5 automotive photography tips to click better pictures using a smartphone
Ask any enthusiast and one of the simplest joys of being a petrolhead is simply clicking pictures of cars or bikes. The popularity of automotive photography is higher than ever, more so with the proliferation of social media apps like Instagram, and there’s no doubt that each and every petrolhead possesses an innate desire to try and click and replicate the awesome pictures that they see in automotive magazines.
Have you always wanted to take such awesome, dramatic pictures? evo India’s photography team has compiled a list of the top five tips and tricks that you need to follow for banking great shots. And the best part? You don’t need to start by investing in expensive DSLRs or cameras – any smartphone will do just fine. Here’s what Rohit G Mane, our chief photographer, and Abhishek Benny, our senior photographer, suggest to keep in mind when shooting with a smartphone:
Keep the lens clean
Cleaning the lens of your camera will dramatically improve results, as it is easy to forget about the muck on the lens or random smudges that may have happened over time. With phone cameras, it is even more important to clean the lens as our phones are in constant contact with our hands or are placed on different surfaces. Ideally, use a soft cotton cloth or a microfibre cloth to clean the lens without scratching it. Even cleaning the lens using a handkerchief – or if it comes to it, your t-shirt – does wonders to the picture that you click.
For this, you should employ the rule of thirds. Switch on the grid lines on your camera and your image should be framed such that the subject (the car), is off-center, and is placed on one of the lines of your photo grid which divides the photo frame into three parts. Filling out the frame will also make your photos look more dramatic. Most phone camera lenses have a rather wide angle so you can get up close to your subject and fill up your frame.
You should also try and experiment with different perspectives. For instance, if a car has a big wing, photographs from the rear or rear-three-quarters look more dramatic.
Get really low to the ground or find something to stand on – try different perspectives to give you an angle that is more dramatic than what you see at eye-level.
Another top tip – cars look much better from really low down while SUVs are best viewed with your eye at the same level as the headlights.
Use the tools
Modern phone cameras have plenty of built-in tools to make your photos look more dramatic. Something that you absolutely must do is set the exposure correctly before you take the shot – and this can be done easily from the camera settings on both Android and iOS. Using portrait mode, which is present on most newer smartphones, allows you to blur out the background and focus on the subject. This will make a big difference, especially when you are capturing details like just the headlamps, the wheels, or badges. Newer phones have a portrait mode that allows you to blur out the background and focus on the subject — use it, it makes a big difference. This mode works particularly well if you are shooting details like just the headlamps, the wheels, or the badge. If you want to shoot a moving car, this is where things get tricky.
In order to create a panning or tracking shot where the car is completely in focus with the background blurred out, you need to use a phone that allows you to manually adjust the shutter speed – adjust it to 1/30 or 1/40 of a second and use the burst mode.
However, you need to have very steady hands as any shake will blur out your image.
Experiment with shutter speeds and light trails and light painting is also possible, but you would need a tripod to steady your phone for the same.
To bring out the best out of a photograph, it needs to be edited, and there are many powerful photo processing apps which allow you to do this right from your phone itself, so you do not need to transfer the images first to a computer. The Photos app in-built on the iPhone is actually very good, and the basic ‘Auto’ function on the colour correction does pop your pictures if you need a quick edit. Adobe Lightroom, available on both Android and iOS, is a powerful image processing app that allows you to tweak images. You can also use other apps such as Snapseed or VSCO.
One thing that you should keep in mind when editing images on your smartphone is to turn up the screen brightness to its max and switch off the power saving or night mode, as this will help you get accurate colours on the screen. If you don’t put the screen on full brightness, you will end up over exposing or under exposing the picture.
Check out the difference between an unedited image and an edited one in the carousel below – see the difference?
You can further play around with the other characteristics of the image such as colours, saturation, details, highlights and shadows, but the key thing to get right is the exposure and contrast. At the end of it, your edited image should pop yet look realistic, and not overdone with editing.
Practice with toys
It might sound odd at first, but photographing toy cars or scale models is a great way to brush up your skills and hone your camera work, as this will only aid your photography skills and act as a legitimate stepping stone to shooting a life-sized car like a pro. With toy cars, you want to give the car a good wipe and remember to get low and be really close to the subject. This is because some of these diecast models are really small in size, and getting the camera really close to the toy car will make it look proportionate.
You also need to decide how you want to place the car – and this is a practice that we also follow with the life-sized cars that we normally shoot. A front three-quarter shot is one of the best angles to shoot a car, and you can similarly take rear three-quarter, profile and head-on shots. If your diecast model is intricately detailed, you can shoot these details close-up, and we recommend you to use the macro mode of your phone if it has one, to focus on these small details.
If you have a terrace, you can even compose a frame such that the sun rises or sets behind the car. This golden light is perfect for photography and will give your picture a mellow look, and it is the light we chase on our shoots of full size cars as well.
Automotive photography is an art that takes time to master, and if you choose to take it up professionally, it makes sense to progressively move on to better and more sophisticated cameras and equipment as your skill set is upgraded. But unless you’re taking that path, smartphone cameras are more than enough for you to get started and are easier to practice your craft of clicking great photographs with. Interestingly, Instagram isn’t just about photos anymore. Reels are an equally awesome way to capture cars and bikes and to express cool ideas. Should I do a follow-up piece next week on how to shoot better automotive reels that can go viral from your phone? Let us know on Instagram!