Tech: Tips for Better Photos


All of us here love our cars and we love to show them off through any outlet we can find, usually that outlet is via pictures of our cars on social media. When browsing through pictures of cars on our favorite social media pages we usually see one or two shots that stand out and may earn downloading or turning that "like" into a "love" reaction.  This whole article is about turning average photos into something you'd want to show to your mother.

I've included several examples of photography in this article and set them on automatically cycling slideshows. They move fairly quickly to show how much of a difference these tips make. Most of these are unused photos I've taken for various outlets, the ones I did not take are from MNCEC events and posts we've previously done here on The Blog.

5.) Mind the Rule of Thirds

Here is a great example of a picture that was vastly improved with the Rule of Thirds. Imagine placing a tic-tac-toe grid over your photo, the Rule of Thirds states that the subject should be located where those lines intersect. The reason this is so widely used in photography is that when the viewer looks at a photo, their eye naturally wants to go to the center. If it sees the main subject there it wont be drawn to look at the whole picture, the blank space and the fine details.

In automotive speak, if your car is in the center of the photo the viewer will go "yup, that's a car" and keep scrolling, that will not only negate your hard work but it can also cause the whole reason the photo was taken to be missed. The rule of thirds can be the difference between a person noticing key details of the picture or ignoring them all together.

Now the Rule of Thirds is by no means a law, there are times when breaking the rule of thirds could help the composition of a photograph. If you're trying to show off a symmetry or pattern, it might be a good idea to ignore the rule, another great example is if you're trying to make the subject look intimidating or big.

4.) Consider the Location

Location is the single most important part of a photograph, arguably this is more important than the car itself. You can have an awesome car but if it's in a bad location like on a lawn or in a busy parking lot, it will look like a "You on here bro" post or a generic craigslist listing. While there are many routes to take with background selection, the best question to ask yourself is, would this be an interesting photograph without the car in the shot?

For an example, lets look at the shot of Austin Chercha's CRX from our very first Featured post here on The Blog. See how if the CRX wasn't in shot, it would still be an awesome picture of downtown St. Paul? Let's contrast that with the my terribly generic picture of a Mercedes 560SL after that. While the 560SL is one of the coolest looking cars of the 1980s, it's really spoiled by the endless line of cars in the background. Imagine that if that car wasn't there, it would be a picture of the corner of a building and a portion of a new car lot. That doesn't sound terribly appealing to look at.

For most photographers without a large budget for shooting their car a natural location is usually best to go for. Natural doesn't necessarily mean in the wilderness but rather a location where a car would make sense to be. As common as they are, places like the top level of a parking ramp with a scenic overlook or in an industrial park are often great locations. It's a great idea to try to match the car with a location that compliments some aspect of the car.


3.) Lighting of the Photo

The lighting is almost as important as the location is for a photo. Since photography is literally the capturing of light, this will dictate the final composition of the photo. Harsh lighting is likely to wash out the color in the picture or have excessive highlights or shadows, so usually it's best to avoid shooting in the middle of the day when the sun it at it's brightest point.

On the picture of the white Civic, do you notice the body lines are more apparent and the pearl paint reflecting off the front bumper? Those details could be easily lost in the harsh lighting of direct sunlight. In the picture of the GS300 I shot, see how all of the bodylines are obscured by the reflection of the clouds and over lighting? All of the detail to the Giugiaro designed bodylines are lost.

Usually the best time of day for photography is called The Golden Hour, this is right before or during sunrise or sunset. During these times you get a wash of naturally diffused warm light coming from a low angle for distinct shadows, it's like nature does all the hard work for you. Jesse Gebel used that time of day for our second feature we did on The Blog with Emilio Rescigno's Mk.3 Supra. Look at how the sun naturally accentuated the lines on the hood and bumper of his car perfectly.


2.) Considering framing

Although it's something that is not always immediately available to avoid, and is often overlooked, the removal of clutter is another aspect of a photograph to consider. Clutter can make for a busy photograph that just looks like a mess of objects. It can even lead to completely losing your subject in the mess. The first two photos are a perfect example of this effect.

The first photo has not only has a trashcan in the foreground, which is an object to always avoid, but there is a crowd of people on the left and the corner of a Skyline on the right side. This is no longer a photo about a car, it is now a photo about people meeting up to pontificate about a trashcan near a parking lot. The second photo was taken in the same spot, except it's a little zoomed in and I took a step to my right. Now you can see all the details of the subject I was originally trying to get.

Like anything, too much zoom can be a bad thing too. In the third photo, I zoomed in way too much cutting off the bottom of the car's bumper. Compare this to the final photo with a little less zoom, and you can see the huge difference in quality. A final point of consideration is in the final photo, while Miguel is not there, that bike is still in the background, slightly spoiling the final product.

1.) Post-Processing

One of the biggest mistakes made by most non-professional photographers are edits made in the post-processing stage being too heavy handed. Photoshop is best used like a scalpel rather than a hammer. An entire article could be written about this by itself but for now I am just going to concentrate on the basics, contrast and saturation. I'm using a shot I took for Japanese Nostalgic Car last year of an EF Civic hatchback at JCCS Neo-Classics to show the differences in post-processing. While this isn't a perfect picture by any means, it's just to show the differences that can be had with Photoshop.

The first shot was just raw off the camera, outside of some minor cropping to avoid a crushed pop can. You can see the colors are pretty dull and the reflection in the paint doesn't really stand out. It's a good enough photo for documenting that this car was in fact there at the show but you really miss the appeal of the car.

To fix this, I raised up the contrast and the saturation very slightly in photoshop, maybe 10 points in any single category at most. The colors of the car and the clouds reflecting off the windshield are much more vivid now. It shows off just how beautiful the Tahitian Green Pearl paint really is and the whole car looks a lot more exciting to look at.

For the final photo I went crazy raising saturation, contrast and sharpness up to 50% of their original values. Not only does the red on the two cars around our subject Civic look washed out, but the teal on our main car is extremely distorted. There is also that annoying ring around the shadows under the Civic that shows up from too much of a contrast between the highlights and shadows called digital noise.

Dakota 240Z

In Conclusion...

Photography isn't terribly hard to do, like anything practice makes perfect and it feels really good to see something you took so much effort in building be shown in it's best light. Hopefully this article was helpful and gave you some tips on improving the pictures you take. If you have questions, feel free to leave them in our comment section or on the main Facebook group and you'll get plenty of helpful feedback.