I did nothing to this photo. The Kia stage was one of the most impressive and this unedited shot came out looking like a CG rendering. Huge props to Kia for coming a long way over the years.

10 Quick Tips for Shooting a Car Show

Here at iLHP, we are car lovers as well as camera lovers. So in celebration of the ongoing North American International Auto Show in Detroit and the many international shows to come, we’d like to take a moment to share 10 quick tips on photographing an auto show. For your convenience, below is also a list of some of the major car shows around the world this year.

2015 autoshow schedule
Current as of 1/2/2015

10. Avoiding the Crowds

If Transformers were real, they would come in this Lexus LF-C2.
If Transformers were real, they would come in this Lexus LF-C2.

Assuming you don’t have a press pass, timing determines whether or not your pictures will be filled with strangers. Try weekdays after work/school. Avoid opening day and weekends. I was at the LA auto show on a Monday. The convention center was nearly empty and I sat in every car I wanted. It made the experience that much more enjoyable.

9. Bring a Zoom Lens or a Wide Angle Prime

Zoom with a zoom lens, or zoom with your feet with a prime. The new Mercedes GLA getting the street art treatment.
Zoom with a zoom lens, or zoom with your feet with a prime. The new Mercedes GLA getting the street art treatment.

Car shows are dynamic affairs. Zoom lens, such as a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L or a Nikon 24-120mm f/4G, are great for low light, variable distance shooting, and static subjects. Larger apertures are less important here because (a) car shows are usually well lit so ISO is less of a problem and (b) you’d want smaller apertures to capture more in focus.

Alternatively, a 35mm prime lens with low distortion and near normal perspectives, like the Sony Sonnar 35mm f/2.8 or equivalent Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, would work really well. A 50mm prime is a too tight. An ultra-wide (20mm or wider) may capture distracting backgrounds and crowds (although you can achieve some wild effects with really wide zooms). All of the photos taken here was with a Leica 35mm f/2.8 Summaron.

8. Stick with Simple Camera Settings (If shooting RAW, when in doubt, underexpose.)

Race cars and trucks should be dirty.
Race cars and trucks should be dirty.

While lighting will vary throughout the venue, auto shows overall still have pretty decent lighting in order to showcase their featured attractions (the cars). I shot with the full frame Sony A7 and a 35mm lens set at f/5.6 and 1/100s but auto ISO. My ISOs varied between 100-500 for most of the afternoon. Your results will vary depending on venue.

For APS-C or micro 4/3s camera, I would cap the ISO to a comfortable setting (probably ISO 3200), set an aperture of f/4 or smaller, and let the camera determine shutter speed. This is where an image stabilized lens would help, if you are ISO limited. The purpose of simple camera settings is so to enjoy the show and not get distracted by fiddling with the camera.

7. Go Low

Is this three wheeled? Is it a trike? Is this the modern adaptation of the Reliant Robin?
Is this three wheeled? Is it a trike? Is this the modern adaptation of the Reliant Robin?

We’re used to looking at cars from a certain height level. Yet, for many low slung sports cars and concepts, taking the shot from a lower angle opens up a new perspective. Remember to keep your perspective parallel to the ground rather than shooting up or down. Tilting your camera up or down will distort the perspective unless you use a tilt-shift lens to compensate.

6. Leave your Tripods or Monopods at Home

If only motor laws would allow chopped-roof convertibles, we could all have one of these.
If only motor laws would allow chopped-roof convertibles, we could all have one of these.

Many venues simply won’t allow them. Tripods are unwieldy in crowds. Monopods are easier to work with but are often not allowed also. Check their websites before to make sure.

5. Wear Dark Clothing to Avoid Reflections

Say what you will about car wraps. If done right, they still look pretty darn good.
Say what you will about car wraps. If done right, they still look pretty darn good.

This little tip I picked up here. To avoid catching your own reflection in car windows, wear dark or black clothing so the reflections are less noticeable and easier to remove in post.

4. Don’t Forget the Exhibitors and Vendors

Buy ALL the Hotwheels!
Buy ALL the Hotwheels!

My jaws literally dropped when I stumbled upon this Hot Wheels trailer at the LA Auto Show. My 8 year old inner-self exploded with joy and I spent a good 20 mins combing through their wide selection much to the chagrin of my disinterested wife.

3. Avoid Using the Flash

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As I’ve mentioned before, car shows are usually well lit. I don’t know if it’s because of the Hollywood influence or not, but the LA Auto Show is one of the best lit show’s I’ve been to. Using strobes is really unnecessary and could cause distracting reflections and shadows. That being said, it could be handy for interior shots.

2. All About the Angle

I did nothing to this photo. The Kia stage was one of the most impressive and this unedited shot came out looking like a CG rendering. Huge props to Kia for coming a long way over the years.
I did nothing to this photo. The Kia stage was one of the most impressive and this unedited shot came out looking like a CG rendering. Huge props to Kia for coming a long way over the years.

Taking unboring photos of beautifully exciting, but static, objects are incredibly difficult. Most car photographs are a bore compared to the real thing. It is difficult to capture all of the lines and shapes on a curvy modern car. Really take the time to study the lines and find its best angles. Take the upcoming 2016 Mazda Miata. From certain angles, it look like an beautiful cross between a Honda S2000 and a Jag F-type. From other angles, it looks like another “committee design” by Mazda.

1. Enjoy the Show.

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I cannot stress this one enough. Don’t forget to kick some tires. :)