Automobile shots

I will be making pics of antique cars and they will be close together on the lot. I need to know what lens to use and settings if anyone could help. I've only been doing this 3 months and rely heavily on the cheat cards. The event will be outside.


  • That's going to be much a matter of taste, and depends some on whether you are trying to shoot a whole car or details, and also on how far away one can get from any car without bumping into another. Chances are that if they're packed close you'll need a fairly short lens, such as the 18-55 kit zoom. Up very close this will cause exaggerated perspective, but that can be very dramatic with cars. A wider angle and a fairly small aperture will also give you more depth of field, and put more of the view into focus.

    For intimate details such as brass radiator ornaments and hubcaps and escutcheons, a longer lens can help to provide a narrower view with a more natural perspective, but if you're using the standard 18-55 kit lens or something similar that's probably a good enough range. It's not likely you'll feel the need of anything longer than that.

    If conditions are bright watch out for glare that can blow highlights. You can get very nice reflections and specular highlights when you want, but you have to be a bit careful and may have to move around a bit, and it would not be a bad idea to bracket exposure using exposure compensation (or manual mode with Auto ISO turned off).

    Unfortunately, the kit lenses for the D3100 and 3200 have a rotating front element that makes a polarizing filter frustrating to use, but if you have a lens with internal focus, and a polarizing filter, that can help to tame unwanted glare. If you don't you'll have to move around some, and use the reflections to your advantage. Be careful when doing this that you don't accidentally put yourself or your shadow into the reflections. It's fine if you intend to, but annoying if you don't.

    For settings, tastes vary, but I'd turn off the auto ISO, set the ISO to 100, and use either aperture priority or manual. Manual mode is less likely to need constant compensation adjustment. The camera's meter is likely to be tricked by different shades of cars, and will tend to overexpose dark ones and underexpose light ones, so if the light is fairly consistent, I'd look for a manual setting that is right, and stick mostly with that. Try an aperture around F8 for starters, less if you want some blur in the backgrounds, a little more if you want maximum depth of field. The wider the zoom, the greater the DOF at any aperture. You may start to see softening of the image from diffraction at apertures smaller than F11 to 16, but the tradeoff may be worth it.

    If possible, get into your camera's playback menu and find the setting that enables different playback views. Look for the one called "overview." This provides a small image along with information and a histogram. The histogram will tell you at a glance if your exposure is off. There's also a view called "highlights," which will show the image with all the overexposed areas flashing. If you are shooting something like cars, expect a few specular highlights to be blown no matter what. If you save them the image will likely be too dark. But this can be a better indicator than the image alone of whether you need to lower exposure. The different playback views can be selected with the up/down movement of the rear control, so you need not be stuck with any one.

    If you have time, do some web searching for some car show images, and you may find some hints on how to get more impact.
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