or a body of water. Using a polariser can help to reduce glare, making it easier to incorporate light effects into your image, which is especially important when shooting at dawn or dusk.
That means it not only improves the quality of your pictures by default, it also expands your options with regard to the kinds of pictures you can take.
3. Use the backdrop to tell a story
Vintage cars have a lot of history, and the setting in which you shoot can help to tell that story, or at least to complement it in some way. This doesn’t necessarily mean taking vintage style photos with a historically accurate background—though you can certainly do that if you like. Rather, it’s about being deliberate about your location, and what viewers take away from what they see besides the car itself.
A classic car in front of an ultra-modern building or sitting in a gorgeous vineyard can both result in incredible photos, but they’ll evoke very different emotions. The difference between a good photo and a great one starts in knowing why you chose one over the other.
4. Focus on Details
When looking at something as exquisite as your classic vintage car in person, it can be difficult to know where to focus your gaze. As a photographer, it’s your job to frame the picture in such a way that the viewer looks exactly where you want them to.
Basically, that just means controlling the amount of clutter in your image, and being deliberate about the angle at which you shoot, and your background. Taken further, it means recognising the unlimited potential that a car offers a photographer.
Well-composed close-up shots can make whatever detail you love most stand out as the focal point of your image. Hood ornaments, vintage tyres, headlights, or any unique quirks your vehicle has can all be used to create beautiful pictures, helping to the viewer to better appreciate the unique elements that make the car into the work of art that it is.
5. Control your depth of field
Controlling your depth of field is an important way to help you reduce clutter and make it easier to compose a beautiful image.
By using a larger aperture size and a longer lens, you can make the area of focus in your image smaller, while a smaller aperture and shorter lens translate to a larger area of focus. This allows you to blur the back or foreground of your image, so that inconsequential details literally fade out of the picture, therefore emphasising the details that you want in the spotlight.
Knowing which will garner the best results in any given shot requires experimentation and experience, so don’t be afraid to try out a variety of things until you can achieve the results you’re looking for.
6. Use prime lenses
While zoom lenses do allow photographers to take different kinds of images by adjusting their focal length. They’re more expensive than prime lenses, which only have one set focal length. For most people, choosing a zoom lens sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a trap!
A professional photographer has the knowledge and years of experience to use a zoom lens to incredible effect for many different kinds of photos, but an amateur photographer can often have a better experience using just a few prime lenses.
For an amateur photographer, a prime lens is a blessing. Having just a single focal length per lens allows you to quickly get a feel for exactly how to get a great shot while having and using multiple lenses ensures that you can take more than just one type of photo.
7. Don’t take pictures at eye level
Choosing a high or low angle at which to photograph your car isn’t just an aesthetic choice, it’s also psychological. While most people don’t get to see a vintage car every day, cars are a very familiar and “ignorable” part of our everyday lives. Besides that, our most typical eye-level perspective is frankly the least flattering that most cars have.
Seeing something from an extraordinary perspective is fundamentally more interesting than seeing it the same way we would just walking down the street. An extraordinary car shouldn’t be associated with a boring, everyday visual experience.
Your vintage car is a work of art, and it should be celebrated as such. Whether you’re just taking a few pictures to show your friends, or looking to create a centrepiece for your office decor, these tips can help you take the kind of photo your car deserves.
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