Red Muscle Car

Vehicle photography – Dynamic photography of cars and other vehicles

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They are part of our everyday lives and take us from A to B: small or large, fast or slow, road or rail, cars, trucks, or trains. They all have something in common – they are great photo subjects. The art of vehicle photography usually lies in depicting the objects that seem so dynamic to us in a lively way.

In this article you will find out what you should consider for good preparation and how you can achieve particularly harmonious photos.

How to be optimally prepared

First, you should consider what type of vehicle you want to show. For maximum flexibility, use a lens with a wide focal length range. If you choose car photography, a medium to long focal length lens will do. If, on the other hand, you prefer to photograph trucks, trains and similarly large vehicles or if you also want to capture the surroundings, you should choose a lens with lower focal lengths or a wide-angle lens.

For successful outdoor photos, the use of a polarizing filter is also recommended. This prevents unwanted reflections on non-metallic surfaces. Although the full effect of the polarizing filter unfolds primarily on non-metallic surfaces, it nevertheless reduces reflections of the paint to a certain extent. In addition, you should avoid taking pictures in direct sunlight, as it often casts unpleasant and hard shadows. It is therefore better to shoot your subject in a sun-protected environment.

To avoid undesirable weather influences, warehouses or parking garages in particular can be a good place for a photo shoot. Experiment with the location of the vehicle and the lighting on site. The lights of the vehicle can also be used for the shooting. If the location does not offer enough light, you can use a tripod and/or a powerful fixed focal length lens.

Impressive photography of standing vehicles

With stationary vehicles you generally have many possibilities to create a picture to your liking. If the vehicle is photographed from a low angle, for example, it appears particularly powerful. The opposite effect can be achieved if the vehicle is photographed from a higher angle. Try different perspectives and see how the composition of your image changes.

Close-ups of certain vehicle parts are particularly interesting for vehicle photography. In cars, for example, the rims and brake discs, the interior with the steering wheel, gear stick and dashboard or even the engine block can provide excellent images. Go into detail and you will be rewarded with special shots.

Detailansicht eines grünen Oldtimers

Skilfully staging moving vehicles

In contrast to stationary vehicles and sports photography, it is important to keep the shutter speed low when shooting moving subjects so that dynamic objects can be displayed sharply. Ideally, the focus option for moving subjects should be selected in the camera settings at the start. In this setting, autofocus moves with the subject and allows precise focusing. For Canon cameras, this type of focus is called the AI Servo, whereas Nikon uses the AF-C designation. The designation can therefore vary depending on the camera type.

Basically, there are two approaches to the photography of moving vehicles:

With the “panning” technique, you focus on the desired vehicle and follow its movement. You should follow a sports car that passes you on a horizontal axis in the appropriate direction with the camera. For optimal results, look at the car from a distance through the viewfinder, keep the shutter release button pressed halfway and follow the direction of travel at a steady speed. The biggest advantage of this approach is that it creates a realistic image of the situation. By following the vehicle, blurring effects occur away from the focused subject, which suggest the high speed of the vehicle and represent it in a coherent dynamic.

Red train photographed in motion

With the technique of panning, vehicles appear sharp. A glance at the blurred surroundings of the train reveals that it is moving. This effect allows the dynamics of the vehicles to be reproduced credibly.


The second approach would be to photograph the vehicle with a very short shutter speed. If you select about 1/1000 second, the car will be frozen. On the one hand, the essential components of the vehicle and its surroundings are sharply depicted, on the other hand, the image loses its dynamics and expressiveness. In order to still make the image look exciting, the camera can be set to a low aperture value such as f/2.8. As a result, the area far away from the focused subject appears less sharp and a beautiful bokeh effect is created.

Blue rally car drives on winding mountain track

The rally car focused in the middle appears sharp, while the foreground and background are slightly blurred. In contrast to the previous photo, the surroundings are not blurred here, but are still easily recognisable. The rims of the car also seem to stand still.


Excursus: Long-term exposure for vehicle photography at night

At night you have the opportunity for a very special kind of vehicle photography. The headlights of cars or trains can be captured with the camera over several seconds with the help of a long-time exposure. The movement of the vehicles causes a single light source to be displayed in several places and entire light trails to form. This effect gives the images a very special touch, even if this is not classic vehicle photography, because the car or train is not the focus.
Tip: In order to achieve sharp results, you should always use a tripod and, if necessary, a remote shutter release.

Durch Langzeitbelichtung entstandene Lichtspuren von Autobeleuchtung

Safety when taking pictures of moving cars and trains

Despite all the euphoria for your subject, you should always keep an eye on your surroundings. In particular, you should avoid getting too close to moving vehicles. A certain safety distance should also be maintained when photographing vehicles. Never endanger yourself or others just to take a promising picture.


Vehicle photography offers almost endless possibilities for presenting a vehicle harmoniously. The right preparation and the choice of a suitable location play an important role. Despite all the preparations, the importance of creativity and experimentation should never be underestimated. The use of a suitable technique rounds off the result of your work and allows you to represent the vehicle of your choice according to your own ideas.