Car Photography in Motion: 8 Tips

If you always wanted to shoot rolling car shots, here is a video you simply can’t overlook. Moe Zainal shares the tricks, tips, and safety elements to keep in mind when attempting moving car photography:

1. Safety

First things first. Don’t overlook safety precautions before trying out something like this.

car photography safety

Zainal wanted to go into the trunk of the photography car without any straps. That would have been risky, because he would have rolled side to side at the corners, especially during sharp turns.

2. Communication

It is imperative that you have a clear channel of communication between the driver and yourself and anyone else, for that matter, who you need to be in contact with during the actual shoot. Zainal was working with professionals who have done this many times before. But it was still important to know how he would be calling out when he needed the car to go left or right, and so on.

3. Aperture

Zainal explains that his favorite aperture, at least for this particular shoot, was between f/11 and f/13.

aperture car rolling shots

At f/11 to f/13 the focus won’t vary too much even when the distance between the subject car and the photography car changed.

Zainal was using a wide angle lens on the first day of the shoot and he changed that to a 24–70mm, which gave him decent coverage between semi-wide angle to narrow shots. He wanted to make sure that the focus was still sharp when he changed the focal length.

The other reason for the choice of aperture was that Zainal was looking for a large depth of field. The blur that he was looking for was motion blur and not bokeh. So, he needed the background to be sharp while there was some motion blur on the track and the wheels.

4. Speed

Speed is directly related to safety. Zainal was looking for the cars to be moving at a speed of 60 to 70 miles per hour. But the Audi people were worried that at that speed the trunk of the photography car would slam right over Zainal. In the end, the shoot was done at an average speed of 40 mph. Whatever speed you end up shooting at, Zainal suggests that the speed of both cars match to make this work.

5. Shutter Speed

moving car shutter speed

Use a slow shutter speed—something like 1/40 or 1/30 second—to make sure that you have the car in focus with a healthy amount of motion blur. Zainal was using a Sony a7R II, which has a five-axis image stabilization system.

6. Focus Area

Zainal explains that during the shoot the car would move from side to side on the track, so he had to be flexible with the focus point. He assigned a button on the back of his camera as a custom focus point selector. It made it very simple to change the focus point during the shoot.

7. ISO

As his aperture and shutter speed were fixed, Zainal had to change ISO whenever he felt the shot was over or under-exposed.

fast car photography ISO setting

Zainal chose to use a custom button—the dial on the back of the camera—to change the ISO.

8. Drive Mode

Make sure that the camera is set to continuous high shooting mode, making a series of images at its highest frame rate per second, for as long as you have the shutter button pressed down or the buffer runs out, whichever happens first.

A million things can go wrong during this kind of shoot. You don’t want to be left without the shot that you need. Even just one shot in focus, sharp and with beautiful motion blur, would make your day.

Have you had a chance to try out rolling car photography? What tips do you have to share?

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