Finding the right locations for car photography is an essential part of taking great photos. It’s easy to overlook something that sounds so simple but it can make the difference between an average looking photo and something you can be proud of. Clients will be impressed that you have more to offer than your photography skills.
Requirements for a location will depend a lot on the car and the style that you want to create but finding locations should be a key part of it creating your car photography. Here are some tips that I hope you will find useful in finding your next location for a great car photo.
When to look for locations
After you’ve been taking car photos for a while, you will develop a habit of looking out for locations without realising. A trip to the shops or a weekend drive in the country will take you past places you will have seen many times before but when looking through the eyes of a car photographer, you’ll see places in a new light.
Going out for a drive in the area you need a location is one of the best ways to find the best places for photos. Walking can be even better as you have less to focus on and can take more time to take in your surroundings.
What to look for
Next time you are out, here are some ideas of what to look for;
Bridges often have hidden spaces underneath or nearby that make ideal locations for a photo.
Multi-storey car parks are used all the time for car photoshoots. They are easy to find, perfect whatever the weather and empty for at least a few hours every day. If the top floor is on the roof then even better but if originality is what you are after then look elsewhere.
Quiet country roads that go nowhere are an obvious choice as there won’t be much traffic. Look on a map to see if you can see any roads that lead to a dead end. Just make sure it’s safe to stop the car and take photos.
Interesting roads with ’S’ bends can help with the composition of a nice photo although finding one with minimal traffic can be hard.
Unused or derelict buildings often have space around which makes for a moody looking background. Just make sure to get permission if it’s private property.
Open spaces are good for car photography as there are less distractions and less reflections to deal with especially on black cars. Just make sure that the road surface is suitable for the car and not a grass field if you’re not shooting an off road vehicle.
Interesting buildings make for good backgrounds if you can find one with space to park the car on a good surface.
Empty warehouses make nice all weather locations where light can be controlled but suitable spaces can be hard to find.
Check other local photographers on Instagram and see what locations they have used. Some will happily tag or share the location but others might keep it private to avoid them becoming overused.
Google maps or the map on your phone is another ideal place to find points of interest.
Picking the best time
Revisit locations at different times of day to see how the light changes but also to understand other factors like traffic and how a site is used. A car park for example can be empty in the early morning or evening but impossible to find a space during the day. A business park busy with heavy traffic on a weekday will probably be deserted at the weekends.
Even the time of year can be a factor as spaces get used for different activities with the changing seasons.
If you have no control over the time of day to photograph a car then picking a location that gives some shade from strong sun is important. Most cars will look best in the soft morning or evening ‘golden hour’ light so to avoid harsh shadows try to find the shade from a building or trees.
Some locations come and go very quickly so try to use them when you have the chance. I recently found a building development where roads were closed off but still accessible although leading to a dead-end. For a few days it was a nice quiet spot for photos until the bulldozers finally moved in.
Keep notes about locations
When you find an interesting spot for a car photo, make notes, mark them on a map and take a photo to remind yourself as it might not be immediately suitable.
Don’t assume that locations will stay the same, always double check before a shoot that it’s how you remember. I recently re-visited a favourite spot only to find a block of flats going up in its place!
Getting a car to the location
Having found the perfect location for your photo, plan how you will get the car there.
Check for obstacles that might stop you getting to your chosen location, consider how you will be getting there as well as the car to photograph.
You don’t want to have a car owner to drive to your chosen spot only to discover that its low ride height means that can’t make it over a speed bump on route. Since you want the car to be clean when it arrives, try to avoid mud or dirt roads, the car owner will thank you too!
Match the car with the location
The location needs to fit with the car. Unless it’s an off-road vehicle, parking a car in a grassy field might look nice but it won’t look natural. Of course you can be creative but don’t push it so much that the first impressions of a photo is to try to understand what the car is doing there – it should look like it belongs in its surroundings.
The colour of the car can dictate the location. A black car acts like a mirror and will reflect more than other colours, so an open space will work best. You can also use the colour of the car to either match its surroundings or create contrast where the car will stand out.
Research the car you will photograph to see what others have done before. See what type of setting works best and get ideas for a composition.
Locations from above
Don’t always think about a car photoshoot locations from the ground, sometimes you might need a shot from high.
Requirements for a location like this will be quite different. An interesting pattern or lines of the ground, the shape of a road as it twists through the countryside or dust clouds kicked up on a dirt road. Features like this won’t be immediately obvious from the ground but might be easier to find on Google Maps.
When you’re not in an area where you are familiar with local drone laws make sure to check first if it’s ok to fly. If you can’t use a drone think about a location where you can get up high with your camera instead. A tall building or a car driving under a bridge are great examples where height will give you a birds view angle.