Automotive photography done cheap and easy

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Automotive photography done cheap and easy

Automotive photography can turn out to be pretty tricky sometimes, but using your gear right will deliver great images. All you need to do is turn the nature in your favor.

Advertising photography usually implies having large amounts of expensive camera and lighting gear, in order to produce commercially viable materials. Test-drive photography on the other hand can turn out great photos at just a fraction of the money. Going on a road trip also restrains the gear you can use, so this next tutorial is great for those that need to pack light.

The theme of the photo-shoot

You have the car, but what is the theme? Always try to put the vehicle in its right context. Some cars may need to be photographed in two or more places, so don’t worry about the change of scenery. Also, a test drive means combining stereotypes found in advertising with the viewer’s need of visual details.

We had an SUV for the test drive, so the best places to photograph it were a dirt road, a snow track and an open road. These places are also great because they show the car with the conditions it was tested in. This being said, our option was clearly the mountain side.

Mountains and a valley visible through the windshield of a SUV
Always aim for shots that contextualize the car.

The gear

The necessary gear consists not only out of your usual camera gear, but also of proper clothing and accessories. Because we were going to the mountain side, I chose to wear thick army-like pants with the leggings tucked into the high heel boots. A ski jacket is also a good investment, as it offers good insulation without constraining your movements. Flip gloves are also great for shooting during winter. They might seem childish, but your fingers will be thankful for not being frozen stiff.

The camera gear should contain at least two lenses: a wider angle one with a fast aperture, and a telephoto lens, for close-ups. My gear was: Canon 5D Mark II body, 35mm f/1.4 lens for a wider field of view with great bokeh and a 50 mm f/2.5 macro lens for details and a narrower field of view.

Never leave without a cloth, a microfiber napkin and a lens pen, in order to clean the lenses when they get wet or dirty. Also, pack at least one zip-lock plastic bag and some silica bags. They are great for dehumidifying your camera and lenses. The silica bags will absorb the moisture, while the bag will keep the gear sealed.

We had 2 pairs of walkie-talkies. You will see bellow why you will need them.

SUV seen from between the tree line.
Don’t forget to pack silica gel bags, microfiber napkins and cloths, as it might get wet and dirty.

The boss

Being a photographer consists in using your vision and imagination. As a test drive photographer you have to put the car into the exact spot you want it to be, in order to contextualize it. Having a walkie-talkie will help you guide the driver better into the “perfect” position. This also means that you are the boss. While driving on the road, I saw many times the perfect place to shoot a couple of images. All I had to do was to guide the driver into the spot and press the shutter button.

Don’t be afraid to talk the team into doing something that at first might seem useless, weird or somewhat tricky. At one time, I was running behind the SUV, in order to capture the snow being thrown off by the moving car. This was a bit dangerous, as the tracks were a bit slippery, but I managed to capture the shot. I was in constant contact with the driver, in case anything happened.

Snow thrown off by the tires of the SUV
Using a walkie-talkie proves to be easier to get the perfect shot.

Bad weather? Great shooting conditions!

Most photographers are afraid of bad weather. Too sunny and the image might get burnt, too snowy, and you can’t shoot properly. Usually, when one encounters fog, it is best to postpone the photo shoot. I couldn’t, as it was the only time I could capture the car in that perfect scenery. After positioning the car, I saw that the headlights rays could be clearly seen because of the thick fog. I shot a test photo. It was perfect for what I needed. The images would be later edited in Lightroom. One advantage in shooting in foggy conditions is that the background is almost white. This means that the subject stands out better.

Car headlights produce light rays because of fog
Shooting in bad weather might bring better shots because of lighting effects.


While shooting, you should always use RAW format. It is better to fiddle with in Lightroom or Photoshop, as it captures more details than normal jpegs. Because it’s a car, you should keep in mind that the shades delivered by the car’s lines are important. While editing the photos try to put more contrast on the shaded parts of the car, while delivering more light to the brighter ones. This technique gives the shapes more intensity. Also, by using higher contrast, the fog between the camera and the SUV is diminished to a minimum. Below is an example of two images before and after processing.

Example of two photographs in befor and after pairs.
Post-processing will always enhance your photographs, so shoot in RAW format.
Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™
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Automotive photography done cheap and easy