People often ask me what equipment I use for my automotive photography or, more commonly, what equipment I would recommend for doing automotive photography. I never quite know how to answer or what advice to give, because there are so many different lenses, tools and accessories that can be used to push your photos further. Every photographer has a different style, so what I require from my equipment to get the shot that I want may not be effective for fulfilling the style that someone else wants to achieve. In this blog, I want to tell you about what tools and equipment I use for my automotive photography and how I use them to achieve different effects in my photography.
I guess the only logical place to start would be to talk about what camera I use. The Nikon D3200, since replaced by the D3300, was Nikon’s entry level DSLR camera. The main reason why I bought this model was because, as is often the case with young aspiring photographers, it was also the least expensive camera in Nikon’s vast DSLR range. Despite this, I found it an incredibly versatile camera, and it also boasted an impressively high megapixel figure compared to other cameras of a similar price bracket. It came with Nikon’s 18-55mm lens, great for all kinds of automotive photography because of the large focal range. I maintain to this day that buying this camera was the best investment that I have ever made
This is a fantastic lens for automotive photography because it’s so versatile. If you’re planning on shooting a variety of wide shots and close up detail shots then this lens is perfect for the job. I take this lens with me wherever I go because it’s useful for almost all situations so it’s ideal for if I’m not sure what kind of shot I’m aiming to get.
Nikon 50mm f1.8
More recently I have found myself using this lens a lot more. Occasions shooting cars at night with my 18-55mm lens pushed me in the direction of a prime (fixed focal length) lens because they let in much more light. I can certainly recommend a prime lens for shooting cars in low light, although in hindsight I would advise that a 35mm focal length may be a smarter choice, especially if like me you’re not using a full frame camera. The reason for this is that crop sensor cameras like the Nikon D3200 crop the edges of the frame to avoid vignetting and distortion, so a 35mm lens would effectively become a 50mm lens or a 50mm lens would become approximately a 75mm. In an upcoming blog I will explain this in greater detail! Compared to the 18-55mm, the 50mm isn’t anywhere near as versatile, so I find myself switching lenses on the go more often than I’d like in order to get a wider shot and any photographer will appreciate the pain of having to change lenses on the go!. Whilst shooting motion shots of moving cars, I have also found the 50mm to be quite slow, too- it doesn’t refocus as promptly as I’d like when shooting moving subjects.
Out of all three lenses, this is the one I use the least because despite its large focal range, it’s a lens suited to very few situations. The main reason why I use this lens the least is because it is manual focus only. I don’t have an issue with this because it means that when I get good results with this lens it is much more satisfying! The only time I would use this lens for automotive photography is if I was shooting at a track event where the cars are quite far away from me. The advantage of working in manual focus when shooting cars on a track is that it’s much quicker. In autofocus, the camera takes time to work out where the focus should be in the frame and then ensuring that it is in focus. The delay (albeit very small on most modern cameras) can mean missing the perfect shot if the subject is racing by at speed. Working in manual focus means that you are in control of the focal length at all times, so the camera essentially has less to do when you press the shutter. The results of shooting with manual focus can be frustrating. There have been many times when I have looked at photos on the little display on my camera and thought “Wow, these look amazing!” only to get home, look at them on my computer and discover that none of them are focused correctly. I would definitely recommend experimenting with manual focus next time you are shooting fast moving objects.
The polarising filter is an absolute essential for any automotive photographer. There’s always a time when harsh reflections are completely spoiling the look of a car, so the polarising filter steps in and reduces reflections. It is a great way to bring out deeper colours in the paintwork or remove unwanted objects in the reflection. However, there are times when reflections can be used to your advantage when shooting cars in order to create different effects- so don’t fall into the trap on leaving your polarising filter on all the time!
If you’re planning on shooting cars in the dark or at night, the tripod is the most important thing to use. Ensuring that your camera is steady means that you can use a low ISO and still achieve nicely exposed shots, and a tripod also allows you to carefully position the frame and then secure the camera in place while you experiment with different camera settings to achieve the desired effect.
Remote shutter release
The remote shutter release works in tandem with a tripod. If you’re shooting with a long exposure, you want to ensure that the camera stays completely still while the shutter is open otherwise the photo is going to be blurred. Even the slightest movement caused by pressing down the shutter can mean that the resulting photo isn’t crisp- so I use a remote shutter release to resolve this.
Compared to many photographers, I suppose I don’t have much gear. You’ll no doubt find that people whose full time career is automotive photography will have a much larger (and more expensive!) bag of tech, so I suppose what I have would be an ideal setup for beginners and people starting out in automotive photography that perhaps don’t have a huge budget or much experience.
In the comments section below, tell me about your photography setup. What lenses do you use most and why?