Car photography is a huge thing. People love admiring other people's cars. However, don't limit yourself to taking photographs of vehicles during the day! Take advantage of the peculiar and phenomenal atmosphere that the twilight provides.
I live in an area where people have pride in their cars, especially if it's a hot rod or sports car. We have several nights throughout the summer that focus on people bringing their cars to local parking lots just to show them off. Is this common in your area too?
Alas, car photography at night does come with a few obstacles. But it's okay, and I have some techniques to overcome them!
Night Car Photography Settings:
- Use a professional DSLR or mirrorless camera.
- Use a wide-angle lens.
- Don't forget to use a tripod.
- Shoot in RAW.
- Set your white balance to Auto, you can adjust this later in post-production.
- Set your lens to Manual Focus.
- Make sure your shutter speed is about 30-60 seconds.
- Use an aperture of f/8, f/11, or f/16. This will ensure you get crisp and sharp photos.
- Set your ISO to 100 or 200.
- Set White Balance to Auto - The good thing about night photography is the variety of light sources. Think of street lights and neon signs. Because of this, you will want to take your photos in Auto White Balance.
- Manual Focus - Since you will be manually focusing, try to find something to focus on with light in the distance of your shot. Once you do this, switch over to manual and adjust the focus.
- Shutter Speed - You'll want to make sure your shutter speed is about 30-60 seconds. You want the shutter to be slow enough to allow in ample light. A simple trick for too much light, decrease the shutter speed! If you need more light, increase the time.
- Aperture - You will want an extended depth of field. To achieve this, you will need an aperture of f8, f11, or f16. This will ensure you get crisp and sharp photos.
- ISO - 100 or 200. Get rid of a speckled image by reducing the noise. Setting your ISO at 100 or 200 will help you get a sharp and clean photo.
Camera Equipment & Techniques
The first thing you NEED to have is a tripod. Especially since you will use a slower shutter speed - you need to stay durable. Your tripod will reduce motion blur and keep your car in focus. If you are trying to achieve a look that's the main photo of this article, you will need a suction cup tripod attached to the side of the car.
Stack Your Photos
When you are in a deserted area with little to no light, you will need to get creative! If you lack light, you need a long exposure time. You can use a technique during post-processing called stacking. Take a handful of photos (maybe 8 to 10) using an exposure of five seconds. Try using some sort of light like a flashlight or headlights. Once you open one in your photo editing software, you can stack them onto each other to create one perfect image.
Check out this article with more details on photo stacking / bracketing:
Look for Light Sources
Try getting a car near dramatic neon lights to help illuminate the photo while adding vivid colors. Traffic lights and headlights can also help add drama.
Be Weary of Color
Colors can sometimes be deceiving. You might shoot a car at night and think the colors you captured are fantastic - and then you open up the photo and think, "Oh, well, that is not what I expected!" Colors and light don't always translate the way you want them. Take every light source that you are near into consideration.
Related article: Kelvin Color Temperature - Color Temperature Chart
Always Shoot RAW
You will need to edit these images a bit more than usual photographs. Because of this, shoot in RAW. RAW images will allow you more editing capabilities and a more accurate photo. You can alter your white balance, hue, contrast, shadows, and more.
Related article: How to Edit RAW Images in Photoshop
Use the Headlights to Your Advantage
You can create mesmerizing light trails when photographing cars at night. It can give the illusion that light is almost painted on your image. Of course, do not forget to be safe when you are near moving cars! You need to switch up your settings to get this creative light technique. Use a long shutter speed - around 15 seconds. Your aperture should sit between f/5 and f/11. And, use a remote trigger! Those long shutter speeds need absolutely zero movements from you.
For a Dramatic Approach - Shoot Movement
If you're going for theatrics, shoot a car in movement. If you use a high shutter speed, your picture will be clear and take away the fantasy of a moving vehicle. You need to have motion blur to create the illusion. Get creative with the way you are shooting. Try capturing the car going through a puddle to prove it is moving.
Use a slow shutter speed of 1//160 (you may need to adjust) and pan your camera while following a moving car - you will get a neat motion blur. This technique will take a bit of experimenting with panning to get it just right.
Another way to get a shot of a moving car is ALSO being in another car that is moving! Take the panning technique out of the equation if you do this. This will keep the car in focus while making the background blurred. Develop a plan with the car's driver so you can be on the same page with your direction and how fast the cars will go.
Using a drone is a relatively newer technique (kinda). This great way to use more unique technology when photographing moving objects.
Capitalize on Your Photos
If you want to make money, you can offer your images to stock photography sites. Each site will have its own advantages and disadvantages and pay rates; some websites will even pay you each time someone downloads your image. You can sell your photos to Shutterstock, iStock, and Adobe Stock.
Always, always, always stay safe! The driver and passenger in moving cars should always be wearing their seatbelts. And stay clear out of the way of moving cars if you are standing near busy streets.
Check out these other articles on various photography techniques:
Related article: Best Camera Settings for Car Photography
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Related article: How to Shoot Portraits at Night