Under The Hood

How to take bad photos

With spring approaching for many collectors, and it’s time to take the old truck or car out. And while it’s out and clean, why not take some nice photographs of it?
Taking good photographs isn’t very difficult, especially with today’s idiot-proof digital cameras. Thanks to these cameras, hobbyists capturing the image of their car or truck only have to look to the details to obtain a well-composed shot.
After years of taking photographs of my own cars and other people’s cars, and looking at other people’s photos, I’ve captured some “how-not-to” images. The images below show what to avoid when photographing a car, and use an immaculate, unrestored 1962 Ford Thunderbird that goes unflattered, thanks to the poor photography methods exhibited here. Don’t let your car end up like this poor Thunderbird!

No, the gap in the door isn’t due to poor build quality, it’s caused by an inattentive passenger who hasn’t figured out how to shut the door (without slamming it, of course). Make sure the hood, doors and deck lid are shut before doing the same with your camera’s shutter.

There are a lot of things wrong here. That’s sure a nice, orange plow truck in the background. And that light pole appears to have fresh paint, as do the yellow stripes in the parking lot. Oh, wait, this photograph is supposed to be centered on a 1962 Thunderbird. Also notice that, even from afar, the door is clearly not shut all the way.


What’s that growth coming out of the Thunderbird’s roof? Did a linear meteor fall from outer space and penetrate the T-Bird? Did Jack plant a bean between the ‘Bird’s bucket seats? Nope, it’s a light pole. Before snapping a picture, make sure there are no distractions behind the car, especially vertical signs, trees, poles, etc. Also, notice how the lines in the parking lot fight with the car, particularly because they are perpendicular to the car. Even avoid taking photos of the car while it’s parked parallel to such lines, as they remain distracting and often reflect in the car’s paint.

Who is that photographer? Oh, wait, who cares? The subject is the bumper end, not the person behind the camera. Few care what type of camera you are using, and those who might won’t be impressed enough to care since a composition that includes the photographer and their equipment is poor. Detail shots are great, and not enough people take them, but be sure to adjust your angle by moving side to side or crouching down to stay out of the shot.

Sins abound in this view. There’s the sumo wrestlers on the dash, the hat hanging from the rearview mirror and the partially open window, as well as the reflection of a light pole. Sure, this is a close-up view that few would take, but even with the car in full view, these distractions would show up.

See? I told you they would show up. Here’s a view from a step back. Notice that the reflection of the light pole can be seen in the windshield and how the condensation coming out of the tailpipe makes it appear this car burns enough oil to make the Saudis salivate. And does the window not go all the way down? Or all the way up? Button up the car’s windows, shut it off and take your picture, preferably in a location without those lame yellow stripes.

How many things wrong can you spot in this photo? There’s that green swap meet sign poking up from behind the car. That background has many different depths, which only make the viewer want to walk past the car. The worst sin of all, at least to someone such as myself, is that the car is parked on grass when there’s a path nearby. Cars are driven on roads, driveways and other established paths, not on your crabby neighbor’s well-manicured lawn. Therefore, your car should be pictured on an established path for a more realistic shot. When a car is pictured next to a path or a road, but not on it, the viewer is given the impression the car was pulled over due to a malfunction. If that’s not what you’re trying to portray, stay off the grass!

This one is simple: Get your car or truck in the middle of the camera viewer! Also, unless you’re selling the car, no one cares if you remembered to set the date on your camera or when you took the photo.


Clean, non-distracting backgrounds are great, but get too bland and it doesn’t help the car. In this spot, the T-Bird looks like it’s parked in a dark alley while its owner is off to conduct some illegal activity that may or may not put the French Connection to shame.

Don’t be afraid of your car – unless it’s Christine, it won’t bite. Get your car square in the center of the view finder with a little space around the edges.

There are many other tips, such as avoiding taking photos on sunny days to avoid shadows and making sure the wheels are not turned towards the camera. This will only help you get started towards better photographs that emphasize your car’s beauty. If captured correctly, photographs of your car should appeal to the senses and make you feel like hopping in for a long cruise. If not, take another picture until you do!

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