Pro Photography for Dummies

Posted by: Jennifer Ferm

I am far from a pro when it comes to taking pictures. Sure, I have a digital camera that I occasionally snap pictures with but I don’t even come close to being a professional. Even though I was never trained in photography, I happen to work in an office where everyone is well-connected and, thus, was able to get in touch with two renowned professional photographers. We thought this information will benefit the “average Joe” who wants to take professional-looking shots with his/her digital camera at this year’s Chicago Auto Show. That’s right, folks, remove the old camera from the shelf and blow off the dust because I’m going to share tips that’ll have you looking like the paparazzi.

I first spoke with Mark Elias (of Mark Elias Media Services) who is both a photojournalist and a writer. Mark began his career as a photographer for The Associated Press from 1983-1994. In 1994, he moved to Florida where he freelanced in the auto business. His work has been published in AutoWeek, Car and Driver, Road & Track, Palm Beach Post and Bloomberg News, among others. Self-described as “a photographer who writes,” Mark is currently the lead new car editor for Below, you’ll find some inside tips that he generously provided.

Put on Auto White Balance. When taking photos with a digital camera, turn on the auto white balance to eliminate funky color shifts. 

Use the Flash. If you have a flash on your camera, use it. If you have an advanced camera, use the balanced fill flash (or, “drag the shutter”), which will provide ambient light for more visible displays in the background.

Capture Interesting Details. Look for interesting details on cars (i.e. logos, certain touches, headlights) to capture the essence of the vehicle.

Put Yourself in Your Friends’ Shoes. When you show your friends pictures from the show, you want them to be a collage of unique attractions—not repetitious photos. For instance, the collage should encompass all aspects of a car including the wheels, logos, headlights, etc. as well as the entire body of the car. Try to capture the fundamental nature of the entire car. Remember: nobody likes to look at someone’s summer vacation photos because they all look the same. Get creative.

Use a Monopod. Leave your tripod at home; it will just get in everyone’s way. Instead, bring a monopod if you have one. The monopod will help steady the shot. 

Seek out Vibrant Colors. White or silver cars will reflect any object that sits beside it. Try to capture cars with vibrant colors.

Use the Polarizing Filter. To cut down on reflections, adjust your camera to the polarizing filter. You may need to increase your IS0 from 400 to 800 or 1600 to compensate for darkness.

Think Outside the Realm of Cars. Capture other interesting attractions at the show besides just cars. When people view the photos, they’ll then grasp the essence of the show. If the guy from the ShamWow commercial is at the show, be sure to capture him on film—he’s hilarious!

I also spoke with Brenda Priddy (of Brenda Priddy & Company) who has been recognized as one of the world’s top automotive “spy” photographers. Her undercover exclusives are a regular feature of, and other popular Web sites. Her client list also includes publications such as AutoWeek, Car and Driver, Road & Track, USA Today and The New York Times. Brenda’s business has been highlighted in Newsweek, Motor Trend, Sports Car International, along with various domestic and international newspapers, and her pictures have appeared in various books -- from automotive interests to textbooks and even encyclopedias. Below, you’ll find her helpful tips.
Nix the Flash. Unless shooting the interior of the car, don’t use the camera’s electronic flash.

Increase the Film Speed. Set the camera’s ISO to about 800 to compensate for the indoor lighting. At a higher setting, grain and “noise” may be noticeable. 

Use a Tripod. The tripod will help to steady the shot when shooting long or time exposures. Try adjusting the camera to a slow shutter speed; this will create a stationary car with people in motion. If you don’t have a tripod, you can still use the slow shutter speed effect; use a shutter speed of 1/30 or 1/60 of a second.

Be Patient. Patience is essential when taking photos at a large event. People may walk in front of your camera numerous times, ruining what could’ve been the perfect picture – so wait it out. Your patience will pay off once you see the final product.

Reduce Glare. Reducing glare also takes patience. You may look through the camera’s viewfinder and see unwanted glare and disturbing reflections caused by spotlights illuminating the cars. If you see glare or hot spots while looking through your camera, simply move a few inches and recompose your shot. You’ll be glad you did!

Get Low. Instead of shooting a car from eye-level, get lower (or higher) than the car for a different perspective.

Change it up. The traditional (and always successful) way to take a photo is by taking "3/4" views: capturing the front (or back) of the car, along with the side, all in the same photo. While these will turn out to be great photos, try tilting the camera slightly sideways for a different and distinctive angle.

Capture the Essence. While cars are the obvious main focus of the show, try taking photos of McCormick Place, interesting banners, unique lighting (while getting the car in the background), or even unique signs at exhibits. Capture the essence of the show and make a collage of the unique photos.

Digital "Film" is Cheap: Don't worry about taking too many pictures. Many times it's the very last one that's the best.

Don’t Forget Yourself. Make sure to get into your favorite car and have someone else take the picture.

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