28mm – 1/40s – f16 – ISO 160
Everyone has seen them – photos of moving cars. These pictures often look very spectacular and dramatic. But creating these images ist not all that easy.
There are two ways to achieve these kind of pictures: The first is car to car, which means shot from a moving vehicle to another moving vehicle, be it car or bike. The second method is rig shots where a rig is mounted to a car and the camera then mounted to the rig. The car is then moved very slowly during a long exposure.
35mm – 1/30s – f5.6 – ISO 200
Both kinds of shooting have their own pros and cons. With rig shots for example, you always need to clone out the camera arm. It also takes a while to set up and of course, it comes with a relatively steep initial cost. On the upside, you have the opportunity of planning out your images to the smallest detail and you can create very unique camera angles. A rig shoot is also not dangerous in any way.
Regarding car to car pictures I’ll have to state a warning beforehand. The photographer will be leaning out of the car during highway speeds. This can be dangerous! I’ve been doing car to car shots for ten years now and I’ve never had anything happen – but I am aware of the danger.
28mm – 1/25s – f13 – ISO 125
Car to car photos usually feel a bit more ‘natural’ than rig shots. They are way cheaper to do because you don’t need to own a expensive rig. But you will need a driver and a suitable car.
Of both kinds, I only do car to car. As I’ve been doing this for a while now, I feel that I should share some of knowledge and experiences with you.
28mm – 1/30s – f6.3 – ISO 125
The right camera settings
First: There is no ‘right’ camera settings! You will always have to play around a bit because it all depends on the local conditions like the available light and the road conditions.
In general, you will want a wide angle lens, maybe even a ultra wide angle. Personally I like to use focal lengths between 28 and 35 mm on a full frame camera. 35mm is already a bit on the long side for car to car, though. On a APS-C camera with a crop factor, the equivalent focal lenghts would be around 15 to 20mm.
I usually set the camera to automatic aperture (which is the ‘Tv’ setting on Canons and the ‘S’ setting on Nikons) so I only have to set a shutter speed. The camera will automatically choose the fitting aperture.
28mm – 1/40s – f11 – ISO 50
In terms of shutter speeds, I play around a bit to find a setting I’m comfortable with it on each individual shoot. I usually end up shooting between 1/50s and 1/20s. The longer the shutter speed, the more dramatic the photo will look!
The camera’s focusing mode should be set to Ai Servo (on Canons) or AF-C (on Nikons). The reason being that these focusing modes allow continuous focusing which makes it possible to track moving objects.
28mm – 1/30s – f2.8 – ISO 800
The right camera car
The car from which you’ll be taking the pictures will be a major factor as well. Of course you can shoot from a stiff sports car – but don’t expect to hold very long shutter speeds because you’ll be shaking too much. It’s better to shoot from a car that rides soft, like a comfortable stock car with no lowering. After all, the smoother the ride, the longer the shutter speeds you can hold!
The window opening needs to be big enough so you can move around freely. In ideal case, you might have access to a minivan with a sliding side door.
I’d like to point out again that this kind of shooting is not without it’s dangers! Please ensure you can not fall out of the moving car, especially if you end up shooting from a vehicle with a sliding door.
30mm – 1/30s – f13 – ISO 125
The communication during such a shoot is often overlooked. But it needs to be addressed. Wether it’s the communication between photographer and chase car driver or between photographer and the driver of the car being shot.
It can get very loud in the car due to wind noise when shooting car to car. You will need to be able to communicate with your driver through short and precise gestures or words.
28mm – 1/30s – f18 – ISO 100
At the same time, the driver of the other car won’t be able to hear you. You will need to work out some easily understood hand gestures before hand – for example to say such things like ‘Come closer’ or ‘Stay put’.
My suggestion is to agree upon certain simple gestures before starting the shoot so there is no confusion when it comes time to direct the car!
28mm – 1/25s – f20 – ISO 125
The right technique
To ensure you get sharp results and not just a blurry mess or just one half of the car being sharp it’s important that both cars travel the same speed! Personally, I like to shoot around 100 to 120 kph (which is around 60 to 75 mph). Over the years this has turned out to be just right – going slower yields less movement in the picture and going faster usually makes the ride too harsh to hold long shutter speeds and everything will be a bit too hectic.
You need to hold your camera very securely! It would be a shame to drop your beloved camera when you’re hanging out of the car. I like to just wrap the camera strap around my wrist. Even if it slips from my hand, I still have a chance of catching it this way. But the strap also can be used another way – as a kind of stabilizer.
28mm – 1/30s – f10 – ISO 125
I like to shoot very low to the ground because it yields very dramatic looking shots. Usually I put the camera as low to the ground as possible and pull the strap tight with my other hand to stabilize it.
But of course you can also shoot the more traditional way and just look through your viewfinder while holding your camera normally. This will definitely give you a firmer hold on the camera.
28mm – 1/40s – f14 – ISO 160
There’s not much to say about post processing as there’s not much difference to normal photographs.
One thing you’ll want to watch out for however is sensor dirt. You will often shoot at a very small aperture which will make any dirt and dust spots on your camera’s sensor show up in the photos. These will of course have to be cloned out later.
35mm – 1/50s – f8 – ISO 200
I don’t presume to know everything or that everything I’ve said is correct – this is just what works for me. I’m hopeful this will help some of my fellow photographers out there!