F8 Industries Photography

How To Photograph A Car Show

There is a big difference between a full on photo shoot of a vehicle and photographing at a car show.

When a photo shoot is for a vehicle there are some very specific steps that I take, certain lighting and location choices.  It is an involved process that takes a few hours and I have a single vehicle as the star of the show.  When it comes to a car show (or rod run or similar) you won’t have the opportunity to setup lighting and prep a car, get the wheels turned just right, have the right location for a backdrop.  No, you’re in the middle of a sea of neat cars and trucks parked mirror to mirror, people walking all around, odd lighting from your primary light (the sun).  So a who different approach is taken.  Every once in a while, very rarely, if you are early enough and you find a vehicle that catches your eye, you’ll have the opportunity to take a few quick photographs of a vehicle without any clutter or people in your frame.

The custom car, Demon Camaro, on full display. The custom car, Demon Camaro, on full display.


“So should I even take my camera?”


Let us talk about how to photograph a car show or a rod run.

There are three basic approaches you can take for the photography and it depends on what your personal creative goals are:

  1.  Photographs of the cars
  2. Photographs of the overall event
  3. Photographs of people, similar to “street photography.”

Photographs of the cars.

With the opportunity to have wide full vehicle shots, my favorite thing to do is to snap on my favorite ultra-wide lens and get really close to vehicles to shoot details.  My second favorite thing to do is to snap on a telephoto lens (70-200) and zoom in to photograph small details of a vehicle.  Each have their own approach and it depends on the vehicles that are there and the room you have.  Nine times out of ten I’m walking around with an ultra-wide lens on my camera.  What is an ultra-wide?  In a crop sensor camera (APS-C, Nikon DX for example) 12-24mm is a popular ultra-wide focal length.  On full frame cameras (Nikon FX for example) the 16-28 or 16-35mm focal lengths are popular.  Those lenses are wide enough to build in some creative distortion, but without going full fish eye.


What do I do with them?  I meander and take photographs of whatever catches my eye.  Personally I gravitate towards hood ornaments and cool paint, especially pin striping.

A word about tripods:  they’re a near absolute no-go. 

“Why no tripods Dave, I thought you loved using tripods?”



You’re right, I prefer shooting on a tripod and if it was a full on custom car photo shoot I would be shooting from a tripod, but at a car show there are just too many people who could trip on your tripod, knock your camera over, break or even worse knock it into a custom car and cause thousands of dollars of damage to the paint of the vehicle!  So if you must use a support, get a monopod.


Photography of the overall event.

This is more of a walk around and take photographs that capture cars and people all in frame.  These sort of photographs are great if you are posting the photographs to the organizer’s social media, since it is more of a journalistic or documentary style photography.


Photographs of people.

Street photography at its finest.  This is a fun challenge and one that I would typically use my trusty 50mm f/1.8 or a good telephoto like my favorite 70-200mm lens.  That way I can capture emotions, reactions, laughter, handshakes…the list is boundless.


For me though, I’m a car guy, a greasy hand backyard wrench turner, I built the VW SuperBeetle seen in the gallery below from the ground up, so I get excited for the cars.  So you’ll see me hunched over with my big ultra-wide lens close to hood or grill taking my favorite kind of car show photograph.

Top! All photography and text copyrighted, Dave Lund and F8 Industries Photography