The brilliant cameras on the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X let you easily snag brilliant snaps. If you want to take your mobile photography beyond simple snaps, though, you’ll need to start thinking more about how you’re taking photos.
In the first of a series of how-to features, I’ll take you through my top tips for taking better photos of cars. Whether it’s your own vehicle you want to show off or a fancy sportscar at an auto show, there are a wealth of lighting, composition and editing tips you can keep in mind to take your work to the next level.
Set up your phone
Before you set out, take a moment to familiarise yourself fully with your phone. On your iPhone, you’ll already be shooting at the maximum 12-megapixel resolution. If you’re using an Android phone, check your camera settings to make sure that you’re shooting at full resolution.
I mostly shoot in JPEG format on the iPhone, but some apps like Camera+ let you take photos in raw DNG format. This gives you more control when you’re editing your shots, but it’s not as quick as simply swiping open the iPhone camera and shooting away.
Still, there are occasions when the natural light is fooling the camera into using unnatural white balance and colour settings. Again, I use Camera+ to take manual control of white balance. It’s definitely worth downloading this app (£2.99, $2.99, iOS only) before you leave home.
Pick the location based on the car
A stunning location will make all the difference in turning a boring snap of a car into a beautiful piece of art. Think about it: How many professional car shots have you seen when a car is parked behind a McDonald’s?
Consider which locations would best represent what the car is all about. A luxurious executive sedan will look pretty out of place on an off-road muddy track on a hillside. Likewise, a compact commuter car isn’t suited for a shoot on a racetrack, but it would look great in a city scene.
For this shoot, I borrowed the new Jaguar F-Type, a beautiful, powerful car, with an open top that’s a total joy to drive. To my mind, the rolling hills of England’s Peak District, with its sweeping roads and glorious views made a brilliant location for this vehicle. The muted autumnal colours of the surroundings really helped the vibrant red of the Jaguar stand out, too.
Better light equals better photos
Today’s smartphones can take stunning photographs that will rival many DSLR cameras, but the small image sensors in phones mean that when the natural light dims, your photos will suffer. You’ll get your best photos when you look for areas that let in as much ambient light as possible.
Daylight will be your friend when it comes to getting the best shots on your iPhone. A dark, underground car park might be an imposing, dramatic setting. But on a phone, the shot will come out full of image noise, if you get anything at all. The same goes for outdoor shots at night. Sure, you might find a nice overhead street light, but it’s likely that the details in the image won’t come out well on a phone.
Master your angles
Composition is everything in any kind of photography, not just when you’re shooting cars. Think about what makes your subject stand out and try to find ways to echo that with the angles.
A powerful 4×4 will look great when shot from low down, emphasising the huge wheels and ride height, for example. A classic angle in many shots is the three-quarter view, taken from looking diagonally at the front left or right corner. It’s here where you’ll best capture both the front and side of the car, and it has the added benefit of keeping you, the photographer, hidden from reflections in the side panels.
It’s also important to try wider views that put the car in the context of the environment you’ve chosen. The Peak District location I found for the Jaguar would have been lost if I’d just done close-up views, but by taking a few steps back I could capture the car within a gorgeous scene. You can always get a tighter crop when you’re editing.
While it’s possible to shoot photos by yourself, having a second driver opens up a huge amount of possibilities for more dynamic driving shots. Work together and find a good location where you can get out and find a suitable shooting spot that will let you capture the car in motion and still maintain a great background scene.
Use editing apps for artistic flair
The shot isn’t finished once you’ve pressed the shutter button. Creative editing will truly take your photos to the next level. I use Snapseed (free for iOS and Android) for almost all of my mobile editing. It’s a very powerful tool that gives me control over light and colour and has a wide range of neat effects.
It’s worth spending some time playing around in Snapseed, seeing what different effects you can achieve. But be careful: Always remember that the car is still the focus. Avoid any filters that obscure the car too much and try not to do anything to the overall colour palette that changes the colour of the car itself. I like to use the vignette tool to help focus attention on the car by slightly darkening the scene around it.
Don’t let anyone tell you that editing is cheating. All of the car photos you see in adverts will have had at least some editing, if not hours of expert compositing. If the end result looks great, who’s to say what’s a right or wrong way to get there?
Accessories make a difference
Most important is to get a sturdy case for your phone. Shooting photos, often quickly and potentially in windy conditions can be risky, particularly when you’re likely standing on concrete that won’t play nicely with your phone in case of a drop. Better safe than sorry.
An external battery also is worth the investment. Taking photos is a big battery drain on any phone, particularly because you’ll likely need the screen brightness on max to see the image properly. You don’t want to find a beautiful spot to photograph and then discover that your phone has conked out.
Finally, consider getting an OlloClip lens set (£100, $100). These lenses clip over the camera unit providing various lens effects. It’s the wide-angle view that’s most important here. Try clipping it on and getting up close with the front corner of the car. The wide lens distortion will help create a dramatic, imposing angle to the vehicle.
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