Shooting Car in Motion – Car photography

How to Shoot a Car in motion

In “Shoot a Car Like a Pro – Car Photography” article, we talked about taking pictures of cars that are parked but cars do move ;), some of them really fast, so everybody loves to see them in action. In order to capture and evoke movement you need to approach it in a specific manner otherwise you could end up with a car racing but looking like it’s parked in the middle of a race course.

1/3, f/10, ISO 100

When it comes to ‘where’ in motion photography, in most cases, you will have to find some space for your vehicle to run. 90% of the time it will be some kind of public road so you must be aware of the potential downsides and obstacles that may occur. If you’re going for car to car action I would advise finding a wide road with low traffic density if possible. That shall give you a fair amount of space and comfort to work in. You may also consider a twisty mountain road with surrounding trees, coastal highway, or even off road – whatever suits your vision best.

Movement Effect

In motion photography you may want to evoke that movement effect by presenting some blur in your images. In order to do so you’ll have to find surroundings that are going to blur as the car passes. The closer those surroundings are, more blurry they will be. Just imagine a car driving in a desert with nothing around. The only two things that will indicate motion will be spinning wheels and blurred road. You can either go with no objects in background or search for a sight with trees, buildings, bushes, lights etc.

 

When (Light)

1/500, f/5.0, ISO 100

The importance of light in still photography refers to motion photography as well. You should go for the part of day when the light is soft to avoid harsh contrast as a result of a bright sun coming down on only one side of your object.

For example, taking shots of a car around noon is horrible as the sun rays light the car form the top, and getting the right exposure to fit all the car parts is impossible. Not to mention the problem of using low exposure speeds in such conditions. Taking pictures in the dusk or dawn would be my choice, especially if using long exposures. The downside may be the light that changes fast (depending the part of world you live in) so you’ll have to adjust accordingly. Soft light should provide you with an easy way of getting the right exposure and allowing you to nicely capture all the details.

 

Ways to shoot Car in motion

Car in motion photography can be divided into:

  • action freeze
  • car to car
  • panning
  • rigs

 

Action freeze

1/1000, f/2.8, ISO 200

It may not be a best way to go because cars, unlike motorcycles, look ‘the same’ when standing and driving. Freezing a motorcycle in a corner with fast shutter speed will with no doubt result in photo of a moving vehicle cause in our mind we know that if it would be standing still it would fall down. Car on the other hand could look like still (parked) if shoot with very short exposure. Like on a black&white picture of Audi R8 (up) – If there wasn’t a driver holding the steering wheel, the car just might have been parked there.

Always look for signs that will evoke the motion through things like splashing water, leaned chassis, twisted tires, etc. Example: SUV blasting through water – motion is frozen but the car is moving with no doubt. Personally I use this freezing technique only when shooting sports, bikes, SUVs going through some fluid and perhaps on a race track.

 

Car to Car shooting

1/50, f/13, ISO 100

This is the ‘easiest’ and the best way to capture movement of a vehicle in all of its beauty. The key is to match the speed of a vehicle to the speed of camera (not the exposure), so it would seem for a camera that the car is standing and everything around it moves. To match those speeds, photographer is positioned in a ‘camera-car’ that’s driving beside the one that he’s taking pictures of. Tendency is to get the exposure as long as possible but keeping the object in focus sharp. In practice, on an asphalt road, a speed of 1/60 should be enough to show motion and keep the object sharp.

If you wish to gain more background motion you could either raise the speed of cars or lower the shutter speed. By lowering the shutter speed you risk to blur the image due to your hands shaking, and by speeding the cars you risk of getting a ticket ;). You should always try to get closer to your subject and keeping the lens at its widest because that is how you can also lower the effect of hands shaking. Lenses with image stabilization come very handy in these situations but are not miracle workers.

1/30, f/8, ISO 100

There are few ways to position yourself in a ‘camera-car’. You can sit or kneel in a passenger seat, in a back seat (of a 4-door car), or in a trunk. Trunk will give you an advantage in taking head-on photos and taking photos of each side of a car as in comparison to the passenger seat where you only get to shoot one side of car. The downside of a trunk is that you have no strongholds and that might give you some trouble, not to mention the potential danger of falling out.

 

Panning

1/50, f/11, ISO 100

Panning is the act of tracking the subject with the camera, while taking a single, or multiple shots. Trial and error is the best approach. The basics are the same. The key is to match the speed of a vehicle to the speed of camera (not the exposure), so it would seem for a camera that the car is standing and everything around it moves. From a standing point, a photographer is following the passing car with its camera, trying to match the speed of a vehicle and by doing that, he is taking some shots. It may sound easy but in practice there are some issues you should be aware.

The basic kind of panning would be the one when the car you shoot is positioned approximately 90° in relation to your body-lens axis (e.g. you are aiming at the driver door). In the ideal scenario, the photographer would be positioned in a center of a circle, and the car would be moving on the edge of that circle. In that case, in every shot, the whole car would be at equal distance from the camera and if the photographer could match the cars speed – the car would be completely sharp and everything else blurred.

If you want your entire car to be sharp, you’ll need to shoot it while passing by, further away from you as possible. Any attempt on a car that is moving slightly towards you will result in blurred parts of a car. Because in relation to camera, the car’s rear end is not moving at the same speed as the front so you may end up matching a speed of a headlight, door, backdoor, or a trunk. If you hit the front end, as you should, then you got it – it’s a good photo but it’s not always easy to do.

1/40, F/13, ISO 100

The exposure that should be used for panning depends on a lens, speed of a car, angle of movement and desired effect. The best results are made with tele-photo lenses and you may consider using exposure speeds from 1/40 to 1/80. If the car is moving really fast, and you are positioned ideally and having your IS on, you may even try it at 1/25. Because the faster the car, the easier is for a photographer to match its horizontal speed and by that cancel the potential up and down movement of a lens. In fact all I have to say is go out and try it now – that’s the best you can do.

 

Rigs

0.6s, f/13, ISO 100

The coolest stuff of all is the car rigs. It’s basically camera fixed to a car that’s driving. Camera is positioned to shoot certain parts of the car or, in some cases, even the whole car. With camera being fixed it allows you to achieve very long exposures and not being worried about blur due to shaking of a camera, present while hand holding it. Although, the camera will be so much fixed and stable as the strength and the quality of a car rig is. Because of that you aren’t always be in position to drive a car and take such shots, since driving involves some forces that may not look as serious but could cause major camera shake.

1.6s, f/16, ISO 50

There are dozens of car rig solutions out there and they are all pretty much based on suction cups and bars. Suction cups are pressed on a clean car surface and connected with camera via light aluminum bar. In most cases (depending on the type) one cup won’t be enough, so you’ll have several cups placed on a car, meeting with bars in a single point where the camera will be placed. The tendency is to get the angle as wide as possible and try not to cause camera shake.

Except with the use of a lens, wide angle can be achieved by placing the camera further away from the car with the use of longer bars for example. The longer the bars are, the greater the sensitivity on shaking will be. So instead of driving a car with the rig mounted, you may try pushing it. In that case, the difference in speed can be compensated with longer exposure. That way you’ll get the same amount of desired motion blur while keeping the risk of camera shake at minimum. In fact, one can rarely tell when the car was pushed or driven.

Conclusion

There is no secret formula for great in motion car photography, I do hope this article will help people, to shorten time from start till great car photo. I know it took lots of time and practice to get results professional magazine a like. Planing is half job done, each time you drive or walk, seek for spot where you could take amazing picture of metal pet.

 

Equipment Used:

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EF 16-35mm 2.8 L

Canon EF 70-200mm 2.8 IS

DIY car rig

We will do our best to cover Rigs and setup for still and in motion car photography, till then enjoy and have fun taking photos, cheers.

About ivan

Ivan is a freelance photographer, an adventure traveler and a car enthusiast. Besides driving all around the continent and taking car shots, he enjoys action photography and has been a part of many sporting events in Europe.

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