Cool Cars: How to Photograph Car Shows

by Kerry Drager

Hubcap Reflections at Car Show 2
Hubcap Reflections at Car Show 2
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Cool Tips for Cool Cars: Car-Show Strategies

Go early and stay late. In fact, visitors often can get into an event before the "official" start time – while car owners are setting up shop.

This allows you to take advantage of the early-morning light and the casual, pre-show atmosphere. Likewise, day's end may even yield some last-minute, warm-light images.

Hot Rod Pipes
Hot Rod Pipes
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Working With The Light

The soft-and-even light of an overcast day is ideal for recording bright colors and fine details – just be sure to minimize the amount of overpowering white sky in your picture.

In midday sunlight, shooting success hinges on flexibility: For instance, in the morning, a subject may be engulfed in shadows, but in the afternoon, the same vehicle may be shining in sunlight.

What To Take

At car shows, I put all of my lenses to work: from wide-angle to telephoto to macro. Other items:

  • A polarizing filter boosts colors by reducing glare. But preview the effects first to determine how much polarization – or how little! – you want.


    1933 Willys Coupe
    1933 Willys Coupe
    © Kerry Drager
    All Rights Reserved
  • Pack a small notebook in order to jot down the car's make and year (although you can also photograph the placard that's often displayed with the vehicle), and any additional tidbits.

Avoiding The Masses

Most showgoers gather near the "main stage" area. But great picture subjects exist on the fringes, too – far beyond the announcer’s stand and food booths.

In any case, what happens when that star car is surrounded by spectators? Try patience and previsualizing: Study your subject from afar, and imagine your composition by "framing" a photo in your mind. Then you'll be ready to move in when the people move on.


The Road to Cool Cars

To learn about the what-when-and-where specifics of car shows: Check with area car clubs. Consult visitors bureaus, newspaper/magazine listings, and events calendars. Watch for local advertisements. Google Cool Cars.



About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
Kerry Drager is a professional photographer, teacher and writer who is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light. He has taught many photography courses (online and in person), seminars and field workshops.

Be sure to check out Kerry's website - www.kerrydrager.com.

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also follow Kerry on Facebook, where he posts photos several times a week that include shooting tips and thoughts.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.