How to take sweet car photos on your phone

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Cameron Neveu

If I had a nickel every time I heard, “The best camera is the one you have with you,” I’d have enough money to retire from photography completely. Despite the overuse, the old adage rings true, especially with the advent of the camera phone. Digital cameras can be overwhelming. With expensive lenses, complex settings, and convoluted importing processes, sometimes it’s much easier to pull out your phone and tap away.

Are you maxing out the potential of your phone’s camera? Whether you plan to use the photos for an auction listing or for your career as the next automotive influencer, these few tips will help you go from casual snapper to camera phone conqueror.

For this exercise I visited BradCo Restorations in Warren, Michigan, armed with my iPhone XR.

The shot

Low angle versus high. It’s your call, and really depends on the car. If there’s something unique about the top of the car, like a hood scoop or graphics, don’t obscure it by shooting too low. Don’t be shy to climb a nearby tree or crawl in the grass to capture a car’s best angle. You don’t always need to, though. I love the spacious greenhouse on a BMW 2002, for example, and attacking that car at chest level flatters the coupe’s classy proportions. In the case of this 1969 Alfa 1750 GTV, I was really digging the vertical grille, so I went for a low angle.

Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV
Cameron Neveu

The XR has a 26-mm lens. This lens is fairly wide, so the image may be slightly distorted. If the car is in the center of the frame, it will look drastically different than it would at, say, the edge of the frame. Use this to your advantage and exaggerate the car’s proportions. For the image below, I held my phone above my head, making sure the front of the car was in the center of the frame. (Notice how the perpendicular lines in the concrete seem to angle backwards towards a vanishing point.) Some phones have multiple cameras with varying degrees of distortion. The iPhone 11, for example, has a telephoto lens that preserves the subject’s proportions.

Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV
Cameron Neveu

Gatherings like cars and coffee events (when they reappear as weekend staples) or neighborhood car-spotting will have tons of fodder. The trick is eliminating the distracting bits from the background so the viewer can focus on the car. Don’t forget to use the angle to your advantage—by shooting the Alfa low, I was also able to eliminate a pesky mailbox in the background.

Polarizer

Perhaps the most underrated tool in photography, a polarizing filter minimizes glare. For broad, reflective vehicle surfaces, one of these is a must. In this exercise, I used a polarizer from my digital camera kit, but companies make tiny filters exclusively for camera phones. Once you have a filter over your camera’s eye, simply rotate the polarizer until the reflection is eliminated. The photo on the left was taken without a polarizer. Both are unedited. Check out how much of the reflection disappears with the addition of the filter on the right. (Chef’s kiss!)

Life hack: You can also use a pair of polarized sunglasses to achieve the same effect.

Editing

There are plenty of mobile editing applications. Snapseed is one of the top free apps, and I used it on this occasion. Typically, I drop the highlights, reduce the shadows, add a little bit of contrast, and crop the image so that the car is level. Ask the next photographer, and they’ll tell you they do the exact opposite. The best thing you can do is experiment and find your style. In addition to my usual adjustments, I also used Snapseed’s Perspective feature to straighten the garage door and exaggerated the Alfa’s natural lines.

 

Maybe you have some dough and want to take things a step further—you can purchase the authority in photo editing, Adobe Lightroom, for $9.99 per month. If Snapseed is a puddle, Lightroom is an ocean.

Pitfalls

Make sure your camera is clean. Oily fingers and linty pockets will cloud your camera’s lens. Always check it before shooting.

Don’t zoom. Zooming on most camera phones will drastically lower the resolution. Want your subject to appear larger in-frame? Use those legs.

Discussion

Have your own tips? Let us know in the comments below.

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