Automotive: 2019 Ford Ranger Raptor & how I shoot cars.

I think that’s a pretty cool shot. It’s a truck doing its thing on a New Zealand beach, which counts as a road and all the laws/rules that govern such a thing. As long as you’ve got 4WD and a permit, you can drive up and down a beach no problem.


Shoot long. It’s OK to tilt the image. Think about the setting. 

Over the years I’ve shot a lot of cars. From Kias to Lamborghinis to Land Rovers, every one is a different challenge. Not least of all because of time constraints and location choices, like the good ol’ days of working for a national magazine and having literally 15 minutes to find a location, shoot, and get back to the office regardless of weather, time of day or any of those fun things to factor in. But, the flip side is it taught me to work quick, see the shot, get the shot, and get out.

Prior to this shoot for the 2019 Ranger Raptor I had a little discussion with motoring behemoth Dave McLeod from Tarmac Life – NZ’s premier motoring blog and information hub – to discuss the aforementioned location to shoot this kind of vehicle. It sounds obvious… and I guess it is, but where you shoot something and the setting in which it lives is all part of the story. We’ve been sadly forced to shoot a ton of cars in car parks over the years and it doesn’t help sell the product or the story. To me, trucks belong outdoors doing something messy. Muscle cars belong somewhere gritty. Race cars belong on a track. That sorta thing. Again, probably obvious but if you have a list of go-to options for each type of vehicle you’ve done half the work before you even head out the door.

Case in point: when I shot the Mustang. That wouldn’t look nearly as cool on a beach and the Raptor wouldn’t look as cool down this alley.

So, location. It’s important. In the same way that food photography isn’t about the food, car photography isn’t about the car. It’s about the setting and the environment.

What’s in the bag:

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
ThinkTank Retrospective 10
Canon 5d mk3 w/ the grip
BlackRapid Sport Breathe strap

Unless it’s a muscle car I shoot long. I like the background to be part of the image so I pull it forward as much as I can. That invariably means I take the 70-200 2.8 IS MkII and not much else unless there’s something specific in mind. It’s a honker of a lens, weighs 1.5kg, about a foot long and one of the most inconspicuous pieces of gear out there.

If I need wider or just want that distortion (like in the shoot above) to elongate the nose or back I’ll take a 24-70 f/2.8 L mkII but mostly I’ll just grab the big white lens.

When I shoot cars I cover these basics:


And break that down a little more to:

Outside – front, back, sides, 2/3 (sort of angled)

Inside – seats, dash, steering wheel, whole cabin.

Details – anything that looks cool design-wise. Speak with the writer/client/dealership/agency if there’s anything they specifically mention and get a shot of it.

Again, probably super duper obvious but having a little checklist like this helps me stay on track and also means I’m not holding up the process by taking 4 hours to get the right shot of the car by walking around it 300 times looking for ‘the angle’.

Shoot long to bring the background into the shot.

Another thing I’ll do occasionally is tilt the image. On moving shots especially this looks a lot more dynamic if the car is moving upward into the frame, or downward out of it. Don’t go crazy, but 5 degrees here or there is totally fine. The shot of the Amarok above was tilted in post as I think it looks more interesting that way. The client agreed which is generally a plus.

Detail shots look a little like this:

I knew specifically that the article would mention Baja mode and the wheels so they get a shot.

Motion Shots:

I use the centre AF point and use AF Servo mode to track the subject. cropping in later if need be. Basically the camera does the hard work. Since I use back button focus on my bodies, I just hold it down to focus and shoot when I think it looks cool. I’m not a huge fan of machine gunning images and shooting 60 images in a burst. I’ll take 4 or 5 each pass of the car and refine the shot each time once I think I know what I’m looking for in terms of background or things like wheel placement or angle of the car to the camera. Taking thousands of pics doesn’t benefit anybody and yes, storage is cheap but more time in front of a computer unnecessarily isn’t my idea of a job well done.

Get out there.