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Classic Car Photography

This tutorial is for the photography of classic cars that are indoors, such as in a museum.


Download a PDF of this tutorial here.

Check Before You Go

Check the website of the museum for their photography policies.

Is photography permitted?

Are camera bags allowed?

Can one use flash?

Are tripods and monopods permitted?

How close can you get to the cars?

Check the layout inside.

Museums where the cars are roped off from visitors are not good for photographers.

What to Wear

Wear dark clothing to lessen your reflection on the cars, especially the chrome.

Poor Lighting & Backgrounds


Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, Malta Classic Car Museum

In the above photograph, the photographer had a lot to deal with—that couldn't be dealt with.


He used flash off of his camera—to the right.

You can see its reflection on the left bumper and its bluish light under the car.

On the black hood of the car there are reflections from several lights—all with different colors:

• Blue

• Green from florescent lights

• Orange from incandescent lights (old-fashioned hot lights)

The blue light may be from a sign, as there's a blue reflection of triangular shapes on the windshield.


The background is cluttered.

Better Angle

The photograph found a better angle with improved lighting and background.

The white sign on the windshield is less distracting, as well.


Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, Malta Classic Car Museum


Both Photographs, Side-by-side

It's Tough

Indoors, you're likely going to to encounter:

• Poor lighting, such as florescent tubes reflecting on the cars.

• Poor backgrounds, such as other cars, trash cans, fire extinguishers, rest room doors, soda machines, and so forth.

Yes, take a photograph of an entire car.

But, photograph parts of the car, as well.

You won't have to deal with poor lighting and backgrounds, as much.

Close Up Techniques


The interior is likely to be dim, so you may have to increase the ISO value to 800, or thereabouts.

If you're allowed to use a tripod, you can use an ISO value of 100.

Use A or Av

Set your exposure mode dial to A or Av.

Select an aperture.

Less in Focus

f/4, and thereabouts, will have a shallow depth-of-field.

Not much will be in focus except for what you've focused on.


An effective compositional contrast is having the subject sharp—and the background—out-of-focus.

A poor background will be more out-of-focus, less distracting.

More in Focus

For more in focus—more depth-of-field—select an aperture of:

• f/8 for smaller cameras.

• f/16 or thereabouts for DSLR and many mirrorless cameras.


Because the aperture is physically tiny, little light is reaching the sensor.

Your camera will select a slower shutter speed to compensate.

Keep an eye on the shutter speed.

If it's too slow, you'll get camera shake.


More of the subject will be sharp.

The background will still be out-of-focus, but less so.

When photographing close to you subject, it will be difficult to get the subject and background sharp.

Get One Good One

When photographing close ups, hand held, be sure to take several photographs.

If you move an inch right when you press the shutter release, what you wanted in focus won't be.

Contrast & Color Problems

Human vision is much better than camera vision.


Watch out for contrasty lighting.

Let's say you're photographing a car with bright windows in the background.

The scene looks okay—with your eyes.

Take a photograph—and the windows are blaringly bright.


Our eyes are good at color correcting.

Your camera's auto white balance won't be as good.

Set the white balance appropriately.

You may have to change the setting, as it will different with spotlights versus window light.

Close Up Photography Ideas

1) Photograph distinctive parts of the car.

2) Photograph reflections on the car body and chrome, such as those of a nearby car.

3) Photograph what's seen in the side-view mirror.

4) Photograph interiors.

5) Photograph parts of the car that are abstract, not identifiable, as being part of a car.

6) Photograph patina, what age has added to the car.

7) Use appropriate vantage points.

Don't take every photograph from a standing, looking down, vantage point.

Do some photographs:

• Level with the car.

• Looking up at it.

Yes, lay on the floor.

• Holding your camera above the car.

The camera strap is wrapped around your wrist.

Flip screens are handy for this.

Otherwise, take several photographs with the camera at slightly different positions.

• Holding your camera near the car, such as one or two feet away.

Check the distance-away-from-car policy of the museum.

Don't risk damaging the car by actually placing your camera on the car.

8) Use wide-angle focal lengths to emphasize the shape and curves of the car.

Other Techniques

The techniques below are fun, especially if you like more abstract photographs.

Zoom During the Exposure

For example, let's say you're photographing the front of a 1950s Cadillac.

If your camera doesn't have a manually-turning zoom ring, this technique won't work for you.

Do the following.

1) Set exposure mode dial to S or Tv.

2) Select a shutter speed of 1/8th or slower.

3) Zoom the lens during the exposure.

This requires a little practice to get the timing right.

Try pressing the shutter and starting to zoom at the same time.

You can can zoom in or out.

You'll have to take several photographs to get a good one.

The highlights on the chrome will create streaks due to the zooming.


As described above, set your camera to a slow shutter speed.

Pan the car as if you're a cinematographer.

Flash with Blur

Check if flash is allowed.

On the exposure mode dial, look for an icon of a head-and-shoulders with a star or moon.

This night portrait setting uses flash and slow shutter speeds.

If you don't see the icon, look in the scene mode feature (SCN).

Do the following.

1) Select the night portrait setting.

2) Photograph the car at an angle, sideways, to reduce reflection from the flash.

3) Move the camera to the left or right.

The flash pops up, producing a frozen image.

The shutter opens for a long time, allowing more a blur.

Other Things to Photograph


• The sign for the museum.

• Descriptions of the cars.

• Politely, other visitors to the museum.

For example, photograph the car interior from the passenger window side, when someone is looking in from the driver side.

Be sure to ask permission before photographing children.

• Signs, posters, advertisements, juke boxes, and so forth.

• Actors you've hired in period attire.


B&W Ideas

Convert the color photograph to black-and-white.

Sepia tone older cars.

Dealing with Poor Backgrounds

If you photograph an entire car, as mentioned, the background may be full of other cars and other distractions.

You can:

• Burn in (darken) the background.

• Blur the background.

• Turn the background to black-and-white, letting the subject car, still in color, be the star.