Automotive Photography Tips and Examples
Report by Carl Morrison, December 15, 2020
Comments welcomed at:

"Big Red" Tesla Model 3 at Tamarack Beach Resort in Carlsbad, California.

Many photos can be clicked for an isolated version or larger version.

Photographing a Tesla in Southern California


The owner
of, the host of my Tesla reports, likes a different photo of our Tesla Model 3 at the beginning of each of my reports.  Therefore, on a recent vacation in Carlsbad, California, I decided to take several photos of the car with the Pacific Ocean in the background.  In case you want an ocean view behind your Tesla, here are a few locations I found in San Diego County, California.  One camera I used was my iPhone MS Max* which not only records the image, it records the GPS location where the photo was taken.  I also used my Canon T6i, 24MP with the 18 - 135 lens, but used the GPS data from the iPhone for location.  One advantage of my Canon is the tilt screen on the back which allows me to hold the camera near the ground and manage framing before releasing the shutter by using the tilt screen, or holding it at arms length above my head for a view from over 7 ft. from the ground.

*Dual 12MP wide-angle and telephoto cameras
Wide-angle: ƒ/1.8 aperture
Telephoto: ƒ/2.4 aperture
2x optical zoom; digital zoom up to 10x

I took a photo of our Model 3 at the resort where we were staying. 
Professional auto photographers suggest shooting so low that you can see all four wheels.  This is not a 4-wheel shot, but I wanted the words on the sign all showing.

Photo Location:  3200 Carlsbad Blvd. Carlsbad, CA

With my camera on a raised tripod and 10-sec. timer, I raised my camera to show some ocean beyond the rocks.

The photos of the Tesla above and below were taken at the Tamarack State Beach's south (lower) end.  It is lower than 101.  The rocks have been placed between the lot and the ocean.  The lifeguard towers were stored for the winter along the lagoon inlet.


Another ocean background shot with lifeguard towers.  This image was a bit farther south on 101.

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Now, farther south, on a bluff above the shore, I walked to the median and held my camera at arms length above my head and included surfers.


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Same location as above, but using the 4-wheels-showing approach.

At the SS Midway in San Diego, I was able to pull over quickly for a shot with the Victory Kiss modeled after the renowned photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt taken at the end of World War II in front of the SS Midway.

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Final photo of the "beach model" was at the Hotel Del Coronado.

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You may notice in the map above, that the photo was taken on the north side of the Hotel Del Coronado.  The reason for taking the photo on this side of the hotel was because the front (south) main portico was completely closed for renovation.  My wife said to include the photo with the iconic red roof so readers would know where the photo was taken.

Finally, the most traditional photos from the day were the two above which showed the front of the car and one side..a traditional 3/4 shot.

"Photos of railroad locomotives, classic cars, airplanes, etc. are often shot in 3/4 view so that both the front and sides of the subject are visible. Sometimes an elevation is also used so that the top of the subject is also in view. The elevated 3/4 view is often used in product photography as well.  The term 3/4 view is also very common in the rail fanning community in the United States. The most desirable shot imaginable to many in that hobby is a "3/4 shot with a cloudless sky and a sunlit nose." Any other aesthetic qualities the photo may or may not posses seems immaterial to many, if not most, railfans."
So this image seems to best match the description of a "
3/4 shot with a cloudless sky and a sunlit nose."

Professional auto photographers suggest shooting so low that you can see all four wheels.  I found this 3D rendering which I rotated to show the 4-wheels-showing angle for photographing a car.


However, go to the site and you can use your mouse to rotate the car and see it from any angle.  Click Here.
I think Mike might have done this 3D drawing of  Model 3 before it was announced.

Photos in Placentia and Brea, California

Soon after I purchased the Tesla, I took it to a local park for photos.

Two 4-wheel-showing shots

Always use a circular polarizing filter to eliminate reflections such as the starbursts above.  That filter will also help take out reflections on windshields and windows - even reflections on water.

Elevated shots to show the glass roof.  I think the 4-wheels-showing shot is used because the roof of most cars is not interesting.  However, this idea is trumped by convertibles and glass-roofed cars like the Tesla Model 3 above.  Incidentally, the roof is 3 sections of glass and runs from the hood to mid trunk lid.


A later trip to Lake Tahoe provided more photographic opportunities.

North Shore of Lake Tahoe

East Shore of Lake Tahoe

Southwest side of Lake Tahoe

Truckee, CA, Railroad Museum


For the best photos of the dash, sit in the back seat and put both front seats as far back as possible.  In this case, I wanted to show the center screen in the Model 3.  Some critics feel it obstructs the driver's and back seat passenger's view, but you can see from this post sunset shot that it does not obstruct anyone's vision.  However, if you are the driver, the speed is so prominently displayed that every passenger can see it and some passengers might remark if you are silently speeding!

An outside photo of a car is what you see most here.  Cars at car shows or inside arenas at auctions have distracting backgrounds and lights reflecting off the cars.  A studio with controlled background and lighting is best, but hard to find without great expense.  The image of the front of our Tesla 3 above was taken in our garage with the sides, top, and bottom views around the car removed in Lightroom.

From 1998 to 2020, we owned a 1956 Chevy 210 post and took photos of it at many locations including a cross-country trip following Hwy 50. with Paul Clifford and his 1957 Chevy convertible.

Since I like photographing and writing about trains, especially Amtrak passenger trains, I placed the Chevy as close to the tracks as I could get at the Fullerton Amtrak Station, and placed the camera on a tripod for a long exposure.  The background is the Amtrak Southwest Chief slowly leaving the Fullerton Station.  This is my favorite photo of the Chevy so I used it on one of my business card.

The day we left on our cross-country drive in 2004...should have moved the cars in the driveway.

I had the story of our trip on my back window so wanted it at the starting point on Hwy. 50, Sacramento, California, and the final destination 3,073 miles east, Ocean City Maryland.

Hwy. 50 in Nevada is called the "Loneliest Road in America" and this spot in the middle of nowhere was a solar powered phone called the "Loneliest Phone".

Shoot from within the car, preferably with a nice scene through the windshield.
While driving those 3,073 miles, this was my view from the driver's seat, following the "bird" on the hood, and the Loneliest Road ahead.
Unfortunately, I could not get in the back seat while driving to get some of the dash in the photo.

Another familiar scene from the cross-country trip, but perhaps a unique view to some viewers.

Another landmark along Hwy. 50 is the geographic center of the US - 1,561 miles from New York and 1,561 from San Francisco.

The St. Louis Arch, "Gateway to the West", is to large to have the 2 cars and arch in one photo, so I took this at the base, along the Mississippi River, showing only the base of the arch.

At my birthplace on Hwy. 50 near Hayden, Indiana.  I think they are considering putting up a Hysterical marker here.  We drew quite a crowd f of locals f
rom the highway when they saw two red classic Chevys from California in the driveway.

My family had lived near Hayden for 3 generations so my folks' grave, lower right, merited a stop and car photo.

A Sinclair filling station that used to be on Hwy. 50 near Hayden has been moved and restored at the Museum grounds in town.  Another timely location for photos of cars from the 1950s.

This ferry across the Ohio River, I remember riding when I was a kid in the 50s.  I converted this photo to black and white so it would look like the day it was purchased and driven home.

In southern Ohio, we pulled off the road onto a dirt road for a nature call (No rest stops on this pre-Interstate 2-lane highway.)
I was going to joke that this is what Hwy. 50 looks like in Ohio, but in reality it is a side road, that's 50 at the top right.
My camera in 2004 did not have a polarizing filter, so sunflares abound.

Since Paul's '57 Chevy was behind me and up a little rise, I got a 4-wheels-showing shot. 
I feel this could have been a 1957 Chevrolet advertisement in LIFE or LOOK magazine with the correct year California license plate.

Mail Pouch Tobacco barns are plentiful in the Midwest.  This unused barn in West Virginia was not overgrown with brush so a good background for our cars along Hwy. 50.
Click the photo above for a black and white version which would be more timely for the cars.

The eastern terminus of Hwy. 50 is Ocean City, Maryland.  I had taken a photo of my '56 in front of the sign in California saying "Ocean City 3,073 miles".  The green sign above Paul's car in Ocean City as we left says, "Sacramento, Ca 3073"

In March of 2003, I wanted the background of snow covered Mt. San Antonio from a local hilltop in Brea, California.

As mentioned above, car shows are not a good place for individual car photos.  However, while I was lined up to enter a car show in Yorba Linda, California, in 2018, I was able to keep this photo of the '56 Chevy by using a program,  “ColorBlast!”, which makes the background black and white and whatever you "uncover" stays the original color.

When I placed the Chevy in an Internet For Sale ad, I needed interior photos, so took this from the back seat.  An outdoor shot would have left what you see through the windshield distracting in a photo.  I pulled the car up close to the garage doors to eliminate any distracting elements through the windshield.  iPhone 6 plus' 4.15 mm f/2.2 lens plus HDR treatment.

Hot August Nights, a 5,000+ classic car show in Reno and Sparks, Nevada, is a good place to photograph show cars.
A couple of years ago, we took the '56 Chevy there (with For Sale signs)  and took some photos of it in some scenic and historic spots.

Paul driving our '56 "Slo Mo 56" down Virginia Street to park for the show August, 2019.

An older "Reno - The Biggest Little City in the World" sign has been moved to Lake Street.  I used it for older car guys who remember the arch.  This was as close as I could get for a shot with the Chevy in the  foreground.  Shooting from lower than eye level made the sign closer to the top of the car.

This is where I parked for the under-the-old arch photo above.  I thought I might get "Lucky on the Truckee" River and get a good shot of the car with the river as backdrop.  I took this with the camera raised to arms length above my head from across the 4-lane street to give as much of a river view as possible.

A shot of the subject car from another car is another type of automotive shot, but usually at slow speed on a 4-lane raod, not like this at 70 or so mph.  I was in a Model X trailing Paul who was driving the '56 Chevy and couldn't resist with the Sierras as a backdrop as we approached Hwy. 395 and Hwy. 14 junction near Inyokern, California.

The 500 miles we drive from Orange County, California, to Reno, Nevada, for Hot August Nights is beautiful, desert scenery.  It is usually very hot in August, so I guess the organizers knew that only car guys would go to Reno in August!


I had mentioned that car shows are not good places to take photos because of the closeness of the parked cars, or because of the lights in an arena, but Hot August Nights has a Cruise each night in both downtown Sparks and Reno.  By positioning ourselves on the bridge over the Truckee River in Reno, if there is a nice sunset, you can catch cars with the colorful sky as background.  Location:  Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada.

This guy shows up each year at Hot August and is a challenge to photograph at the moment he fires off the flames.  This is in downtown Sparks.  The camera will expose for the flames so you need to lighten shadows and decrease highlights in post processing to get the white truck and flames properly exposed. Location:  Victorian Avenue, Sparks, Nevada.

Another outside activity at Hot August Nights is a giant car show outside each of the large Casino Hotels in Reno and Sparks.  Even though the cars are parked side-by-side, closeups of hood ornaments and automotive script.  As above, many cars have a license plate from the year the car was built as with this 1939 Buick.

This 1950 Studebaker would never have been built with this color, but rebuilders make improvements with flashy colors.  Also, this car had its hood up, but a closeup can eliminate any interior cowling showing.

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Left, 1958 Chevy was the first year for dual headlights.  Right, 1960  Buick had angled fin rather  than vertical fins which were considered dangerous.

Two-seater convertibles like this 1953 first-year Corvette are easy to shoot from the back with a raised camera thus cutting out adjacent cars from the photo.

A closeup of another 1953 Corvette's front light was like no other.

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Left, '55 Buick with tons of brightwork (chrome).  Right, '56 Chevy with Automotive Script "Bel Air".
Some reflections of nearby cars in the chrome cannot be avoided.

From a low perspective, you can photograph automotive brightwork with the clouds and sky as background.

Even if the car's hood is raised, you can tilt your camera so that this Pontiac's brightwork of Chief Pontiac looks like he is soaring up into the clouds.
Be careful to use spot metering to get the brightwork in focus rather than the clouds, or use an extreme f/stop, like f/22 or higher, to keep both in focus.

Brightwork above, and automotive script Oldsmobile.

Both ladies and airplanes were popular models for brightwork of the 1940s and 50s.  This was on a Metropolitan.

Airplane as a model for the brightwork on a 1956 Chevy, with rain to put out the flames.

1936 Hudson Terraplane Sedan Hood Ornament

1959 Chevy, with safer horizontal fins, and a fancy continental kit.

1958 Edsel Pacer also followed the horizontal fin approach.

Some of the cars inside and ready for the auction at the Reno Convention Center or at the Car Corral at the Livestock Pavilion have outstanding painting as above and the flag on a '57 Chevy below.


As with this fat-fendered Ford woody, color photography was not often used back then.  Click the image above to see the same woody in black and white.

One year at Hot August Nights it rained, covering the highly polished cars with rainwater beads. 
I also found a Mustang parked above a puddle, but wondered  how to make an interesting image...

Flipped horizontally and vertically, I found this version more interesting.

Pontiac brightwork when they had a light in Chief Pontiac's head.


Buick grill reminds me of a baleen whale.

Some vendors like Jelly Belly have a show car they use in their booth, under an EZ up, where they hand out small packages of Jelly Bellys.

Petersen's Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has excellent rotating exhibits.

At this Petersen's exhibit, all the exotic sports cars were painted a matte silver finish eliminating the harsh reflections of the lights. 
This image looks like black and white except for the doorway in the back center right.


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Petersen's exhibits have enough space that the photographer can isolate brightwork of these 30s era cars.

I used the HDR technique on this race car at Petersen's.  Click the photo above to see the HDR version.

Auto races are a good location for photography if you can get close, or have a telephoto lens.    Long  Beach, California, has held several "Long Beach Gran Prixs" for Indy Cars and one E-Prix of electric open-wheeled race cars in 2016. (That report is at:

Click the map above for a larger, readable copy.

From atop the grandstands on turn 11, you could shoot the cars starting down the straight reaching 200 mph. (top), or turning into the pits at about 55 mph. The image of the blue car is better because it is closer to my elevated position.  Notice how you see less of the far car's body being farther away.

Heading down the straight away.  Use a fast shutter to freeze the car, tires, and the writing on the wall as you pan with the car. A slower shutter speed (1/125), however will blur the wheels and writing on the wall and foreground showing motion in your photo.

The best shots are of the cars as they are pulling into the pits from the top row of seats on Turn 11 grandstand - accessible on practice days.

Shooting from Turn 10, toward Turn 9, you can catch the front of the race cars as they slow and begin their turn into 10.  Shooting from the grand stands on Turn 11, high enough to shoot over the fence, using a telephoto and later cropping.

Shot from Turn 8, because race fans are on a level above the track, you can shoot down on the cars after they make the turn during practice and end up with a photo of all cars out for that practice before you move to a new location for the second practice.  Telephoto used as the cars passed between the tree tops, then cropped in post processing.

With a Pit Pass, you can get close enough to the cars, with a telephoto, to photograph the cowling on the car with the driver's name and flag from his home country.

Historic automobiles can be found in museums based not wholly on automobiles.  The Lyon Air Museum near the Orange County John Wayne Airport in California has automobiles among the historic airplanes.

Glass windows on the right eliminated the need for harsh lighting, and a better photo.

The Lyon Museum has a second level that is better for photographing the large planes, as well as Hitler's 1939 Mercedes-Benz.  I left the motorcycle with side car in the photo since it seems to be from the same era. Shooting from this level minimized the velvet ropes around the car and with the top down the interior shows, especially so in this HDR version.

Wondering what part would be the best for a closeup, I chose the flag and reflection in the fender with the whole headlight.

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Mullin Automotive Museum, Oxnard, CA
Another balcony view (left) in the Mullin Museum in Oxnard, California, provided the opportunity for this photo (above left) from above.  I did not wait for the gentleman to leave, using him  as a size indicator so the viewer does not think the car is a model. 
The gentleman is using proper viewing of show cars technique by not touching or allowing his clothing to touch the car.
On the right, it looks like a collage, but there was a column I could use as a partial background with brightwork in the foreground and another classic car beyond.

Not all photogenic vehicles are "show quality".  Some of the
best photos might be taken of abandoned vehicles.  I was lucky enough to run across these in the former railroad town of Cardy, Missouri.

"Rust in Peace" is what I label most of my old rusty car, truck, and train photos. 
I photographed this find keeping the colorful vines on the left and "room for the subject to move in the frame" on the right with a peek-a-boo view of the fall countryside on the right.  Perhaps a little added saturation helped the colorful leaves and goldenrod on the right.

"Last ride of the Dodge Brothers" was my title for this Dodge pickup also in Cardy.  It had been here for a long time judging from the size of the tree that had grown up since it was placed here.  Again, I think the colorful surrounding foliage helps the photo.

"Fill 'er Up"  at the Laws, California, Railroad Museum which is an excellent museum of local buildings and trains that have been moved to this site.  With the light from the right, a nice blue sky with puffy white clouds, and vintage gas pump, my 3/4 shot of the Ford Model A Coupe turned out OK, don't you think?

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