Canon EOS40D - Canon EF70-200mm L IS f/2.8 - 70mm 1/250 sec f10.0 ISO100

Basic level tutorial by Mark

thumbnail An outdoor car show is always big fun, you encounter lots of cars you normally don’t see regularly on the open road, and you get to talk to the actual owners of these cars too, they might have some really interesting anecdotes about their car, so take your time and listen to them. Always leave your business card with them, you might even be able to set up a personal Photo shoot later on.

However there are some really important things to keep in mind when heading to the latest outdoor car event, and in this tutorial we would like to walk you through our checklist for this kind of events, you might not think about all of them, but at least you will have a good basis to start from.

TIP : get there early

Just like when you visit an indoor car show, it is even more important to arrive early at an outdoor event, and for some very simple reasons …

thumbnail At the early stages of this type of events not all the exhibitors will have arrived yet, unlike an indoor car show, where the cars remain during the night, an outdoor event is almost deserted during the night. Some hospitality trailers may be present, but trust me, most cars will either be parked at nearby hotels, where there owners are spending the night, or they are actually driven to the event on the day itself.

This depends how long the event actually takes, one day events are more difficult as you might have cars coming and going all day long, multi day events are easier as the owners are spending the night nearby most of the time, so they all arrive before 10 am and only leave around 6 pm.

thumbnail By getting there early you can shoot those cars that already arrived without having other cars parked close by, this allows you to take some stunning photographs the regular visitors will never be able to shoot as most visitors tend to arrive after 10 am anyway.

Just as getting to the event early is important, you might want to hang around until closing time, many of the cars will have left the paddock already, which means you can get very nice shots of the remaining cars, without many visitors still around and without having other cars reflect into the bodywork.

TIP : keep an eye on the sun

thumbnail Just like a regular car shoot, you should keep in mind that shooting into the sun is a bad idea, the big problem at an outdoor car event is the fact that you most likely will not be able to ask to owner to turn his car around to position it nicely towards the sun.

thumbnail There is however a very simple solution : patience ! The Earth turns you know, just wait it out, photograph other cars and come back to this one when the sun has actually turned away into the right angle for your shot. You can do a three-quarter back view in the morning and wait until late in the afternoon to return and do a three-quarter front view, all it takes is a lot of patience … and some luck, as sometimes the owner will have left the event before you think about getting back to his car.

A second option is to walk around the car and position yourself correctly in relation with the angle of the sun on the car, take a look at both Porsche shots here, the first one is lost because a harsh shadow was cast, however when I turned around to the other side an took an exposure it worked out nicely.

TIP : flash it

thumbnail It isn't a good idea to photograph a car between 11 am and 2 pm, but at a car show you have absolutely no other choice, you are there, the cars are there and you just have to take the shot as you might miss it altogether otherwise, so you need an edge to get it right : Fill Flash !

That's right, even on a bright and sunny day in August I have my 580EX II mounted on my camera, some people might look a bit confused at you using a flash in broad daylight, but trust me, it will result in better shots when you come home.

By using your flash during the day you will actually fill those shadows the sun is casting by being so high in the sky, and you will be able to get a nice photograph that would be next to impossible without using the flash.

TIP : be friendly

thumbnail Always be nice to the people having their car on display, don’t be afraid to ask questions and try to be (or at least look) genuinely interested in what they are telling you, this will be crucial for your next step.

thumbnail Just about all owners I ever talked to are extremely proud of their car, they’ve spent a fortune on it to get it to the state they are showing it in that day, they probably spent hours cleaning it and are very interested in showing this to all visitors of the event.

This means that most likely the doors and engine cover will be open … now on a Lamborghini those upwards opening doors are a trademark, and you should at least have a few photographs of them with the doors open, but most of the time a car is much nicer with everything closed. So you will have to have the courage to ask the owner if he could please close the doors and the engine cover … which is much easier if you’ve been talking and listening to the owner a few minutes beforehand.

TIP : have your business cards ready

thumbnail Remember this is still an automotive related event, most of the cars on display are actually owned by fellow enthusiasts, unlike an international car show where they only show factory cars. Here you actually have the chance to talk to the guy (or girl) that will be seated behind the steering wheel when the event is over, so during the conversation don’t be afraid to hand out your card and offer them an individual photo shoot. This way they can take a look at your web site and your portfolio and have a way to contact you afterwards if they are interested.

These people are also interested in having action shots of their cars, so if they do take it onto the track later during the day, make sure to get some photographs of most cars ... and present them with your business card when they come back to the paddock.

TIP : get a customized shirt

This might be overlooked by most car photographers, but it has landed me several deals over the years. During a busy outdoor car event you will not have time to chat with all car owners, you will have to find the time to photograph the cars you are interested in too. So most people present will not have had the luck of receiving your business card, in this case wearing a custom shirt with your logo and more importantly your site’s url on the back is extremely important.

thumbnail Don’t make the mistake of putting a car logo on it however, this will have an inverse effect on all those owners of the ‘other’ cars out there, just use your name, your company name or just your web site url and put it as large as possible on your back, which is what most people will see when you are actively photographing cars.

This doesn’t have to be expensive either, you can ask any decent print shop in town to make you a shirt based on a bitmap file you bring in, or even easier, buy some transfer paper and iron it on one of your shirts after printing it on your home printer. I went for embroidery on a nice black shirt, this does cost a bit, but it looks so much more professional it will pay itself back by the attention you get with it.

TIP : angle of attack

Remember the 10 tips for your first outdoor car shoot tutorial from early January 2009 ? The angle was mentioned there too, but at an outdoor car show it is even more important, as you will have to find the exact spot that will give your photograph that little extra edge most people forget about when shooting cars at this type of events.

thumbnail Don't walk up to a car at this kind of events and take a photograph ... you will end up with a snapshot, perhaps a nice one, and with a bit of luck even a moderate photograph, but follow this little piece of advice and you might come home with a cover shot.

Walk around the car to find a spot where the background is as least distracting as possible, this will not be easy at some events, just find the best spot and position yourself there, think about getting down on one knee so you are at headlight level ... probably one of the best heights to photograph a car anyway ... and wait.

thumbnail That's right, you are waiting again, we've been doing a lot of that today haven't we ? This time I'm waiting for the kid with the ice cream to walk away so I have an uncluttered view, unfortunately by the time he finally decides he has seen enough of the car there will be others walking into your frame.

Now I have two options, take the shot with people standing in it, or wait some longer for everybody to have cleared the area ... but this latter may never occur at the bigger events that attract thousands of visitors, so you'll have to contend yourself with a cluttered shot ... that you can always clean up in post processing.

TIP : Polarizer

I know I'm repeating myself with this one, but remember, it is an outdoor event, so normally you should have enough light, so don't leave your circular polarizing filter at home, it will come in handy during the day.

thumbnail For one it will cut down reflections on the glass sections of the cars you are photographing and in the mean time intensify the colors of both the cars and the sky in the background, but there is yet another, perhaps even more important advantage of using a polarizer at an outdoor car event.

Remember these events can get crowded, a lot of cars parked closely together on a tight spot which means that if you photograph a nice and shiny looking car it will most likely have the reflection of the car next to it on it's flanks ... and here the polarizer comes into play.

By setting the angle right you can counteract this reflection, sometimes even completely remove it, so you at least have a decent photograph of the car you intend to shoot instead of having the car next to it appear in the shot too.

TIP : get to the action

thumbnail Some of these outdoor events are held on the paddock of a race circuit, and most likely at some stage of the day there will be parade or small races on the track, make sure you get access to photograph alongside the track.

This shouldn't be as difficult as shooting an actual race, find an office where the organizers are located and ask them for a pass so you can get to the action. Make sure you read the booklet handed out at the entrance, it will list the timing of the day, including the track time, this will be your guide.

thumbnail These cars tend not to reach the speeds of actual race cars (this depends on the event naturally, but generally speaking they don't) so it is an ideal time to practice your panning skills again, make sure you've red our tutorial on how to make panning shots like a pro to get the basics right.

But you might have a dilemma on your hands now, as some (or most) of the cars will be on the track it might be the most ideal moment to photograph those cars that have stayed behind on the paddock. During this kind of 'track time' most visitors will also be looking at the action, which could mean that you can finally take those uncluttered photographs I've talked about earlier.

TIP : dress code

You will be on your feet for most part of the day, take that into account when selecting your wardrobe for the event, wear decent shoes and easy clothes, no need for a tuxedo at an outdoor car show you know.

thumbnail Wear some good fitting trousers that you don't really mind getting dirty, as you will be down on one knee on a regular basis during the day to get a lower angle photograph of these cars, but think about your shirt too, short sleeves work fine during the summer, and remember to get your logo on the shirt as mentioned in an earlier tip.

Think twice before wearing black during the summer, sure it looks nice and classy, but it will also get very hot when you spend all day out in the sun, which brings me to this next, very important tip : get some sunscreen.

When you are out in the sun all day you will get sunburn if you don't apply some kind of sun lotion on a regular basis, I even wear a baseball cap these days, but this isn't always practical, as the front will get in the way when you use a flash, but it is one more space to put your logo on.

TIP : batteries, memory cards, …

thumbnail You will most likely be forced to park you car outside of the event grounds, which could mean a nice distance from the action, so you will not have the time, nor the courage to go back to your car to grab an extra battery or memory card.

Make sure you have all you need with you, let's say you have a 10Mpixel camera, this means that most of your photographs will be about 10Mb in size … do the math, on a 4Gb card you will be able to hold about 400 photographs

I actually use two Canon 40D bodies when I'm covering a car show (either indoor or outdoor) and both cameras will receive a freshly formatted 8 Gb Compact Flash card, make it a habit of formatting your cards inside the camera and take one photograph beforehand as a test to make sure everything is working fine.

And I pack three extra 4gb cards and two 2gb ones I have bought in the early days when I was just starting, now they serve as a backup system in case I need them, with this set up I can actually take thousands of shots before I run out of space, getting this kind of figures will be hard to do on one day, but it can happen.

thumbnail The other thing are batteries ! You never have enough of them, I actually use a battery grip on all my cameras with two batteries each, charged the day before so I am sure they are ready for the job the next day, on such a charge I can easily take about 2000 shots with each camera, but I still carry two spares with me just in case.

Don't forget about the batteries for your flash, remember I talked about using it when the sun is high up in the sky to fill in the shadows, well that takes power, and you should carry at least some extra sets with you, I actually use a CP-E4 power pack with my Canon 580EX II unit, this allows me to take hundreds of shots before I have to replace the AA batteries, make sure to use rechargeable ones here too ... and buy a decent charger.

TIP : the equipment list

I don't use a camera bag anymore actually, I find lugging around a backpack or a shoulder bag to be really annoying during a racing event or a car show, so I went for a belt with two Digital Holsters from think TANK photo, but more importantly is the equipment I actually load into them.

thumbnail I for one will always carry two cameras with me, at the moment two Canon EOS 40D units, both with the BG-E2N battery grip. One will have a wide angle lens for general use mounted, the Canon EF-S17-55mm IS f/2.8 USM to be exact, while the second body will receive the Canon EF70-200mm L IS f/2.8 USM which is just perfect for those nice little details and for the track side panning shots.

Did you notice that both lenses are IS versions, which means they offer a stabilization, which is really important when you are shooting interiors of a car, especially the darker ones, the Image Stabilization will allow you to get sharp images at relatively slow shutter speeds.

Final words

thumbnail I personally enjoy an outdoor car show more than any other event, people are happy to show their cars, and it is just a lot of fun photographing these beauties out in the sun. Sure it is hard work, and sometimes very frustrating you can not get the shot you are looking for, but remember that your PR should be in high gear during these events.

This kind of events is an ideal moment for you to get people to remember your name and appreciate your work, have them looking at your site afterward, who knows one the owners will give you a call to schedule a personal shoot in the long run.

One more tip : have fun !


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