Auto industry Cars Driving Honda Photography Safety

Shooting Cars: How to Capture that Perfect Auto Image

Hamin & Honda
Photographer Hamin Lee shooting the 2016 Civic before our test drive

This post originally appeared on the Totem blog

Sometimes, those of us lucky enough to make magazines for a living are asked to share how we shot that image, found that story, nailed down that fascinating person for an interview.

Honestly, how we do these things is no secret, and it’s usually much less glamorous than people realize. Still, it’s often a lot of fun. Case in point: the photo shoot of the 2016 Honda Civic I was involved in awhile ago, the results of which appear in the spring issue of CAA Magazine.

Choose the right contrast to the scene

Hamin Lee, a freelance photographer and his assistant, Mark Luciani, joined me at the Civic’s launch in which journalists could try out the car in and around the Collingwood and Blue Mountain region. Mark and I each drove a car (his with a GoPro camera mounted on it) and Hamin rode shotgun with me, watching the route and scouting for places to stop and shoot. We chose white cars because they would look the best against a variety of natural backdrops, from overlooking Georgian Bay to tree-lined roads to farmer’s fields.

Keep it as safe as possible

Before we set out, we were warned (three times) to obey all traffic laws and to drive safely. It seems some of the journalists who had driven the route earlier in the week had pushed the Civic closer to the limits of its capabilities and had attracted the attention of the local police. A black and white cruiser sat conspicuously down the road from our first scheduled rest stop, visible to each of us as we pulled into the parking lot.

Don’t be shy about getting the best angle

Other than that, the most attention we received was from other drivers, many of whom slowed as they passed, watching as Hamin stood on the shoulder of the road with his camera, shooting the car on the opposite side or trying to gauge which way to place the car to catch the best light in an otherwise empty field. Shortly after, a woman in a Mercedes E-Class sedan also slowed but then pulled away abruptly in a hail of gravel, apparently unhappy that we were inadvertently blocking her entrance to the street. Later, a man in a beige Lincoln Navigator rolled passed us very slowly, eyeing us with his windows rolled down apparently wondering what three men and two white Honda Civics could possibly be doing stopped at the side of the road on such a sunny day. (The answer: trying to figure out how to place the car to shoot evergreen trees behind it, which are more appropriate for a spring magazine than the brilliant fall colours.)

Plan out your candid action shots

Then there’s the challenge of shooting a moving car. We used a few pretty simple methods. As I drove, Hamin would say, “let’s try something here.” I’d pull off the road, Hamin would get out, I’d backtrack about half a kilometre, wait for him to text me the OK and then drive past him at a consistent speed, avoiding the urge to look directly at the camera. Sometimes Hamin would point the camera from the back seat through the window and capture Mark’s car as he drove closely behind us.

But the real secret is…

The best method? The one that shows a car centred in its lane and moving at speed, appearing to come directly at the viewer, with the blacktop rushing by in a grey blur under its wheels? In the interests of maintaining good relations with the local police and not causing undue stress to my great clients, that one will need to remain a secret.

The spring issue of CAA Magazine is available now.