How to do Car Photography on a Smartphone

So, you’re ready to combine your passion for cars with your love of mobile photography. Don’t be nervous; the technology in today’s phones means that your pocket-sized camera is more than capable of doing awesome automotive photography.

Whether you’re interested in shooting parked or moving cars – or even from a moving vehicle, we’ve got the tips and techniques you’ll need to master car photography with your phone. With a bit of practice, you’ll be taking professional quality car photos without the need for a fancy DSLR camera.

Car Photography and your Cell Phone

parked car photography

There will be people that tell you that you must have a fancy traditional camera to succeed as an automotive photographer. Those people are wrong. If you curate a toolbelt of gear from our street photography and action photography guides, then you’ll be more than ready to compete with the DSLR dudes and dudettes.

As with other types of smartphone photography, you might want to consider downloading a third-party camera app. Your phone’s native camera is okay, but third-party apps tend to give you just a bit more control over your settings. Choosing a third-party app is particularly important when you need to adjust settings such as your shutter speed for photographing moving vehicles.

Gear and editing software is all well and good, but you need the know-how to capture the content. You’ll need to be able to shoot cars that are both parked and in motion. We’ll start with the former first.

Photographing Parked Cars

Whether you’re at a car show, or simply want to show off your favorite ride, there’s a lot to consider when photographing a parked car. Fortunately, with these tips and techniques, you’ll be producing top quality car photos in no time.

Challenges of Photographing Parked Cars

parked car photography
Static Flickr

One of the challenges you face photographing parked cars is the reflection of light on any of the car’s shiny surfaces. Try to avoid shooting in the middle of the day when the sun is brightest or adjust your angle to eliminate reflection.

On the other hand, you can also use reflections to your advantage. Reflection can help emphasize a vehicle’s paint job or create an interesting and artistic look. Try experimenting with shooting the car at different angles to maximize the effects of light reflection. You might also consider using backlight to create a more exciting and dramatic photo.

One of the best times to photograph cars is during the golden and blue hours, which is the time shortly before and after sunrise and sunset. At this time, the light tends to be a bit softer and more flattering than during the middle of the day.

If you’re feeling really creative, you might also try photographing cars at nighttime. More and more smartphones are equipped for night photography and can take amazing low-light photographs. So, if you’re in for a challenge, give it a shot! If you need more information on low-light photography with your smartphone, read our guide here.

Parked Car Photography Tips and Techniques

automotive photography
Pelican Parts

It can be helpful to photograph cars in front of more neutral backgrounds to help focus the viewer’s attention on the vehicle. Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to portraiture style backdrop, just make sure that the scene behind your car is not too busy or distracting.

A great way to find an engaging but not distracting backdrop is to look for leading lines. Leading lines are everywhere in urban scenes – buildings, roads, trees, and other industrial settings.

Like this simple tip? Maybe Mobile Photography 101 is for you! Check out our guide here.

A growing number of photographers choose to photograph cars in industrial areas. Edgy backgrounds can enrich images of certain types of vehicles. Additionally, metal and concrete structures tend to be pretty neutral in color, which can enhance your photo without being overly distracting.

However, don’t be afraid to experiment with different scenery. Depending on the type of car you’re photographing, it might look especially great in a city or forest setting. Just try to avoid the cliché parking lot photos if possible.

When photographing cars, it may be best to avoid shooting from a standing position. Cars tend to look better when photographed from lower angles, so try getting closer to the ground with your camera.

Photographing cars from the front corner, known as the three-quarter view, is also a popular angle. This shot, combined with shooting from a lower angle, creates an imposing and impressive image. You can also shoot the rear of the car from one of the corners if you’re looking to photograph it from different sides.

Before photographing the car, you’ll want to consider turning the steering wheel once you’ve placed the vehicle in park. Turning the wheels will result in a more dramatic that more successfully draws the viewer’s eye.

Don’t forget to photograph the interior of the car! The interior of a vehicle gives you the chance to capture the most luxurious or sporty details that the model has to offer. Whether it’s the plush leather or the beautiful woodgrain, your viewers will love seeing what it’s like to be inside the car.

Photographing Moving Vehicles

One of the more challenging aspects of doing automotive photography with your smartphone is cars in motion. Once you master the techniques needed, though, you’ll soon be able to produce dramatic and powerful images of moving vehicles consistently.

Challenges to Photographing Moving Vehicles

Photographing Moving Vehicles
Photography Mad

Obviously, the biggest challenge you face when photographing a moving vehicle is the blur caused by fast motion. There are two ways you can tackle this problem, and both involve adjusting the shutter speed on your camera.

The first method is to shoot at a faster shutter speed, which will essentially freeze the motion in place. This process will give you a clear photo of the car as it’s driving down the road or track. To accomplish this, you’ll also need to adjust your ISO and depth of field to make sure the photo stays crisp without being too dark.

The second method is to allow a bit of blur to show the movement and speed of the car. For this method to work best, you’ll need to use a tripod or gimbal to remove the camera shake.

You’ll need to keep your phone focus on the car, so it remains in focus while the background blurs to show the motion.
As the car in motion passes you, you’ll need to pan your camera to follow the movement. If your shutter speed is set correctly, you should be able to freeze the car itself while allowing the background to blur beautifully. This method has a similar bokeh look to portrait mode where the context of the photo shows the motion.

Moving Car Photography Tips and Techniques

It can take some practice to get a handle on the techniques needed to photograph a moving car, but practice makes perfect! Don’t be afraid to take more photos than you think you’ll need. The more pictures you take, the more practice you’ll get. Do note that the above video is gimbal specific, but many of the tips given are applicable when just using a smartphone too.

Additionally, it can be helpful to set your camera to burst mode when photographing moving cars. You will either need to hold down the shutter button or manually activate burst mode in your phone’s camera app. Burst mode takes a series of photos in rapid succession, which can give you more opportunities to capture the perfect image.

As always, you’ll want to consider editing your car photos before sharing them on social media. Here are a few of our favorite editing apps if you don’t have an app of choice already.
No matter how good your photos are, postproduction editing gives you the chance to add that extra touch of drama or get rid of those minor flaws. It merely takes your already incredible images to the next level.

Want to Share Your Mobile Car Photography?

mobile car photography
Filipek Photography

We’d love to see how your car photography on a smartphone is going. Tag #photoswithphones so that we can check out your work. If we like it enough, maybe we’ll ask to use your work on this post. Be sure to also comment down below what your favorite smartphone car photography tip is!

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