Capturing the essence of car shows: Cars, crowds and details

Capturing the essence of car shows: Cars, crowds and details

Car shows are a celebration of automotive artistry, engineering prowess, and the unspoken bond between man (and woman) and machine. These events offer a kaleidoscope of experiences, from admiring the sleek curves of classic cars to soaking in the electric atmosphere created by passionate enthusiasts.

I recently spent a morning at the Father’s Day Motor Rally in Ipswich. With so many people in attendance, it was actually quite difficult at times to get a clear shot of just the car. As a photographer or an enthusiast, one often faces the delightful dilemma of deciding what to capture: the cars, the crowds or the intricate details.

Cars: The stars of the show

When you attend a car show, it’s impossible to ignore the stars of the event: the cars themselves. Each vehicle on display is a work of art, a testament to human ingenuity, and a symbol of personal passion. To capture the cars effectively, consider these tips:

  • Angles and Perspectives: Experiment with different angles and perspectives. Get down low for dramatic shots that emphasize the car’s power and presence, or try shooting from above to highlight its design details.
  • Close-Ups: Zoom in on specific features that make the car unique. Whether it’s the curves of a vintage fender, the shine of chrome accents, or the intricate design of alloy wheels, close-ups reveal the car’s personality.
  • Lighting: Often at car shows you are dealing with bright sunlight, especially if outside. There is no cover and it can be challenging. Natural light can create stunning effects, but it can be harsh. While artificial lighting can help emphasize specific details, not everyone wants to carry one. Using a polarizer to reduce glare and reflections can also be helpful (if you remember to bring it!).

Crowds: The enthusiastic community

Car shows are more than just a showcase of automobiles; they’re gatherings of passionate enthusiasts. Chatting to car owners and car watchers alike can be fun and fascinating too. Capturing the crowd can provide a sense of the event’s energy and camaraderie:

  • Candid Shots: Candid photos of people interacting with cars or fellow enthusiasts can convey genuine excitement and shared enthusiasm at a car show.
  • Portraits: Approach attendees and ask if you can take their portraits. This allows you to capture the diversity of the crowd, from young and old to families and solo enthusiasts. While not for everyone, it’s something to consider.
  • Action Shots: Capture the buzz of the event by photographing people in motion — admiring cars, discussing features or participating in activities like tire-changing contests or revving competitions.

Details: the devil’s in the details

Car enthusiasts often revel in the intricate details of a vehicle. Photographing these details can reveal the craftsmanship and artistry behind each automobile, I must admit, this is what I often photograph, even with my wide-angle!

  • Macro Photography: Use a macro lens or feature on your camera to capture minute details like the texture of leather seats, the stitching on the dashboard, or the fine lines of custom paint jobs.
  • Abstract Shots: Experiment with abstract compositions by focusing on small portions of a car’s design, like a side mirror or a tailpipe. This can create visually striking and thought-provoking images.
  • Contrasts: Highlight the contrast between different materials, colors and textures within a vehicle. For example, juxtapose the cold, hard steel of an engine with the warm, inviting glow of wood paneling on a vintage car’s dashboard.
Who remembers Christine (the movie & book)
Who remembers Christine (the movie and book)?

Gear: What to take

This is always the puzzle when you leave the house, what to take. Apart from the usual, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and comfy walking shoes, there is the camera gear.

  • Travel light. I literally only took my Sony 16-35mm wide-angle on my Sony A7RV (so I could get wide-angle shots up close). It can also do a fair shot of crowds and close-up details. I set my ISO to 100 my minimum shutter speed to 1/125 second. I shot in Aperture Priority mode at roughly F/4.
  • Keep it real. To be fair a wide-angle, a macro (possibly on two cameras), a small ring light or speed light, a CPL would all be handy, if you’re happy to carry it all.
  • Go for broke. IF you are a major enthusiast, take it all: multiple cameras and lenses, speed lights, light boxes, tripods, triggers and more. But be warned, the people I did see with this stuff were not taken favorably by the general public.
Don't forget your sense of humour
Don’t forget your sense of humor!

Car shows are a treasure trove of visual opportunities for photographers and enthusiasts alike. Rather than get frustrated or limit yourself to capturing just one aspect of the car show (i.e. the cars), explore the true magic of these events by focusing on the cars. But also the crowds, and the details. People ARE going to get in your way, walk into shots and just don’t care … go with the flow.

By doing so, you’ll document the automotive splendor and the vibrant culture and community that make car shows a memorable experience for all. And most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the show.

Want more tips on photographing cars? Check out these articles:

  • Tips for photographing old cars
  • Photographing and seeing art in cars