Beginners tips for photographing a car show.

I had the opportunity to photograph the 2013 Essen Motor Show in Essen Germany this past weekend. I attended the preview and press day on Friday, and the public opening on Saturday. Man was it packed on opening day! The show is geared toward tuners and the after-market and is what I would call the German equivalent of the SEMA show in the US. The show was held at the Messe Essen and was spread out over 12 buildings, the buildings are inter-connected so you do not go outside, however, there was still lots of walking involved. One thing I noticed was that most, if not all, of the visitors were taking pictures of the show with everything from phones to DSLR’s, and they all had one thing in common, PAS (point and shoot)! So I thought a few pointers on shooting a car show, or any other event for that matter, might help any beginners out there. Most of the tips will apply across the board to any camera since they deal with composition or subject and not a technical setting. Tips that involve technical controls will work on any camera that allows you to change the basic photographic controls of ISO, shutter speed, aperture or color balance.

Tip 1: Think like a journalist
When photographing an event try to tell the story of the event. Why is it important to the visitors or vendors? What is the events significance? Who is attending the event? What happened at the event?  This simple approach will make your photos “better” because you, the photographer, will start to think about what is being photographed; think of it as a photographer setting instead of a camera setting.

Kids enjoying a slot car racing setup from Carrera show that there was more to the show than toys for the bigger kids, Essen Motor Show, Essen, Germany on December 07 2013
Kids enjoying a slot car racing setup from Carrera show that there was more to the show than toys for the bigger kids, Essen Motor Show, Essen, Germany on December 07 2013.
Portraits are a classic example of how to use the rule of thirds, Essen Motor Show, Essen, Germany on December 07 2013
Portraits are a classic example of how to use the rule of thirds, Essen Motor Show, Essen, Germany on December 07 2013.

Tip 2: Think about your composition
Without fail when a person grabs that shiny new camera and starts to take that first photo they will inevitably center the subject in the view finder. This makes for very uninteresting photos 99% of the time. I’m not sure why people do this, but I’m sure someone has done a study to figure it out. The use of the rule of thirds will make your photos more interesting without changing any setting on your camera. Using the rule of thirds is easy, just divide the view finder into thirds, horizontally and vertically, with imaginary lines. Where the lines intersect is where you want to place the subject. Another good idea with your composition is to use leading lines, i.e. a line that will lead your eyes to your subject.

Tip 3: Check your background
You don’t want to have a distracting background ruin a good photo. Always check your background to make sure there is not a sign post or tree branch growing out of someone’s head. Bad backgrounds can usually be dealt with by simply changing your location or view point. For the times when it is not possible to change location or position you have some technical controls at your disposal.

Technical tip:
Get out of “auto mode” and use the creative controls of that expensive DSLR you bought! You can easily isolate your subject from a distracting background by selecting a wide aperture such as f1.8 or f2.8. A wide aperture will turn the background into a wonderful mush of out of focus color. To make the mush even mushier move closer to the subject or move the subject further from the background.

(Yes, mush is a technical word!)

Isolating a subject from it’s background will ensure your viewer knows where to look. The background in this picture was thrown completely out of focus by selecting a wide aperture, Essen Motor Show, Essen, Germany on November 28 2013
Isolating a subject from it’s background will ensure your viewer knows where to look. The background in this picture was thrown completely out of focus by selecting a wide aperture, Essen Motor Show, Essen, Germany on November 28 2013.

Tip 4: Change your perspective
Look around and watch the other folks taking photos at an event, what are they all doing? They are usually walking up to a subject, standing in front of it and photographing it from that same stand up perspective. If everyone is taking that same photo it will surely be a boring photo! Move around, try low or high perspectives, and get in close for detail shots.

Technical tip:
Use a wide angle lens to distort perspective. Most cameras are delivered with a “kit lens” that covers from around 18mm to 55mm, the 18mm side of that is considered a wide angle. The kit lens is perfect for car shows. It lets you get a shot when you are close in and will allow you to take a reasonable detail shot. It is also perfect for distorting perspective. Zoom out to 18mm and get close to your subject. Whatever is closest to the lens will get distorted and look larger than it is which will make a more interesting photo.

Moving in for a detail shot can create interesting images that make great “auto art” posters, Essen, Germany on November 28 2013.
Moving in for a detail shot can create interesting images that make great “auto art” posters, Essen, Germany on November 28 2013.
Classic Rat Rod’s are awesome looking distortions of what the manufacturer originally envisioned, here a wide angle lens and a low angle were used to exagerate perspective and make the car stand out even more, Essen, Germany on November 28 2013
Classic Rat Rod’s are awesome looking distortions of what the manufacturer originally envisioned, here a wide angle lens and a low angle were used to exaggerate perspective and make the car stand out even more, Essen, Germany on November 28 2013.

Tip 5: Capture the action
Some events will have exhibits that are not static. As an example, at the Essen Motor Show, there was a drifting competition going on. It is important to show the excitement of what is happening. This can be accomplished by showing the action itself or the spectator’s reactions.

Technical tip:
Keeping the camera out of “auto mode” is the best way to show action. Set a very fast shutter speed, i.e. 1/4000th of a second, to freeze motion or alternatively set a slow shutter speed, i.e. 1/30th of a second,  to blur motion. When using a slow shutter speed you can also “pan” with the subject to keep it in focus while blurring the background. Panning is essentially following the subject (at the same speed as the subject) with the camera and taking the photo (usually a burst of many) without stopping the motion. You will get many that are out of focus, but one will usually be in focus and that is all you need.

Here I used a slow shutter speed and panned with the car in order to get the car sharp and blur the background. Notice the cars wheels, they are rotating and blurred, if that does not happen it is just a photo of a parked car, Essen, Germany on November 28 2013
Here I used a slow shutter speed and panned with the car in order to get the car sharp and blur the background. Notice the cars wheels, they are rotating and blurred, if that does not happen it is just a photo of a parked car, Essen, Germany on November 28 2013.

I hope some of you might find these tips useful.

Ed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.