maintain this page on our kitcar, CobraCountry, StreetRodCountry
and MustangCountry websites, but these Motorcar Photography
Tips are of course applicable to your car... irrespective
of its marque.
don't attempt to print this article out; it's purpose-designed
for you to view onscreen; the images are not high enough resolution
for you to print out, PLUS it'll consume more than 30 pages of
your paper. Instead, you can (and should) print out the
1-page (high-resolution/ "pdf" format) condensed
your goal is to sell your car on CobraCountry or KitCar, or perhaps
to send photos to your favorite magazine editor to be published,
here are some expert tips to ensure that you'll shoot high-quality
photos of your car! Note
that advice and tips specific to digital cameras is in
you're on the verge of purchasing your next (or your first)
digital camera ("digicam"), make sure you check out
the "GREAT RESOURCES for Digital
Cameras and Accessories" near the end
of this photography tips page. And what advice do I have for
you in choosing and using your digital camera? Here's it is:
least important consideration
advisory: YELLOW cars. Capturing good photos
of a yellow car can be quite challenging. Typically you'll wind
up with total bleachout on the top surfaces (your dazzling canary
yellow paint is now white), and murky orangish/gray in the lower
regions. In other words, ugly, crappy snapshots. Click
to zip down to Curt's special hot tips to steer you to capture
excellent photos of your yellow drivin' machine.
Color Photography is about LOTS of LIGHT--not shadow--LIGHT--and
is BAD, H
is to say:
high-angle, high-in-the-sky sunlight) is BAD.
(e.g., low-angle, rising/setting sun, obliquely-reflected
light (such as sunlight reflected off of a white structure or
all-glass office building)--AND your fill flash--is
photography is about LIGHT. LIGHT. It is not, repeat NOT, about
shadow. LIGHT. Light, dammit, light. And your camera needs
MUCH MORE light to "see your car" than your eyes do.
It needs lots of smooth, evenly-distributed, horizontal or low-angle
light [just take a look at the perfectly-flowing light on that
red Superformance Cobra above. It was captured digitally
by Alan Smith of Oak Hill, Virginia, for his "For Sale"
ad on CobraCountry]. Once more: color photography is about
LIGHT. You don't get photographs by shooting in harsh,
glaring midday high-angle sunlight (you get color-faded paint
on the top surfaces, harsh, murky shadows in the lower regions,
and a thoroughly bleached-out cockpit), and you don't get photographs
by shooting the shadow side of your car.
get snapshots. Crappy snapshots.
motorcar photography proverb:
picture may indeed be worth 1,000 words, but one good
photograph of your car is worth 10,000 crappy snapshots.
you go any further, compare these two images:
"For Sale" Cobra shot: this is the same Cobra
as the one on the right... and the same camera was used. Note
the harsh, murky shadow (resulting from shooting the shadow
side of the car in hard midday sunlight), the high camera
position, the car parked on grass, the apparently purloined sidepipe.
This image isn't likely to inspire anyone to purchase.
is a snapshot.
owner got serious with his camera the second time around--he
decided to read/heed these photography tips. Soft, evenly-distributed,
smoothly-flowing dusk sunlight, perfect positioning of his car
and low camera position made for a marvelous image. Note the
soft, gentle shadows on and beneath the car... and compare it
to the harsh shadows in the photo at left. This photo sold his
folks, is a photograph.
4 August 2003
received this marvelous email from
the new owner of that red Cobra above:
enjoyed your tips on photographing cars. What I enjoyed most
is that those first two side-by-side shots in the article is
are absolutely right, Curt: the second shot, on the right, grabbed
my attention (when the ad was running). I looked further and
bought the car.
it is, folks.
Good photographs enable you
to market your car effectively.
ensure that you'll waste a lot of money
on advertising and wonder just where you went wrong.
Camera Users: GiGo
Garbage in = Garbage out
we had an advertiser email us several photos of his Cobra. His
photos were superbly-composed--he followed these motorcar guidelines
almost to the letter. Almost. But contrary to our camera-settings
advice, he followed is camera manual's advice and put his camera
settings on "Good" quality (from JPEG-compression/quality
selection choices of "Good, Better or Best,"
and he set the resolution on "Lowest" (i.e.,
640x480 pixel resolution). His camera manual advised that these
(sigh) Lowest-Common-Denominator settings represent all
one needs for photos used on the Internet, or for emailing to
friends. Bear in mind that the "Good, Better or Best"
quality settings translate to "Crappy, Marginal, and Good."
And altho' the 640x480 setting may itself represent enough resolution
for some Internet-bound photos, it isn't enough for making sure
that there's sufficient original image data for those
images come out looking best on-screen. The bottom line was:
while his photos were superbly composed, with near-perfect lighting
and positioning, that user-manual-dictated quality setting
("Good") he had been advised to select had ravaged
his photos with ugly, irreparable blotches of discolored pixels...
all caused by the excessive JPEG compression kicked into
gear by his choice of "Good" (i.e. "Crappy")
sure your read/heed my sidebar "The result of excessive
JPEG compression: the proof is in the pixels" near the
end of this article).
reason for that camera-manual advisory (which represents typical
advice in most camera users manuals, yours no doubt among them),
is because the tech writer who wrote it is... I'm being kind
here... clueless. A staff flunkie who endorses and promotes
the dictum "Garbage-in, Garbage-out" as a valid goal
for your Internet-bound digital photography. The lower quality
settings ("Good" or "Better" or "Standard"
or whatever terminology your camera maker chooses to use) ARE
TO BE HELD IN CONTEMPT. Don't use 'em. Once again, just for
good measure: permanently set your "Quality"
setting on the highest possible setting, then individually
set your resolution coincident to how/where you're intending
to use the photos... but almost always at a medium-to-highest
setting. If you wish to send a copy of them to your friends &
family, you can always later crop them and edit them and "sample
them down" to a lower resolution with your image editor
(e.g., Adobe's Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.).
Curt's digital-camera-settings Golden
Permanently set your digital camera's "Quality" selection
on "Best" or "Extra Fine" or whatever represents
the HIGHEST quality (i.e., lowest JPEG-compression damage).
Permanently. No exception--no matter what you're aiming
your camera at, and no matter what resolution you select--and
as you'll see in my "...excessive JPEG compression..."
sidebar, "quality" in digital camera/JPEG format parlance
is an entirely different issue than "resolution."
For photos you intend to print out, especially at 5"x7"
(±12cm x 18cm) size or larger, set your resolution
at "MAXIMUM." For photos you're shooting for professional
presentation on the Internet (such as the ads you see on CobraCountry
or our other websites), set your resolution at at medium-to-highest
setting (a minimum of, say, 1024x768 pixels), "fill your
viewfinder" with motorcar, NOT real estate, and send
us your digital JPEG images just as they came out of your digital
camera... that is, no editing, no cropping, no resaving.
You see, your photos will come out best if you send us completely
unedited/unmolested image data. We'll take care of the editing,
cropping, sampling-down and color-correction on our end. Trust
us: we're far more experienced at editing and optimizing
digital images (and we're better equipped with top-of-the-line
image-editing/ JPEG-optimizing software) than you're likely to
almost 100% of the time that you're setting up to shoot your
motorcar (or your family, or your house) out in the bright sunlight,
the sunlight is in ALL the wrong places. You're confronting a
mélange of harsh glare and harsh shadows. On this
page you'll learn how to position your car and schedule your
outdoor shoot (or, alternatively, to engage your camera's flash)
so that you'll end up with top-notch photographs--instead of
color photography is about LIGHT. Ideally, lots of soft, evenly-distributed,
horizontal, low-angle, even upward-reflected (bounced off of
white concrete pavement, for example) light. And your camera
requires far more light than your eyes do. For photographing
YOUR car, lots of light translates to LOTS of (dawn, dusk or
your camera controls: set your dial for
"aperture priority" mode (anything but "AUTO")
and for most of your shots, your camera's flash unit should be
set on FORCED (lightning-bolt icon on most cameras) mode (again,
not (repeat: NOT) "automatic flash." You're
going to be using your flash for the lion's share of your motorcar
above: forced flash (aka "fill-flash") icon
some bargain-basement modern cameras do not offer "forced
and confusingly display this lightning-bolt icon to indicate
I advise you to "Use your flash," I mean "Force
your flash to work." Forced flash (also
referred to as 'fill flash' is perhaps the most photo-improving
feature on your modern camera (whether it's a film or a digital
flash/fill flash is THE ONLY MODE of flash for you to
employ out in the sunlight. If you insist
upon relying upon "automatic flash" when you're outdoors
in the sunlight, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200, and
Do Not Expect Your "automatic" Flash to Work. IT WILL
your flash to work each time you're
people or an automobile outdoors. Furthermore:
your flash to work for
EACH & EVERY ONE of your cockpit & engine shots.
your flash to work for
EACH & EVERY ONE of your cockpit & engine shots.
you say, "I don't need to use my flash. I've got lots
of overhead sunlight."
your flash to work for
EACH & EVERY ONE of your cockpit & engine shots.
you got that yet?
FORCE YOUR FLASH TO WORK. Did you get that?
speaking directly to you--For ALMOST ALL of
midday (±9:00-5:00) photographs of your car, FORCE YOUR
FLASH TO WORK.
in spite of these redundant admonitions for you to FORCE YOUR
FLASH TO WORK when you're shooting your car (or your family)
out in the sunlight, hardly a single day passes that someone
doesn't say to me
my flash worked... I had it set on automatic,"
flash is always 'on', and my camera decides when it's
answers. "My flash is always on" translates
to "automatic flash," which means it's usually
not engaging/not working for your outdoor photography. Disregard
"always on" and set your camera to FORCED/FILL
flash when you're out-of-doors.
your outdoor fill-flash photography,
you don't let your camera "DECIDE" anything.
are two more snapshots for you to learn from:
snapshot on the left could've perhaps been catapulted
to photograph status... if only the photographer had forced
his flash to work. The photo on the right wouldn't have been
fully rescued by a typical "built-in" or "pop-up"
flash unit--only a powerful external "strobe" flash
might provide enough candlepower to overcome all that harsh shadow.
On the other hand, shucks, all the photographer needed to do
was walk around and shoot the sunlit side of his car.
more hard overhead sunlight you're confronted with, the more
you MUST force your flash to work. I'm talking directly
to you: ARE YOU LISTENING? If for some unusual reason you
must shoot in harsh midday sunlight (a closeup shot of
your family on the beach at Cancun, for example), you must
FORCE your flash unit to work!
important for you to grasp that when you FORCE your flash to
work out in the bright sunlight, you are not adding light
to your photo...
you are instead redistributing the light to better effect.
In the process you're not only illuminating the shadow areas--you're
simultaneously reducing the glare in the bright areas. Thus in
that photo above/right, a powerful flash unit would've illuminated
that blue Cobra's shadow side--and as a bonus effect the burnout/glare
on the hood and windshield would've been reduced as well--a win-win
symbiosis for capturing a better image.
almost 100% of the time that you're setting up to shoot your
motorcar (or your family, or your house) out in the bright sunlight,
the sunlight is in ALL the wrong places... it's crappy, high-in-the-sky
sunlight. On this page you'll learn how to position your car
and schedule your outdoor shoot (or, alternatively, to engage
your camera's flash) so that you'll end up with top-notch photographs...
instead of birdcage-liner snapshots.
an example of forced-flash in action:
note how the use of forced/fill flash in this shot brought-to-life
the chromed wheels, trim pieces and sidepipe of this Cobra...
as well as to illuminate the maroon color of the paint finish
on the side. The flash unit quite effectively rescued this image
from resembling a Rorschach-Test inkblot. Remember:
the photographer did not add any light to this outdoor
photo by using his flash... forcing his flash to go off merely
redistributed the light to where it was desperately needed.
And in so doing, glare was concommitantly reduced on the top
surfaces of the car... thus helping to rescue the maroon color
there (from bleach-out), while the flash lit up the shadow-side
coachwork so that it's also maroon, not murky gray.
color photography is about LIGHT. It is NOT about shadow. Harsh
overhead sunlight produces lots of photo-wrecking shadow along
with color-bleaching glare. Your modern camera's FORCED FLASH
feature enables you to capture much better images in midday sunlight.
But only if you use it.
above is hotlinked (same image, MUCH larger size).
The sleek lines of this Backdraft 427 roadster were captured
Bill Littleton of GCPC (Florence, Kentucky, U.S.A.)
carefully at that silver Cobra above (click on the photo above
to bring up a larger image):
this image, shot from the shadow side, self-evidently
violates my advice to you to shoot only the sunlit side
of your car. But even though it was shot from the shadow side,
there's still adequate and smooth illumination. Quite simply,
this bit of illumination magic is a result of Bill's:
(i.e., forcing) his flash (note the flash reflections
on his wheels)
reflective nature of that light concrete pavement, and, most
sun bouncing back off of a large, light-colored building behind
This can be a handy lesson
for you: you can capture a spectacular photo like the one above
just by doing it like Bill Littleton did. A few more tips:
the larger and "whiter" the building (or wall, or your
garage door or the white cliffs of Dover), the more "bounced-back"
illumination you'll benefit from; similarly, the lighter the
pavement (best: white, unlined concrete) the more "bounced-upward"
illumination you'll get. Large plate-glass windows, especially
an all-glass office building--and especially bronze-tinted glass
windows--can provide even more spectacular "bounced-light"
results, often resulting in dazzling highlight reflections.
There's more for you to take
note of in Bill's excellent photo above:
- The sunlight: you can see how wonderfully low the
sun is, by the light showing through beneath the car. Note how
this low sunlight flows over those coachwork surfaces,
beautifully accentuating the curvilinear shape of the Cobra body.
Folks, this was the perfect sunlight for this photo;
- Laterally, this is mostly a "broadside"
shot, although Bill is positioned about even with the headlights
(rather than, say, directly off the door), so that the side of
the car is actually at a slight angle to the camera, and he's
standing perhaps 15 to 20 feet (5 to 7 meters) from the car.
That slight bit of lateral angle served to prevent flashback
reflection from Bill's flash;
- Vertically, the Bill is perhaps 2 or 3 steps
up on a stepladder; altho' this disregards my general advisory
to shoot your car by squatting down low, this particular ("slightly-angled
broadside") aerial positioning works out well from this
camera angle. That modest aerial angle makes all the difference
in accentuating the car's profile... further evidence that--in
just the right circumstances--just about every unbreakable rule
can be broken.
Bill has proven to be a good
student and practitioner of motorcar photography. You can see
more of his excellent photo work shooting Backdraft roadsters
on his Greater
Cincinnati Performance Cars site right here on Cobra
Each of the images in this Cobra collage, I think you'll agree,
would've benefited immensely from the use of forced/fill
flash; the harsh "bleach-out" glare on the top-left
image would've been reduced, and the wire wheels, the tires and
the grille would've been brought to life, and the overall paint
job would've more accurately come out bright red, instead of
the ugly orangish-bronze look caused by the glare and the shadow.
Also note the uneven light and harsh shadows in the cockpit and
engine shots... which would also have come out far better if
only the flash had been used.
color photography is about light. LIGHT. Lots and lots and lots
of smooth, evenly-distributed light. Whether your camera is film
or digital, it requires MUCH MORE LIGHT than your eyes do. You
must take full advantage of both natural light (sunlight)
and your flash unit for effective illumination of your car.
(or pastel colored) car
photo courtesy of Bob Darney, Sutter Creek, California
Bob captured this superb image in the shade and with his flash.
a yellow-painted car, especially bright yellow,
requires you to change your strategy a bit. By the numbers:
I clear on each of those points?
you follow those three simple guidelines, you're almost certain
CAR ADVISORY #1: You
cannot (repeat: CANNOT) shoot your yellow car out in midday sunlight.
All you're likely to get is bleached-out top surfaces and murky/
orangish lower areas... gen'rlly makin' a mess of your gorgeous
yellow paint job. If you insist upon shooting your yellow car
out in the sun, you MUST time your photo session for either dawn
or dusk... with the (low, unobstructed) sun at your back, and
with your car properly rotated so that
the sun's rays are illuminating all of your car facing your camera
(in a 3/4 view pose, that means the sun MUST BE illuminating
both the side AND the front of your car).
CAR ADVISORY #2:
Here's a piece of concrete advice: park your
car on white concrete, so that you'll benefit from the upward-reflected
sunlight and skylight; this strategy often works splendidly with
CAR ADVISORY #3:
Shoot your yellow car in the shade: although
you can photograph your yellow car in direct dawn or dusk sunlight
(i.e., near-horizontal sunrays) and get good results,
best game plan may be to take all of your photos (listen carefully!):
at mid-morning or mid-afternoon, entirely within the "clean"
shade of a building or other solid obstruction (not, repeat NOT
in the uneven/splotchy shade of a tree, and NOT in your
garage), on clean pavement, and use your flash on every single
shot of 1) your entire car, 2) your engine,
and 3) your cockpit.
don't take my word for it: here's a hotlink to side-by-side comparative
shots of Shaun Goodwin's yellow roadster... one shot in the bright
midday sun and no flash, the other in 'clean' shade, with flash.
Look at 'em and judge for yourself which is the loser, which
is the winner. And incidentally, Shaun's ad for his Shell
Valley Cobra didn't elicit much interest with that first
photo; when he replaced his photo on CobraCountry with that gorgeous
image on the right, he sold his Cobra. That's what good photography
will do for you.
for your YELLOW car: schedule your shoot for mid-morning or mid-afternoon,
move your car entirely into clean shade of a building... or a
mountain... Ayers Rock, Rockefeller Center or The Great
Pyramid of Giza... and on clean pavement, preferably white
concrete. And use your flash on every single shot.
to capture superb, richly-colored images of your yellow car!
that my advisory on yellow cars really applies to any pastel
or light-colored car. It just happens that yellow is often the
problematic if you don't have these tips to guide you.
return me to the top of this page!
three worst mistakes a novice makes
when photographing his/her car:
Bright overhead sunlight. Not good. Harsh overhead
midday sunlight (resulting in bleachout glare on the top surfaces--and
just as bad--corollary harsh shadows in the lower regions) wrecks
more motorcar photos than anything else. Solution: wait
'til near sunset and position (i.e., rotate) your car
to take full advantage of that softer light. Direct sunlight
as a light source improves steadily as those rays approach horizontal...
as long as you rotate your car so that those horizontal rays
are lighting up ALL of your car's surfaces facing the camera.
Alternative: wait for an overcast day and take advantage
of that softer light. Take each of your outdoor shots TWICE:
once with your flash unit forced to work, and once without
flash. You'll discover that, almost invariably, your best shots
will be the ones with the complementary illumination provided
by your flash. IF YOUR CAR HAS A METALLIC PAINT JOB, you'd
do well to ignore "overcast day" light, and instead
opt for dawn/dusk clear sunlight, since that direct/ low-angle
sunlight will serve to "bring to life" the "glistening
effects" of your metallic paint job.
your car in Paducah, then back up to Baffin Bay to snap your
Not good. Solution: back up the proper distance, then
zoom-in and "fill the frame" with automobile. Your
objective is to photograph motorcar, not real estate. If your
photos come out 10% motorcar and 90% real estate... you're getting
it all wrong. This
is especially important to keep in mind if you're using a digital
camera: as many as possible of those precious pixels MUST represent
your motorcar, not the surrounding real estate. "Real
estate" is defined herein as anything that is not motorcar.
Stand up and "shoot down" on your car.
Not good, and for several reasons. Are you listening? Don't stand
up and shoot down on your car. Solution: it's covered
in detail below.
you'd like most of the following tips in condensed form:
your car and tires thoroughly; give your tires a rubdown with
your photo session very early or very late (just after dawn or
just before dusk).
your car on (clean, unstriped) pavement. DO NOT photograph
it parked on grass, unless perhaps your car is an off-road 4x4,
or if you want it to look like an abandoned vehicle. Another
splendid tip: use your garden hose or take along a 5-gallon (or
20 liter) container of water to wet down the entire area where
you're going to position your car; this darkens the pavement
and provides a "glistening" highlight effect.
pavement vs. clean pavement
of the striped/messy pavement, this is at best a crappy snapshot
of this Cobra.
Cobra, same location. But with the pavement cleaned up, you now
have a much better photograph of this Cobra.
position/rotate your car so that you've got evenly-distributed
sunlight over ALL the surfaces of your car facing your camera
(the grille, the "chin," the tires, the sides). The
(dawn or dusk) sun should be directly behind you, warming your
backside and illuminating ALL of the surfaces of your car facing
the camera; once again, just to make sure you've got it: with
the (very early or very late) sun at your back, shoot the SUNLIT
side(s) of your car, not, repeat NOT the shadow side(s).
If you're shooting, say, a typical "3/4-view" shot,
then not only the side of the car, but the grille, the "chin"
and the tire tread should be illuminated by the sun. Are we clear
on that? Color photography is about LIGHT, NOT SHADOW. And if
you're going to shoot different views of your car (rear, head-on/front,
etc.), then STAY WHERE YOU ARE WITH THE SUN AT YOUR BACK and
have a colleague "rotate" your car into the next desired
to some folks' expectations, you cannot "walk around your
car shooting photos" and expect the sun to follow you accordingly.
Ol' Sol just ain't gonna follow your footsteps, folks. For evidence
of this, check out the two comparative photos below:
side vs. shadow side
two photos of the same Cobra parked in the same spot were shot
at precisely the correct time of day... that is, late afternoon/
low-angle sun. Thus the rear shot--facing the sun--came out excellent.
But when the photographer walked around the car and shot the
(shadow-side) front... the results are pretty self-evident.
the distracting reflections of the sun on the camera lens (another
solid reason to keep the sun to your backside), the car came
out a murky brownish color bathed in a murky shadow. Color
photography is about LIGHT, NOT SHADOW.
above comparative photos courtesy of Paul Stevenson
of Smithville, Missouri.
of it this way:
your camera MUST be aimed in the direction of your (dawn or dusk)
shadow. You could mount your camera onto a tripod facing in the
direction of the tripod's shadow, epoxy your tripod and the camera
into fixed position, then shoot all of your views of your car
by doing nothing but "rotating" your car. And you'd
have ideal lighting every time. One more
photograph ONLY the sunlit side(s) of your car; for example,
if you're shooting a typical "3/4" front/side view,
your car MUST be rotated/ positioned so that BOTH THE SIDE AND
THE FRONT of your car are sunlit.
here are six really great Cobra photos...
down and shoot at ± headlight level. As the dusk light
fades, take some shots with your headlights or parking lights
ON (this often results in a splendid 'highlight' effect). The
doors and decks should be closed; if you're shooting for an ad,
typically it's not a good idea to include models (i.e.,
people) in your photos; for an ad on the Internet, you
should never have anyone STANDING beside your car, and your hood
should be closed, since in each event you wind up with far too
much "aerial real estate," thus adding to filesize
and download time, with nothing at all gained on the positive
a "normal" focal-length lens, or set your zoom lens
accordingly (avoid wide-angle settings except for engine, cockpit
and luggage-compartment shots).
in so that you're "filling the frame" with automobile,
NOT real estate.
of ugly shadows and reflections on the paint surfaces (especially,
avoid the chaotic shadows of shade trees!). Ideally your car
should present an uncluttered surface, with shadows, glare and
reflections reduced to a minimum.
without using flash, this photograph would've been a dark, murky
throwaway... a Rorschach Test for musclecar enthusiasts.
Aytac (aka 'Turk,' 'Ataturk,' 'Mustafa,' 'Kemal,' 'The
Dardanelles Daredevil') Ercen of Vacaville (that's
"Cowtown" en Español, pardner),
California shot this outstanding photo of his E.R.A. Cobra with
his digital Nikon.
we can all agree that this is a superb photograph of a Cobra,
right? The framing of the car, the position of the photographer,
the forced flash illumination in concert with the overhead ambient
(dusk) light--all collaborated to render a breathtaking
frontal portrait of his 427SC Cobra. You might be astonished
to learn that Turk had his Nikon set at rock-bottom resolution
(640x480) for that shot, which means that image above is as large
as you're ever going to see it: that's all the pixels there are,
the point? The point is, high megapixel count doesn't equate
to great (or even good) photography. That splendid
photo above is fair dinkum evidence that you can capture
a world-class photo at very low resolution... just
as you can end up with a high-resolution crappy snapshot
captured at your 5- or 8- or 12-megapixel camera's highest resolution.
lissenUp, MegapixelBreath: good photography
is still about photography;
it has nothing (NOTHING) to do with how
your digital camera can capture.
Here's another splendid photograph of an E.R.A. Cobra, this one
shot by Philip Schiavone of Port Jefferson, New York. No flash
was needed here... the nice, soft overcast sunlight provided
smooth & even illumination and 'soft' shadows. Also note
that clean, uncluttered pavement.
I took this shot of a Pegasus Performance Cobra replica
about mid-morning (±10:00am), with forced fill flash employed
to provide additional illumination for the chin, sidepipes and
tires. Without the flash, these areas would be "Rorschach
Inkblot" variety harsh shadows.
for Cobra (and Daytona Coupe and GT40) owners to take into account:
note the shape of the body... it curves under, effectively
shielding all of those lower areas from overhead sunlight,
with your car's body resulting in a murky, shadowy, colorless
mess. Without accounting for this (by using your flash, or by
scheduling your photography session so that a rising/setting
sun is illuminating these areas, your photos will turn out to
be crappy snapshots.
I took this shot of this (Kirkham-based) Shelby American
4000-Series 427SC Cobra at the 2003 Monterey Historic
Races, midday (±2:00pm), with forced fill flash employed,
again to provide additional illumination for the chin, sidepipes
and tires. In this harsh OH sunlight, if I hadn't pulled all
the stops and engaged my powerful strobe flash (and, additionally,
my Olympus E-10's built-in "flip-up" flash),
this shot would've been a 'throwaway': all those lower areas
would be a dreary, murky glob of gray, those shiny Halibrand
wheels would've been cloaked in shadow, and the top of the car
would've been bleached out.
is yet another scenario where the little "cigarette butt"
flash built-in to your camera would (by itself) not have provided
nearly enough illumination to rescue this photo opportunity.
High-powered FL-40 strobe (plus my Olympus E-10's flip-up flash)
Tom Paquin (Beaufort, South Carolina) captured this fine shot
of his Backdraft Cobra with his Hewlett-Packard
digital camera in May 2004.
did everything just right: 1) it was
just before sunset, so the sunrays were soft, warm-colored and
almost horizontal, thus illuminating the sides of the car, the
tires, wheels and the sidepipe; 2) the pavement is clean
and uncluttered, the background neutral, with no distractions.
Amateur motorcar photography doesn't get much better than this!
that simple enough?
Patrick Laurie (Englewood, Colorado) captured this breathtaking
shot of this Unique Motorcars 289FIA Cobra in September
also did everything just right, and then some: 1)
he took my advice about taking advantage of the reflective nature
of white concrete to a new plateau--the white concrete floor
of this aeroplane hangar boasts a glossy-white epoxy finish;
2) the overhead lighting is white metal halide,
which proved to be an almost perfect color of light; 3)
the floor is dazzlingly clean, the background just about neutral,
with only the colorful image of an aerobatic aeroplane in the
again, motorcar photography doesn't get much better than this!
Move over Peter Brock, Dennis Adler and Bob McClurg!
If you'd like a few more pro tips, read on...
Make sure your car is sparkling clean. Use Armorall
(or similar rubber treatment) on the tires (hint: spray your
Armorall onto your towel, not on the tire, so that overspray
on the pavement won't show up in your photos). Take along a bucket
of cleanup/touchup items on your photo session, for on-the-scene
detailing. And take along a container of water to wet down the
pavement beneath and around your car.
Use a good 35mm camera and a standard (50mm) lens... or a good
Don't attempt to use a wide-angle or zoom or telephoto lens for
motorcar photography. A wide angle lens produces too much "fisheye"
distortion; your zoom or telephoto lens will tend to "abbreviate"
your wheelbase. Use any good color negative or transparency film;
we prefer Fujichrome (slide/transparency film) and Fujicolor
(negative film) for most of our photography, but the brand you
choose isn't particularly important; 200-ISO film is appropriate
for most of your motorcar shooting; if you plan to use a tripod,
use 100-ISO or even 50-ISO. The best place--price-wise AND
selection-wise--for you to purchase Fuji film (in the U.S.
and Canada) is Wal-Mart.
you use a digital camera, PLEASE send us your
image(s) exactly as you downloaded them from your camera... that
is to say, NO EDITING, NO CROPPING, and especially NO RESAVING.
We'll do all that ourselves, and we need all the data on your
original digital-camera image in order to achieve the best results
For digital images THAT you intend to keep and use for yourself,
make sure that upon uploading them onto your computer, you resave
them IMMEDIATELY as "TIFF" format (or ".psd"
Photoshop-native format) files, before you do any editing or
resaves. You see, every time you resave a "JPEG" image
in an image-editing program such as Adobe Photoshop, you degrade
the image (a fact that the camera makers seem to never caution
folks on). You can resave your TIFF image as many times as you
desire without fouling the quality. Be advised that this cautionary
note refers only to RESAVES in your image-editing application;
merely copying your image from one disc to another is not a problem.
you need to display or email your final, edited image over the
Internet to a friend, then make a copy of your TIFF image as
a 72-ppi low- or medium-quality JPEG, and email/upload the JPEG
copy. Keep your TIFF image on your hard disk as your "working
Zoom in and "fill your frame" with automobile, not
tip is all-the-more important if you're using a digital camera...
you mustn't squander those precious pixels on real estate.
Folks don't need or care to see your entire county, they want
to see the car you've got for sale. Repeat: zoom in! Focus
on the part of your car closest to your camera, and select an
f-stop of between f5.6 and f16, so that all or most of your car
is in focus, and avoid wide-angle zoom settings. And if you're
going to use those photos on your own website, then crop out
whatever real estate. You gain nothing by forcing folks to patiently
download all that unnecessary real estate when all they care
to see is your car.
If it's bright overhead sunlight (which means you've got a harsh
shadows beneath your car), go fishin', not photographin'.
Bright midday/mid-afternoon sunlight introduces two phenomena,
both undesirable, both... ugly: 1) HARSH GLARE
and 2) HARSH SHADOWS. Good automobile photography demands
even, soft lighting all over and around every part of your car
facing your camera. You should either wait for an overcast
(cloudy) day, which provides much softer and more-evenly-distributed
illumination (although you should avoid getting the cloudy/overcast
sky itself into your photograph), or schedule your photo session
for when the sun is low (i.e., at dawn or dusk). Be sure
to shoot the sunlit side(s), not the shaded side(s). Color photography
is about light, not shadow! Repeat: rotate your car so that
the (dawn or dusk) sun is on the camera side!! Once
again, EVERY PART OF YOUR CAR facing your camera should be lit
by the sun.
Have you got that yet? This means that if you're shooting a "3/4
view," with mostly the side of your car but also the front
end in your viewfinder, the sun should be lighting up the grille
and your tire tread just as much as the side of your car. If
your car has a metallic paint job, you're best off employing
dawn/dusk clear sunlight, NOT overcast day light. Reason:
that direct sunlight will "bring to life" your metallic
paint. Also, forcing your flash to work can similarly "bring
to life" your metallic paint job, especially in relatively
low-light/shade settings. When I advise you that color photography
is about LIGHT, that admonition is especially true in regards
to metallic paint.
with all dawn/dusk shots, you must be careful to keep your own
shadow off your car! But there are two things you can do to prevent
your shadow from reaching your car: 1) get down on one knee and
shoot from waist level (which you should be doing anyway), and
2) back up a little further from your car and zoom-in your lens
a little more so that your viewfinder is still "filled with
motorcar," but your shadow is no longer invading your photo.
don't position your car under a shade tree to avoid harsh sunlight;
your resulting photos will leave the impression that you painted
your car in a chaotic jungle camouflage scheme; indeed,
you should always be on the lookout for unwanted reflections
on the body (trees and buildings and road signs can produce really
wretched, chaotic reflections, especially on black and dark-colored
cars... just take a look at the snapshot below).
You can sometimes obtain very good results by parking in the
(dawn or dusk) shade of a building, but only if there's a very
bright sky overhead to provide adequate illumination... and plan
on forcing your flash to work. Whatever the weather or time of
day, make certain that the normal "shadow areas" (e.g.,
the 'chin,' the grille, the tire tread) have ample light to show
up in the photo; this is one area where employing your flash
attachment (and your camera's "forced-flash" feature"
can often help you get a significantly better photo. Position/rotate
your car for optimal lighting... on the camera side of the car!
If you need to shoot the other side(s) of your car, then reposition
your car NOT yourself. Take some shots with the
headlamps or parking lights turned on; for your rear-end shots,
have someone sit in the driver's seat with his/her foot on the
brakes to light up those brake lights... yet another splendid
lighting effect, especially in regards to Lamborghinis and Ferraris,
with their typically large taillight fixtures.
trans-am from Transylvania.
of surface reflections. Especially ghoulish reflections.
you're using a digital camera that provides separate settings
for resolution and "quality," set your camera for "medium"
or "high" resolution and MAXIMUM or "FINE"
Listen carefully: the term "resolution" refers ONLY
to the number of pixels making up each image (640x480, for example,
merely means that there are 307,200 pixels making up the image);
JPEG "quality" such as "standard vs. fine"
on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to do with resolution.
JPEG "quality" has to do with how much pixel-artifacting
(damage) to the image you're willing to tolerate as you increase
the JPEG compression to reduce filesize. Thus if your digital
camera offers you a separate control for "quality"
and "resolution," you can set your camera for, say,
maximum-quality/medium resolution images (perfect if you intend
to edit the image for use on the Internet), or conversely you
can even set it for wretched-quality high-resolution images.
If your camera does not provide separate settings for "quality"
and "resolution," but only simplified settings that
read something like "Standard, High and Fine
Quality" (or perhaps "small filesize, medium filesize,
large filesize"), this means that each setting represents
some fixed blend of JPEG compression ratio and resolution. In
this case you should select "Fine Quality" or "large
filesize" (or whatever operative naming scheme is employed
by your camera) for your motorcar shots. If you're going
to send us those maximum quality/medium or high-resolution images
to be used in an article or a "For Sale" ad, we'll
have the maximum amount of image data to work with, and we'll
"sample them down" (i.e., size them down) appropriately
for viewing on the Web.
tips for (OUCH!) mid-day/harsh sunlight photography:
0: Avoid shooting your car in
the bright sunlight... otherwise:
1: use your flash
(force it to work)
2: use a lens shade
3: use a polarizer
(instead of your flash)
If for some obscure reason you MUST shoot in bright sunlight
(at an outdoor carshow, for example), force your flash to work
"force-fill" light into those dark shadows caused by
Most modern 35mm or digital camera--any camera better than
the most-basic, entry-level--will permit you to "force"
your flash to work in bright sunlight; the (forced-flash) feature
is usually indicated with a lightning-bolt icon.
photographers routinely use "fill flash" for their
daytime shots, although I couldn't count the times someone at
a race or carshow has asked me "Why are you using that
big flash unit with all this bright sunshine?" Read
the brighter the overhead sunlight, the more you need to employ
"fill flash." Repeat: bright overhead sunlight means
USE YOUR FLASH (forget your camera's "automatic flash"
option; instead, set it to force/fill flash, so that the bright
sunlight won't prevent the flash from working)!
important for you to grasp:
you use your flash in the "traditional way" (i.e.,
to provide EXTRA/ ADDITIONAL light in, say, a darkened room or
at dusk or after dark outside), you're actually providing MORE
light to your film (or to your sensor array in your digital camera),
since there isn't enough ambient light to for you to capture
a well-illuminated photograph.
THE OTHER HAND,
when you're outdoors in the bright sunlight where there's ample
natural light, your goal is entirely different: you don't need
MORE light, you need to RE-DISTRIBUTE the light. Using your camera's
FORCED flash (lightning bolt icon) feature, you're merely
RE-DISTRIBUTING the light, so that MORE LIGHT (your flash)
illuminates those pesky dark shadow areas... while simultaneously
LESS SUNLIGHT is captured that otherwise results in harsh glare
on your windshield and color bleachout on the painted surfaces.
Voilá, with your flash you've "softened"
all that harsh glare/harsh shadow! Put another way, essentially
the same amount of light winds up on your film (or sensor array)...
but the light is more evenly distributed, thus usually rendering
a far better photograph, whether your subject is your motorcar
or a closeup of your family on the beach (see photos directly
below). You've taken a photograph instead of a crappy snapshot...
and the only thing you did differently was to force your camera's
flash to "soften" all that harsh shadow and harsh sunlight.
in midday sunlight-
Tim & Cindy's girls, shot on a beach on Maui... without using
their Olympus 5050's "forced flash" feature.
The tropical sun's harsh shadows wreak havoc upon this
odds are, without reading/heeding this tip on using your camera's
forced flash, you'd still be shooting hard-edged, ultra harsh
contrast pictures like this one, for your family album.
is a snapshot.
this is the result you'd have gotten if your were foolish enough
to trust "Automatic Flash" to work for you out on the
(this time using "forced flash"/"fill flash/ outdoor
For your outdoor/ daytime shots of people (or of a motorcar),
you should almost always have your camera's "forced
flash" feature turned on. It's the most effective image-improving
feature on today's modern digital and film cameras... but
only if you use it; it's even more effective if you mount
a good "strobe" flash onto your camera (as Tim did
in the photo above) for far greater illumination candlepower
than your built-in unit can provide.
folks, is a photograph.
clearly evident that the color of the girls' bathing suits is
much richer with the flash employed. But you should also observe
that the background displays richer color as well. That's
because with the flash illuminating the girls in the foreground,
less bleachout occurs in the background as the camera's electronic
light-metering system operates the way it's supposed to. A win-win
scenario. For the record: Tim used both his (Olympus C-5050's)
built-in flash AND his powerful Olympus FL40 flash for that photo
on the right; as you can see, that extra flash "horsepower"
pays you big dividends when you're photographing out in the bright
if you've encountered me out in the bright sunshine at carshows
and races and you wonder just why I've always got a big strobe
flash mounted on each of my cameras... those side-by-side beach
shots above should provide you with a conclusive answer: the
more bright overhead sunlight you've got, the more you MUST engage
another set of no
flash vs. outdoor-flash comparison shots
lineup of Shamrock Cobra replicas
the same lineup of Shamrock Cobra replicas
you perhaps beginning to appreciate why we urge you to use your
splendid flash/no flash comparison photos above were courteously
provided to us by John Crawford of Shamrock Autocraft.
important for you to remember that "forced flash" is
for use only out in the sunlight or indoors in well-lit rooms;
for "people photos" indoors or otherwise in darker
surroundings, you should use your camera's manual or automatic
flash instead, so that your camera's "redeye reduction"
feature will function; "the redeye effect,"
of course, does not exist in outdoor/bright sunlight people
short explanation: "red
occurs when your camera takes a photograph of the retina (i.e.,
the back surface) of the person's eyes... which happens to be
It's as simple as that. Here's an artist's rendition of the effect:
beautiful Miss Blue Eyes... afflicted with terminal red eye
you'd like more details (or even if you don't) of what
and how you can prevent it, here it is:
only under these conditions:
person being photographed is in a relatively dark area... thus
his/her pupils are enlarged to take in more light;
photographer is using a flash; moreover, the closer the flash
is located in proximity to the camera's lens is a big factor,
since the flash is basically headed directly toward the subject's
retinas, then directly back to the camera. Thus a built-in flash,
with its close proximity to the lens, is a major contributor
to many red-eye
- Two other factors contribute
to the severity of "red
eye": the color
of the person's eyes (light-blue eyes
tend to glow the
reddest), and perhaps
most importantly-- the subject is staring directly at your camera
(thus providing a straight path from your flash, to his/her retina
and back to your camera).
There are several simple measures
you can employ
to reduce or entirely eliminate "red eye,"
- Most modern cameras today
offer a "redeye
which emits a "lesser" flash before the main flash
goes off; this works--in a fraction of a second--to reduce the
size of everyone's pupils, before the main flash goes off, and
it works surprisingly well--a modern marvel. Just remember that
with some cameras, pre-flash may not function--nor is it needed--if
you're outdoors and employing "forced" flash.
- In order to ensure that your
subjects' pupils are reduced in size, move your individual or
group out into the sunlight or in a lighter area--and be sure
to switch to "forced" flash;
- Tell everyone to "Watch
the birdie," i.e., to not look directly at the camera,
so that the subjects' retinas aren't directly in line with the
- If you're using a strobe flash
with a cable, mount it onto an accessory handle/ bracket, or
have someone hold it about 12" away from your camera;
- Rotate your strobe flash to
bounce off of a light-colored wall or (low) ceiling;
The 5 Surefire
you to checkmate
the dreaded red
5. Don't shoot until you see (only) the whites
of their eyes;
4. Have everyone blink just as you snap the shutter;
3. Have everyone put on sunglasses;
2. Have everyone turn around with their backs to your
#1 Surefire Way
for you to eradicate red eye:
1. Put a bag over everyone's head.
to outdoor/forced-fill flash: use of
your flash unit is so fundamentally important for you to understand
and to take advantage of... yet the camera makers, if they mention
it at all, do so in fine print on p. 62 of your user manual.
It should be IN LARGE PRINT on p. 1 of your manual.
caveat (this should be a no-brainer): forcing
your flash to work when you're shooting a distant skyline, or
your football team from the bleachers 75 meters away... or your
motorcar parked 15 meters away... isn't going to improve your
photo at all. Leave it turned off.
unlikely to get good photographs in midday bright sunlight without
1) a lens shade, and 2) a good strobe flash attachment. Period.
The lens shade will help keep the sun off your lens, and the
flash unit will serve to both lighten the shadows and reduce
the intensity of the brightness in the glare areas. A built-in
flash (which I refer to as a "cigarette-butt flash"
typically doesn't provide enough light to entirely overcome harsh
midday shadows, although it will help some.
Get a polarizer lens filter ($20$50); use it
to greatly reduce the glare (and thus lighten the shadows) in
your midday & mid-afternoon shots. You'll find that same
polarizer filter to be worth its weight in Krugerrands
for your vacation shots as well, especially your beach and ski
shots, where your photographs will take a quantum leap
in richness of color, and the sky will come out a much richer
blue. But there are a few caveats: occasionally a polarizer filter
will over-emphasize the contrast, especially with a bright yellow
car. Here's a side-by-side example of the marvelous effects of
a polarizer filter:
NO POLARIZER FILTER, this picture was
captured in harsh, midday sunlight. Note the complete bleachout
of the windshield and the hood (bonnet), as well as the corollary
murky shadows in the front of the car.
A POLARIZER FILTER, the filter rotated
to MAXIMUM polarization (all polarizer filters are designed to
be rotated, to enable you to adjust polarization to the level
you desire). Note that by reducing the glare, the shadow areas
miraculously come out lighter. You see, there's roughly the same
amount of light on both of these images... but the light is more
evenly distributed with the use of the polarizer filter.
avoid at all costs photographing your car in bright midday or
mid-afternoon sunlight. If you're shooting in clear weather (i.e.,
minimal clouds or overcast) and your shadow isn't at least 15
feet (±5 meters) long, you're shooting during the wrong
time of day.
Make sure that the backdrop is neat and appropriate.
A fashionable restaurant or hotel or downtown plaza or fountain
or a college campus scene or a '50s-styled drive-in restaurant
or even a beach or wharf scene can make an ideal backdrop. Make
sure there is no signpost or tree "growing out of"
the top of your car or a parking-lot line jutting from a tire
(parking-lot lines are a chronic spoiler of motorcar photographs).
Make sure the steering wheel is straight (and on a Cobra or other
roadster, the sunvisors should be turned down to horizontal).
Keep your car on clean, unlined/uncracked pavement and off the
grass; a motorcar photographed on grass or tree leaves tends
to look like an abandoned vehicle. Above all, remember
that it's your car that's the primary focal point of your photograph,
not the background or the live models (altho' we do prefer
LIVE models to the alternative).
Take your photos from different angles and different camera heights,
from ± headlight level. Novices
typically "stand up and shoot down" on their car. Not
good. The most dramatic, even menacing, sportscar shots are low-angle
and zoomed-in to "fill the frame." Position yourself
for 3/4 view, 3-dimensional shots that capture part of the front
and more of the side. If you intend your photos to be used
on the Internet, also shoot a few "broadside" shots;
a broadside shot (with the decks and doors closed) enables
you to display your car on the Internet at a larger physical
size while the filesize remains relatively small, which means
a bigger image/faster download for each person viewing your car.
If you really want to get serious, mount your camera onto a tripod
(adjusted down low) so that you can critically examine and adjust
the composition of each shot.
If your camera offers you the option of imprinting the date/time
onto your film or digital image... for cryin'
out loud, turn off this image-wrecking "feature" when
photographing your car.
& cockpit shots
you want good engine/cockpit photos, you MUST read/heed this
Above engine and cockpit photos courtesy of Jon Oslund,
Fraser, Michigan U.S.A.
your flash (that is to say, FORCE your flash to work) for EACH
AND EVERY ONE of your engine and cockpit shots; move your car
out of direct sunlight and use ONLY your flash to illuminate
your cockpit and engine shots. Steering
wheel straight, tilt column down, sunvisors (on roadsters) in
horizontal position. Spotlessly clean carpet and upholstery.
Wide-angle lens (or wide-angle zoom setting) okay for these shots.
Again, use your flash.
your flash. Repeat: use your flash. One more time: USE YOUR FLASH...
FORCE IT TO WORK!
If you think that a lot of bright overhead sunlight is all you
need for your engine and cockpit shots, then you haven't been
paying attention. In fact, for your cockpit and engine shots,
you'd be well advised to move your car COMPLETELY OUT OF DIRECT
SUNLIGHT: park it in the shade of a building, where there's
still plenty of ambient overhead skylight, but no direct sunlight,
then FORCE YOUR FLASH TO WORK to provide the lion's share of
cockpit shots, make sure the upholstery and carpet is vacuumed
to spotless. Straighten the steering wheel; if it's a tilt wheel,
tilt it down to driving position. Remove your keychain from the
ignition. If your car is a Cobra or other roadster, adjust the
visors and harnesses and windwings to near-horizontal. You can
use your wide-angle lens (or a wide-angle zoom setting) for engine
and cockpit shots. And did I mention this: engage your
flash for EACH AND EVERY ONE of your engine and cockpit
your flash will sometimes generate unwanted reflections from
your underhood chrome, or from your dashboard gauges, take 2
or 3 shots each of your engine and cockpit, from slightly different
angles (move around to different shooting positions), to make
sure you've got at least one "keeper" shot.
you carefully heed these cockpit/engine-compartment photo tips,
you'll capture gorgeous, eye-popping images, and (in your cockpit
shots) the color of your upholstery, dashboard and carpet will
come out rich and colorful.
final reminder tip: Make absolutely certain
you take full advantage of BOTH OH skylight
(no direct sunlight) and forced flash
for each and every one of your engine and cockpit shots.
scan on flatbed scanner vs.
35mm negative scan on a film scanner
to scan comparison page
may have already noticed that we urge you to send us your (35mm
film) negative strips along with your photo prints, so that we
can achieve the best scan possible. If you'd like to witness
firsthand what an astonishing difference a good film scanner
makes, check this
hotlinked scan-comparison page.
you're taking photos of your car to put it up for sale: good
photographs represent your most important step in effectively
marketing, rather than merely advertising, your
car (or your kit car/Cobra/streetrod lineup) for sale. Similarly,
if you plan to submit a photo of your car to the editor of a
magazine, the odds of its being published are increased a hundredfold
if you submit a professional-caliber photograph or digital image;
also, bear in mind that magazines invariably prefer a color transparency
(a "slide") over a color print.
advantage of the fact that most folks take really bad photographs
of their motorcar--and then give yourself a big competitive edge
by applying what you've learned on this web page and presenting
your motorcar in (ahem) its best light.
digital camera information
you're shopping for a digital camera, bear in mind that Nikon
and Olympus (http://www.olympus.com),
both with extensive model lineups, offer perhaps the best overall
quality images for the dollar (or Franc or Pound Sterling or
Deutschmark...). Epson (http://www.epson.com)
also offers a good bit of bang for the buck with several of its
only way you're going to get acceptable-quality images on a floppy-disc-drive-only
(i.e., no "memory strip") Mavica is to shoot
at the "fine" quality setting (if your model has a
"fine" setting). The root of most of the Mavica's shortcomings
is that Sony chose to fit a 3.5" floppy drive into the camera
body (akin to installing a tote handle and dolly wheels on a
Palm Pilot; more accurately, it's a portable floppy drive with
a lens and shutter attached for marketing purposes). It was a
cagey marketing idea, but one without a trace of redeeming practical
qualities (heavy weight, excessive battery drain, low-capacity
storage, snail-paced data storage)... then, due to the tiny amount
of storage capacity on a floppy disk (by comparison, a 512 megabyte
Compact Flash storage card that's only 3mm thick and the size
of a match flap, provides you with the storage capacity of 366
(three hundred and sixty-six) floppy disks!), Sony had to
mega-compress each digital image (22.5-to-1 compression ratio
at standard-quality mode) in order to shoehorn images onto that
micro-capacity floppy. That high JPEG compression ratio results
in VERY noticeable and image-wrecking "artifacts" in--and
blotchy discoloration of--the image. Further, the optics
on the lower-end floppy-drive Mavicas tend to introduce brownish
"halos" along areas of high contrast that prove to
be quite challenging to edit away with Photoshop. But all is
not lost: once again, if you shoot only at the "fine"
quality mode AND maximum resolution, you'll come out okay. More
or less. Compare the first two (Mavica) images (left & center)
below with the third image shot with another brand of digital
camera that uses a kinder/ gentler implementation of JPEG compression:
result of excessive JPEG compression:
the proof is in the pixels
This 160x160 pixel JPEG image was shot with a Sony (floppy-drive-only)
Mavica. Click on the photo to see a blowup of the effects
on the photo of the Mavica's high JPEG compression.
This 160x160 pixel JPEG image was shot with a Sony (floppy-drive-only)
Mavica. Click on the photo to see a blowup of the effects
on the photo of the Mavica's high JPEG compression.
This 160x160 pixel JPEG image was shot with another brand digital
that uses a kinder/gentler genre of JPEG compression than the
Mavica. Click on the photo to see a blowup of this image.
on the following text hotlink to see a collage of 3 superb photos
Conway's red Cobra hotlinked
car as #3 above), skillfully shot with a consumer-priced (but
very good quality) Olympus D-510 digital camera.
you can perhaps appreciate why I urge you to set your digital
camera (whatever brand you have) on the highest-quality/ fine-quality
setting: it's so you'll minimize the image-damaging effects of
on the hotlinked photos (#1 or #2) above, so you can more clearly
see the image quality defects they represent: the 'pixel noise'
along the contrast edges and the 'big chunky blocks' of pixels
and the discoloration are the direct and inevitable result of
excessive JPEG compression.
to general misconception, these image-quality problems have ABSOLUTELY
NOTHING TO DO with a digital camera's resolution (indeed,
all three of the images above are precisely the same 160x160
pixel resolution); the problems you see in photos#1 and
#2 have EVERYTHING TO DO with the image-wrecking effects
of excessive JPEG compression.
digital camera makers do everything to lead you to believe that
pixel count (i.e., resolution) is all you need be concerned
with; they do little or nothing to provide you with the more
important issue of image damage done by the JPEG compression
process... especially when a digital camera maker pushes JPEG
compression beyond its reasonable limits. So here's Curt's digital-camera
is only one of several considerations you must consider when
you're selecting a digital camera; if you're shooting exclusively
or primarily for display on the Internet or on your own computer
screen, just about every digital camera ("digicam")
provides you with ample pixel count (resolution). Don't get bedazzled
with a high megapixel count, while you're overlooking all the
other--more important--considerations. Case in point:
that Olympus D-510 that was used for those photos of Chuck Conway's
red Cobra (above) outputs only 2.1 megapixels... yet look at
the splendid-quality images it's capable of capturing.
(and the resulting image damage) must be minimized (keep your
camera set for "Highest Quality" or "Fine Quality").
Just refer to the photos #1 & 2 above if you question the
issue of image damage caused by excessive JPEG compression.
a high-quality lens is just as critically important (perhaps
more so) as with a film camera. Plastic is unacceptable: your
digicam MUST HAVE a high-quality optical-glass multi-coated lens,
just as on any good 35mm camera.
fundamentally important for all color photography. And it's every
bit as important for outdoor/ bright sunlight photography as
it is for indoor/nighttime photography. The built-in flash on
most cameras (both film cameras and digicams) is fine for indoor/nighttime
purposes, but somewhat underpowered for outdoor/daytime "fill"
flash, which constitutes all or most of your motorcar photography
(and probably most of your 'people pictures' and vacation photography).
You'll benefit greatly by choosing a digicam that has not only
a built-in flash (and a 'forced flash' function), but also a
'hot shoe' so you have the option of mounting a more powerful
strobe flash. Most folks consider a flash as something you need
only occasionally. Wrong. Repeat: WRONG. For color photography
(film or digital), the more good illumination the better... and
thus you should consider using your flash to be THE NORM rather
than THE EXCEPTION. Most of your outdoor photos, especially of
motorcars and people, will come out far, far better if you employ
your flash, and use the 'forced flash' feature.
Flash Test #1:
Remember, the brighter the overhead sunlight you're shooting
in, the more you MUST use your flash (and force it to work).
If you'd like to run a quick test of this advice, take your family
or friends outdoors midday in bright overhead sunshine, and make
sure one or two of them is wearing a baseball cap, and do a group
shot without using your flash. Then take another shot with your
flash set to 'forced flash.' Compare the photos: without
flash, you've got streaks of harsh shadows under their eyebrows,
under their noses and chins... and probably the entire face of
those folks wearing a baseball cap is dark shadow; with your
'forced flash' shot (especially if you're using a separate, more
powerful strobe unit), all those shadows are eliminated or greatly
reduced, including especially the folks wearing a baseball cap...
that extra illumination thus resulting in a far better photo.
Just as with midday motorcar photography, there's lots &
lots of light... but it's concentrated in all the wrong places,
and it's blended with ugly/harsh shadows on your family's faces.
Folks, that's why your camera came equipped with a forced-flash
feature! One caveat: on the other hand, if your family
and friends are all REALLY unattractive, you might want to leave
your flash turned off... //:=)
Flash Test #2:
Now here's another "flash test" for you to try out.
Wait 'til very late in the day (dusk), then line everybody up
for another shot... with the sun directly behind the group (ideally,
with their bodies blocking the sunlight from directly striking
your lens). Take shot #1, with your flash turned off;
now take shot#2, with your flash set to "automatic";
now take shot#3, with your flash set to "forced flash."
Shot#1 will be a throwaway... everybody's face and torso
is a mere dark silhouette against the bright sunset; shot#2
will also probably be a throwaway, since your camera's "automatic/sees-all/
knows-all" automatic flash decides with its programmed-in
genius that with all that light facing the camera, flash isn't
required--so the odds are you'll wind up with the same set of
faceless/featureless silhouettes as with shot#1; shot#3
(forced flash) will be markedly better than the other two shots,
since the subject of the photo (your family & friends' faces)
are nicely and properly illuminated even against the bright sunset.
Trust me on this: your camera's 'forced-flash' (think
of it as 'outdoor flash') feature is far more useful and functional
and effective for you than any ludicrous "automatic flash"
Flash" is a cagey marketing maneuver targeted mostly for
the brain-dead... it's your camera's "Forced Flash"
feature you should be regularly and routinely using when you're
shooting out in the bright sunlight. On the other hand, 'automatic'
flash does mostly work okay indoors and in a darker environment,
and on most modern cameras 'automatic' flash also means your
pre-flash will engage to reduce "red-eye." So it's
FORCED FLASH when your outdoors in the sunlight and whenever
your subject is backlit (e.g., the sun is behind 'em),
AUTOMATIC FLASH when you're inside or in subdued light.
Most digital cameras today use either a Compact Flash
(CF) memory card, or a SmartMedia Card (SM). Both are
approximately the same (physical) size, altho' the CF card is
thicker (±3mm), and offers a greater maximum storage capacity
(512Mb and more, vs. 128Mb for SM). Most camera makers short-change
you on the card that's included... usually only 16Mb or 32Mb;
you'll want at least a 128Mb card, which you can purchase for
under $50 (USD). Save the card that came with your camera as
an auxiliary backup. With memory cards this inexpensive, I cannot
discern any advantage to selecting a camera with a disk drive
(floppy or CD-ROM): the memory cards are faster (and far lighter
weight) and demand much less battery drain than any variety of
disk drive. And if the store salesman smugly pronounces "This
model here is what you need: it uses a floppy disk, which you
just pop out and put in your computer"... don't walk,
don't run... make a flying dive for the nearest exit. You're
not shopping for a portable floppy drive, you're shopping for
a camera. In any event, don't expect an electronics store salesman
to possess any credentials that would qualify him/her to provide
you with knowledgeable advice regarding digital cameras (and
certainly don't expect him to know anything about photography);
you MUST do your own research... on the Internet (see the link
to Steve's Digicams' website I've provided to you below),
purchase a digital photography magazine or two, and perhaps seek
advice at a good, long-established camera store... they're likely
to be 1,000 times more qualified to provide you with sound advice
about photography and digital cameras than any salesperson at
an electronics store. You'll probably pay a little more, but
you'll get far better advice and you're likely to wind up with
a camera you're much more satisfied with.
set: it ain't just about megapixel count, folks:
there are many low-megapixel-count digital cameras that are fully
outfitted for you to take splendid photographs (low-cost models
by Olympus, Nikon, Fuji, Canon and Epson come to mind). Just
as with any good 35mm camera, features such as forced flash,
shutter-speed choices, aperture choices, zoom range, tripod mountable,
hot shoe for strobe flash, time-delay shutter release, et
al., are just as important when you're selecting a digicam.
for Digital Cameras and Accessories
digicam information site: A marvelous website
for you to check out is http://www.steves-digicams.com,
which arms you with a wealth of information and product reviews
about digital cameras ("digicams") and related accessories.
Make sure you to go the "camera reviews" main page:
C-5050: fifth generation of the C-Series. The best "pro-sumer"
digicam Olympus has made?
each new generation, Olympus has continued to refine the top
model of their Camedia line. Their latest effort represents
one of the biggest leaps they've made to date, leading me to
label the C-5050 Zoom 'the best digital camera Olympus has
made to date.' Relatively rarely, a manufacturer seems to
get all the pieces just right, and in my view that's exactly
what Olympus did with the 5050. The reworked control layout is
quick to learn and a pleasure to use, the camera itself is fast
and responsive, image quality is superb, and exposure flexibility
and creative control are excellent. If you're in the market for
a top-of-the-line 'prosumer' digicam, you should definitely put
the C-5050 on your (very) short list!"
colleagues of mine have purchased and are using a C-5050;
each of them has commended it as highly-capable, with user-friendly
(note: in October/ November 2003 it was superseded by two new/
improved-features models, the C-5050Z, and better yet,
the C-5060 model). Each of 'em is a top-of-the-consumer-grade
camera with rugged titanium chassis and an intuitive feature
set, 5.1 megapixel resolution, capture excellent images. Perhaps
best of all, the C-5060 provides wide-angle zoom down
to 27mm wide-angle equivalent (zoom range equivalent of 27mm-110mm)--I
personally need wide-angle capability far more often than I need
long zoom. As with any camera, I implore you to spring
for a separate electronic flash, since the built-in flash on
most cameras is only marginally effective when you use it out
in the midday sunlight... where your photos benefit most from
maximum flash illumination; on that note, Olympus offers
an excellent "bracket/grip handle" (FL-BK01) so you
can mount their (superb, but pricey) FL-40 strobe flash unit.
Good stuff. There are of course other good brands and models
you can consider; I wish I could test and report to you as thoroughly
on other models and brands, but, alas, I haven't the time! Here
are hotlinks to some C-5050, C-5050Z and C-5060 product-review
personally deem "no-brainer ease-of-use" to
be the single most important benchmark of a camera's effectiveness...
and the one that gets mentioned least often in ads and in reviews.
That is to say, so what if your digicam offers 5-megapixel
resolution and provides you with 17-dozen 'features,' if you
hafta scratch your head and/or break out the manual every time
you need to change a setting.
to many folks' misconception, you needn't spend a lot of money
to purchase a very capable and well-appointed digital camera
(altho' the OEMs still charge too much for their electronic flash
units). But as with any other high-tech product, you MUST do
your homework first... before you fork out your folding money.
should seriously consider increasing your
camera's capabilities with a powerful strobe flash unit:
you spring for purchasing the OEM's electronic flash unit, I
urge you to check your camera store or the Internet and see if
other flash makers (e.g., Vivitar, Sunpak or Osram)
make a flash that is designed to match the capabilities of your
camera's OEM flash... for a fraction of the OEM's price. Modern
flash units provide you with high-end capabilities you might
not be aware of, among them:
A good strobe flash provides you with SIGNIFICANTLY MORE illumination;
this is critically important for your out-in-the-sunlight
shots--where you most need to use your flash!
the flash head ZOOMS with your zoom lens... and throughout
the entire zoom range of your zoom lens;
the flash unit communicates with your camera's light meter, so
that the flash illumination is fully taken into account as you're
taking each shot, and
on most modern flash units, you can rotate the flash head (and
on both axes: laterally as well as vertically). I put this capability
to good use. For example, when I'm shooting a 3/4 front/side
shot of a car, I'll let my camera's built-in flash provide the
illumination for the (close-to-me) front fender, and rotate the
strobe flash head to provide more illumination on the (further
away) rear of the car, thus providing smoother, more evenly-distributed
here's yet another strobe flash tip for you:
since your strobe flash head is typically high above your camera,
you can turn your camera upside down, enabling your flash to
"get down low" beneath the "chin" of your
car (and beneath the dashboard in your cockpit shots) and thus
better illuminate those otherwise murky shadow areas.
another digital-camera product-reviews site:
home page reads: "Welcome to Digital Photography Review,
where you'll find all the latest in digital photography and imaging
news, reviews of the latest digital cameras and accessories,
the most active discussion forums, a large selection of sample
images, a digital camera buyers guide, side-by-side comparisons
and the most comprehensive database of digital camera features
SmartMedia and CompactFlash memory cards: Check out
Their prices on storage cards are among the best. (If you stumble
across similar or better prices, let me know!)
any case, I hope you'll rely upon these (above) resources for
your digital camera consumer information... instead of waltzing
into an electronics superstore and asking the kid behind the
counter "Which digital camera should I buy?"...
a tactic that virtually seals your fate to wind up with anything
but your best bang for the buck.
final cautionary note: digital MOVIE cameras
makers of digital MOVIE cameras routinely advertise and mislead
you to believe that you can use their movie camera to take still
The still-frame resolution (customarily 320x240 pixels) alone
effectively torpedoes any hope you have of capturing a usable
image, PLUS the excessive JPEG compression lays-to-waste the
few pixels that you do capture on each frame. And as for features
such as selecting shutter speeds, or employing forced/fill flash?
cannot use a digital MOVIE camera to capture decent still photos.
Batteries and Chargers
I receive a lot of questions about digital cameras and related
topics; you see, I added an Olympus D600L digital picture-taker
to my grab-bag of Nikon equipment way back in 1998... which still
resides in my camera case as a backup unit. In any event, here's
some hot news for you: you can obtain those top-of-the-line/top-rated
MAHA/Powerex AA Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries, and rechargeable
lithium batteries,at Thomas Distributing's website
also lots of entertaining and useful information about batteries
in general. And their NiMH battery charger (the battery-conditioning
model, the MAHA/Powerex model# C204W, at $29.97
USD is a runaway best value; it's full-featured and very compact
in size, and recharges both AA and AAA size batteries, and both
NiMH and NiCD (nickel cadmium) batteries. For the record, "conditioning"
a NiMH battery means to "drain it down to minimal charge,"
and according to expert advisories is important to do occasionally
to maintain your NiMH batteries in peak operating condition.
Thus having a "drain/condition" feature on your NiMH
charger (and, of course, using the feature periodically) should
ensure both peak performance and a longer life for your NiMH
Dave Etchells' test of this charger concludes with: "It
seems to us that the C-204 is just about the perfect battery
charger for digicam enthusiasts. It's fast, reasonably gentle
on batteries, super compact, and reasonably priced. Very highly
recommended. Don't think twice, if you have a digicam that uses
AA cells, buy one of these and a couple of sets of high-capacity
NiMH batteries. When it comes to compact battery chargers, the
C-204 is about as good as it gets!"
reader advised me that (North American) retailers "Costco"
and "Sam's Club" also offer low prices on NiMH batteries,
Thanks for some great camera tips; I read your recommendation
on the AA NiMH batteries with interest because I recently bought
some at Sam's at a super deal. Sam's had a package of 8-AA energizers
in 1700 mah NiMH with a companion charger that charges NiMH or
NiCad at the flip of a switch. The total package is $19.95. I
don't know how they do it. All the Birmingham Sam's Club
offered this deal, and I bought several for friends who don't
get into town often."
me to the top of this page!
Pell City, Alabama
to Mustang Country home page
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odometer for Motorcar Photography Tips
beginning 30 June 2002
"Motorcar Photography Tips" by Curt
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of "Motorcar Photography Tips" by Curt Scott
last revised 12 June 2006