The Distinctive Art of Automotive Photography

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To the untrained eye, a photo is a photo. To an automotive photographer, each image is unique in its form and format. Every click of the shutter offers the opportunity to perfectly capture a vehicle’s purpose and personality. 

The art of automotive photography itself is a unique field. It requires a specialized set of skills and knowledge, and offers its own challenges that differ from other types of advertising photography. It is far more than simply pointing a camera at a car and hoping for a great shot.

Mark DeLong is an experienced automotive photographer and has worked with brands such as Nissan, INFINITI, Mercedes,  BMW and many more. Our overview will provide insight into the industry and allow readers to discover exactly what automotive photography is. 

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What is Professional Automotive Photography? 

You’ve seen the sleek images of brand new cars on websites and other advertising campaigns. Every time a car manufacturer releases a new model, it splashes the media with photos and videos of the vehicle. The car looks gorgeous, and the ads are designed to make you want to drive away in one today.

This advertising is a huge investment for car manufacturers each year. In fact, the automobile industry is the second-largest digital advertising spender by category in the United States. 

A key aspect of these advertising efforts is photography. Manufacturers rely on transmitting quality images of their vehicles to the public for effective campaigns.

How is this achieved? The companies hire an automotive advertising photographer, also referred to at times as a “professional car photographer” or simply “car photographers.” This specialized photographer knows how to properly photograph a vehicle to help it look its best and offer appeal to customers. 

The automotive photographer uses lighting, location and technical expertise to make the car look desirable. Advertising automotive photography turns the car into the star of the show. By applying creative design, the automotive photographer creates images the manufacturer can use to spotlight its product and make people want to own it.

It’s really more of a culture and way of life than a job: 

  • The photographer has to understand cars and what it takes to make them look great.

  • They can’t rely on the car itself to make the shot great, either.

In fact, the quality of the car has little to do with the quality of the photo. A brand-new, exclusive model does not guarantee a good image. It is up to the automotive photographer to create a winning photo.

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The Focus of Automotive Photography

This creation of a winning photo requires in-depth knowledge of automotive photography and extensive experience. A professional automotive photographer must focus on the proper look or style to set each automotive image apart from the next. 

They must start with a concept. They consider what the goal of the image will be: 

  • Should the ad emphasize speed?

  • Safety?

  • Economy?

  • Luxury?

  • Who is the audience?

  • Where will the ad be seen and when?

The automotive advertising photographer weighs each of these aspects to create the proper concept for the shoot. This drives the selection of all other facets of the photo.

The other aspects include location, composition, movement, lighting and processing. Advertising automotive photographers key in on a car’s environment and its use. They must find an ideal place for the shot that will emphasize the car’s appeal and not distract from it. The automotive photographer must also select the right time of day and lighting. In final processing, they must apply the best techniques to achieve an optimal final result that will make the car look its best.

By focusing on these external environmental factors, the automotive photographer sets up the best scenario possible to achieve stellar images of the vehicle that will make consumers want to own it. This, of course, is the ultimate goal of automotive advertising photography.

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The Expertise Required to Photograph Cars

Not every photographer possesses the right set of tools to accomplish this goal. The concepts of lighting, movement and final processing must be executed with precision. Doing so requires in-depth knowledge and experience. 

Mark DeLong offers both. As an automotive advertising photographer, Mark brings a large portfolio of experience to every project. His successful endeavors include campaigns for Mercedes, INFINITI, Nissan, BMW and many more. 

A professional advertising photographer should offer expertise in commercial production, including storyboarding, cinematography and technical gear. Their production methods make every project a success, delivering the high-quality assets their clients desire. Mark can do all of these things, such as:

  • Extreme attention to detail, including the adeptness to direct large sets and the technical acuteness to produce the most elegant lighting schemes.

  • Understanding the importance of client-photographer collaboration. This partnership creates effective promotion of the client’s product and results in the best automotive photography.

  • Managing an array of production details, which includes providing a highly trained crew of professionals to handle all the aspects of the project.

  • Handling all post-production work for automotive advertising photography in-house, which adds consistency to the process.

Focal Point

With automotive photography, the car is the focal point, not models. This changes many aspects of the photographer’s techniques as well as the requirements for a good image. 

When focusing on a car, the photographer must interact with an inanimate object to make it come alive in the image. They must maintain the focus of the image on the car rather than other objects in the photo. 

The color of the car is key in this focus. Just as models should wear colors that are flattering for their skin tones, a car must wear the right lighting and background to enhance its color. Some car colors work well in direct sunlight, while others do poorly. Additionally, selecting a background that includes a highlight of the car’s color can bring out the beauty of the paint job. 

For the background, it’s also key to choose something that suits the car and the theme: 

  • First, the automotive photographer must place the car in an environment that enhances the car’s utility and fashion.

  • Then, they must ensure nothing is in the background that would distract the eye.

  • Lastly, the photographer must decide what, if any, movement and speed they will portray with the still. Will the background be a blur as the car races by, or will it offer a tranquil setting to enhance the appeal of the vehicle?

The selections they make are determined by the vision cast by the manufacturer. The skill of the automotive photographer brings them to life. 

Motion

Most general commercial photography involves static images. Automotive advertising photographers must know the proper techniques for capturing movement as well as static shots that show off an automobile’s distinguishing profile. 

Ultimately, a vehicle is designed for movement, speed and performance. By shooting it in motion, the automotive photographer captures the car doing what it was created to do. The photographer may use driving shots, panning shots for blur or a number of other techniques to achieve movement in their stills. Tracking shots, panning shots, action shots and high-shutter speeds each highlight a different aspect of action to portray the vehicle’s attractive features. 

The goal of the automotive advertising photographer is to capture these features to make the car more than an inanimate object. Their quality image conveys the car’s history, character and pedigree. The image is a portrait of what the car represents. Depending on the manufacturer’s marketing goals, this could be: 

  • Freedom

  • Luxury

  • Speed

  • Safety

  • Success

Or it could be myriad other campaign targets. 

Editing

Processing images into top-quality final products takes precision techniques and a significant amount of time. This is true for any type of commercial photography, but especially so in automotive advertising photography. Editing can take longer for these images.

This process requires an automotive photographer possess expertise in both the camera and computer sides of photography. Modern automotive photos are rarely the result of a simple point-and-shoot method with no post-production. Automotive advertising photography is a combination of camera-craft and computer-craft. Technical skill with lenses and filters at the camera end is essential, as well as editing and processing skill at the computer.

Applying master methods at both ends, an automotive photographer can achieve impeccable results. 

Proper set-up to reduce the amount of editing required also takes time. An automotive photographer may moisten a road to make it look black and shiny. They may wait for the perfect time of day to achieve ideal lighting conditions. 

Similarities Between Automotive and Other Commercial Photographers

Automotive and other commercial photography also requires some of the same skills and tactics.  

Location

The location of the shoot is important for both automotive advertising photography and general commercial photography. The location sets the mood of the image and is an intricate part of conveying the image’s desired message. Because each subject offers a different personality and different features, the location must be selected carefully to match these and enhance the final image.

In other words, general commercial photographers and automotive advertising photographers must pick the ideal environment to create the best combination of variables for their specific subject. For automotive photography, this setting should be a locale that highlights the special features of that particular vehicle. It should appeal to the manufacturer’s target audience. 

For example, a truck might be photographed in a rugged setting to focus on its outdoor, 4-wheel drive and hauling capabilities. A sporty car might be photographed on a curved, open road to emphasize its speed and handling abilities. 

Brand Identification

In a commercial photography situation, it’s important to feature the brand’s logo in the image. This holds true for automotive advertising photography, too. Each image of the vehicle should clearly transmit the brand information to consumers, as in these photos. 

Knowledge

In any type of commercial photography, expertise is required. The photographer must know the proper techniques to achieve the goals of their commercial client. An in-depth knowledge of production prep, photography and post-production processes are all essential. 

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Accelerate Your Next Shoot With Mark DeLong

Mark DeLong is particularly skilled at creating custom automotive photography that enhances specific brand needs. He caters to clients in a way that allows his team to deliver iconic images that are timeless, identifiable and stand out in the marketplace.

A perusal of Mark DeLong’s portfolio will quickly reveal the difference in his work. He captures each client’s unique vision and produces images that bring the project to life. His photos don’t simply depict a vehicle. They effectively use lighting, motion, background and final production techniques to share the vehicle’s quality with the consumer. They transmit messages to allow the manufacturer to communicate with its audience through product images. 

Mark DeLong offers the refined technical skill needed for quality results in automotive advertising photography. His professionalism and experience make him the ideal automotive advertising photographer. Contact Mark DeLong to drive your next advertising campaign to success.