Lifestyle

Cool Car-Photo Tips I Learned from an Automotive Photography Expert

All thanks to a Cars ’n’ Couture workshop with master shooter Larry Chen and Canon.

As Automobile‘s social-media editor, I spend a lot of time posting about auto shows, photo shoots, and big car-industry events. I snap loads of photos on my phone, but I don’t get a lot of experience using a real-deal camera. When I found out that automotive photographer Larry Chen had an open spot for an installment of his series of workshops that he does in partnership with Canon, I jumped on the opportunity to hone my abilities and learn some new skills.

The theme of the workshop was Cars ’n’ Couture, meaning we’d split our time photographing both vehicles and models. The idea is that although automotive photographers mainly shoot cars, whether stationary or in motion, we often cover events where real human beings are involved. Imagine that.

I was shooting on the Canon 5D MkIII that I sometimes use and started the day working with cars before switching over to model photography in the afternoon. The day was as much of a private car meet as it was a workshop, though, as Chen’s close friends and connections trickled in and out with a dazzling array of Japanese Domestic Market builds, along with several exotics and other classics. It was a good day for any car enthusiast, even completely outside of the photographic primer I received. Here are the five biggest takeaways I received from the master:

1) Get low. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many folks in our industry seem to struggle with snapping basic photos of cars. An easy way to make huge quality improvements with little effort is to simply kneel down when you snap the picture. Cars look better if you photograph them at their beltline, so next time you see something cool on the street, pop a squat before you click the shutter.

2) Let the tech do the work. Chen is a believer in camera technology and thinks shooting manual with a modern body is unnecessarily anachronistic. For example, there’s no reason to go through extra steps to manually focus when the camera can do the same thing faster and better than you. The next tip I learned at the workshop gets even further into why aspiring automotive photographers should make the most of their cameras’ features.

3) Shoot stationary vehicles in AV mode. Chen suggested that I take the camera out of auto and instead use the “AV” mode when shooting stationary vehicles. This puts the camera in “Aperture Priority Mode,” allowing the user to adjust the aperture settings while the camera handles the shutter speed. Using this technique, I found that I was able to capture more frames in focus while also getting the exposure on my photos correct. Our workshop was specific to Canon cameras, so if you use another brand, you’ll have to check online or in your camera’s manual for the equivalent of this mode.

4) Shoot moving vehicles in TV mode. “TV” mode prioritizes shutter speed instead of aperture. When Chen is at a Formula Drift event, he uses “TV” mode to capture the motion of a sidewise car without blurring the actual subject. I didn’t get a chance to play around this at the workshop, but I plan on taking advantage of it when doing other coverage for the site in the future. Again, on other brands of cameras, you’ll have to search for an equivalent setting.

5) RAW files are an editor’s best friend. My final takeaway from Chen was to switch my camera over to capture images in RAW format rather than large JPGs. When I got my 5D MkIII, it was set up to save photos in the latter format for the sake of saving space on my memory card, as the files are so much smaller. However, the advantage of saving photos in RAW is that the files contain much more data. Not only do images saved as RAWs have more depth, but software like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop have more information about what was saved, meaning you have a far broader range in which to adjust highlights, shadows, exposure, and more when tweaking images before the final export.

While tips like these may be “no duhs” for folks with more than a modicum of experience handling a full-feature camera, they’ve completely changed the way I approach photography and my daily job. The workshop offered the building blocks to quickly start honing your own photography, and I gained skills to improve the work I do for Automobile’s Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. I hope you’ve noticed.

If you’re interested in attending a Larry Chen workshop—or any type of similar experience—keep an eye on Canon’s events calendar. which can be filtered by location, instructor, and more.