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Old 09-03-2012, 09:17 AM   #1
Todd@Autopia's Avatar
Drives: 2010 Mazdaspeed 3
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Orlando/Stuart, FL
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Maximum Photography: Tips to Take Photo's and Document Your Work

Maximum Photography: Tips To Take Photo's and Document Your Work


On line communities have allowed us the pleasure of documenting our detailing work (or other projects) and share them with like-minded people around the world. Not only that, but if you are a professional detailer, taking professional quality photographs is a very part of the presentation of your work. If you go to any retail website and look at the pictures of the products they are selling you will notice that many are shot in a studio by a professional. As a professional you are selling your work and want to present it the best light possible.

I personally enjoy the challenge of photographing a car. Like many, it has be come a fun hobby for me. Regardless of the reason, the tips and techniques in this article are aimed to help you take better photographs.

Cameras in the 21st Century

The dawn of the 21st century heralded a new generation of digital single lens reflective or DSLR's. A DSLR is very much like the old film cameras of yesterday, featuring a main body and a single reflective lens (often interchangeable). You don't need a DSLR style camera to take great photos, but they almost always offer a significant flexibility advantage over point-and-shoot style cameras.

Digital Compact Cameras, often referred to as point-and-shoot cameras feature an integrated camera body and lens. Digital Compacts have dramatically increased in resolution (megapixel) and quality, although they will never match the image quality potential of a DSLR, which has interchangeable lens and a larger processor.

When it comes to selecting the correct camera do not be fooled by the megapixel illusion. Megapixels are, in simplest terms, how large your photo can be (printed) before you see any evidence of pixelation (when the image becomes blocky). For standard sized prints (5x7) and large internet pictures (2272x1704) ALL YOU NEED is 4 megapixels. As your print size or picture size increases more megapixels become necessary.

Below is a chart that shows your megapixel requirements.

Number of Megapixels
Image Resolution
Print Size (at 300 dpi)
2272 x 1704
7.6 x 5.7 inches
3008 x 2000
10 x 6.7 inches
3456 x 2304
10.2 x 7.7 inches
3648 x 2736
12 x 9 inches
4992 x 3328
16.5 x 11 inches

As you can see from above, any standard photograph (and particularly photos on the internet which range between 640 x 480 and 1200 x 800 will not really benefit from more megapixels. If you do a lot of image cropping and post editing, then a more resolution (megapixels) will give you more flexibility.

If you want a camera that you simply turn on, leave in auto mode, and snap photos then a Digital Compact will serve you fine. If you are looking for higher-quality photos and are willing to learn more about how a camera works, then a DSLR will maximize your potential.

Common Terms

Below is a list of common terms that you will need to know if you are going to take your photography to a higher level. These are common regardless of the type of camera style you are using.

APETURE- The opening in a lens, which determines how much light passes through the lens. This is usually measured with an F/Number (such as F/4, F/7, or F/16) and thus referred to as the F/Stop

AUTO EXPOSURE- This is the system where the exposure is calculated automatically by the camera. The camera will attempt to know what you are taking a picture of (most consumer cameras use a gray scale metering that attempts to get correct exposure on nature and humans, NOT shiny cars). This would be considered auto mode.

DEPTH OF FIELD- The amount of the scene (from the nearest point to the furthermost) that appears sharply focused. This is controlled by the the APETURE/ F/Stop as well as the lens and distance.

DEPTH OF FOCUS- Distance in front of and behind the film plane that will retain sharp focus of the image.

EXPOSURE- Exposure can be defined as the duration and amount of light needed to create an image. This is a combination of the lighting, the scene, and the settings on the camera that affect the light entering the camera.

FLASH- Artificial light source that proves a strong, brief burst of light to aid in exposure.

ISO- International Standard Organization. This is a rating used to determine film speed. In the digital world, which does not use film, this determines the quality of the photo vs. the light. Low ISO numbers produce the highest quality photos but require more light. Higher ISO numbers increase the grain in the picture and require less light. This is why photos shot in the dark with AUTO MODE tend to be very grainy.

MEGAPIXEL- A shortened term for 1,000,000 pixels.

RESOLUTION- The level of quality and detail recorded in an image. The higher the resolution, the finer the detail.

SHUTTER SPEED- This determines the duration of an exposure. This affects the amount of light that enters the lens. Fast shutter speeds are used in bright lights or when trying to freeze movement. Slow shutter speeds are used in low light or when trying to create motion blur. With hand held cameras you want to use as fast of a shutter speed as possible to avoid the natural twitching of your hand from creating a blurry photo.

How Your Camera Works

Your camera has a shutter button. In Auto Mode, when you depressed this button half-way the camera will AUTO MONITOR, that it is will focus on a point and it will read the gray scale of that point to determine the ideal exposure settings (flash/aperture/shutter speed) to give you what it believes is the photo you want. You can help manipulate these parameters by selecting different auto-modes such as CLOSE-UP, BEACH SCENE, SNOW, SPORTS, or whatever other settings your camera comes with. When you fully depress the shutter button the camera's shutter flashes open and the light of the scene you trying to capture floods into the lens.

This light is bounced off several mirrors before it reaches the processor. The processor reads the image digitally (much like a negative photo used in old film photography) then processes it (your camera contains the dark room) to give you the photo it believes you want to see.


Exposure can be defined as the duration and amount of light needed to create and image. Too little exposure (too little light) and the image is dark; too much light and the image is too bright. The three photographs below show a Ferrari F458 that has been under exposed, over exposed, and as close to correct as possible.

Under Exposed

Over Exposed

Properly Exposed

Note: There is no such thing as a perfect exposure. If you like more details in the highlights you may lean towards letting more light into your camera; if you like more emphasis on the shadows you my expose the picture with less light. Ultimately it is creative control that makes photography an art form. If you look at the under exposed photo you will notice that the sky is actually properly exposed. If you look at the over exposed photo you will notice that the detail in the highlights and clouds is unrivaled.

The two main factors in determining exposure are: The APERATURE and SHUTTER SPEED

Shutter Speed

Start with your eyes closed. Open them and them close them as fast as possible. From the time your eye was fully opened and allowing light to enter to the time you forced it back shut would be similar to how your camera's shutter speed works. If you can open and close your eyes quickly enough even objects in motion will appear frozen still. The longer the shutter speed, the more light that is allowed to enter the camera.

If you are using a tripod (recommended in low light) you can use a long shutter speed (some range for 30 seconds or more) to get the correct exposure for you camera. If you are holding your camera by hand you want to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible to avoid blurring the photo. With standard lenses you would want to keep your shutter speed between 1/50th and 1/100th of a second to avoid blur.

Using a slow shutter speed with a tripod will allow you to take brilliant photos in the night with out any of the grain common to the AUTO Setting which uses a high ISO setting.

The photo below was taken using a long exposure (30 seconds) in order to capture as much light as possible. The camera had to be attached to a tripod in order to avoid camera shake.


If you look at something in bright light, your iris contracts to limit the amount of light that enters your eye. If you look around in dim light your pupil dilates (the iris expands) to allow more light to enter your eye. A lower aperture number is like having a widely contracted pupil. A higher aperture number is like having a constricted pupil. This is measured in F/Stop.

For example an F/Stop of F/2.8 means that the camera's “iris” is wide open. This allows maximum amount of light to enter the lens. This is known as a wide aperture. This also has a secondary effect of throwing the background (and foreground) out of focus so that the only the object in focus looks sharp.

As you can see the picture above, using a low F/Stop number (Wide Aperture), a side effect of is that the background loses focus. You can create some cool unique photographs using this technique. Because more light is being let into the lens a faster shutter speed is required to prevent overexposure.

Another example would be an F/Stop of F/16. This would mean that the camera's “iris” is squinting. This reduces the amount of light entering the lens but also creates a wide “depth of field”. Most objects in the foreground and background will have a much sharper focus.

As you can see in the picture above, using a high F/Stop number (Small Aperture) brings the entire shot into focus. When using a Small Aperture (high F/Stop number) you need to use a longer shutter speed to allow more light to enter the lens

Camera Settings

Most cameras have the following settings that allow you to control their operation.
Auto Modes: Auto modes use programmed biases to allow your camera to capture different scenes effectively.

AUTO- In auto mode the camera will monitor the gray scale of the object you are attempting to photograph and select the aperture and shutter speed to give you a nice balance.

AUTO/No Flash- The camera will not use the flash when taking a picture. In low light this means the camera will revert to a high ISO setting which will give the picture a grainy appearance.

AUTO/Portrait- As the same suggests, this is the ideal choice for taking pictures of people. The camera will select a wide aperture in order to throw the background out of focus. I

AUTO/Landscape- For this setting the camera will try to use the smallest aperture it can to achieve an ideal depth of field while not dropping the shutter speed so low as to cause camera shake. The flash is often disabled.

AUTO/Close-Up (macro mode)- This mode will use the cameras central auto-focus and a fast shutter speed (items close to the camera are more sensitive to camera shake).

AUTO-Action- With this mode, the subject (the item you are shooting) is presumed to be in motion. The camera will use a wide aperture and ultra fast shutter speed to freeze the movement of the object. This is why most sport photographs have a blurred background with the player in sharp focus.

Manual Modes: If you want to take full control of your camera it is best to use a manual mode. Depending on the setting you choose, you will have control over the aperture, the shutter speed, or both.

APERTURE PRIORITY- In this mode you control the F/stop and the camera will adjust the shutter speed to determine the exposure. You can adjust the camera exposure separately (usually from -3/under exposed to +3/over exposed).

SHUTTER PRIORITY- In this mode you control the shutter speed and the camera will adjust the F/stop to determine the exposure you want. You can adjust the camera exposure separately (usually from -3/under exposed to +3/over exposed).

MANUAL- Full manual mode gives you complete control over both the shutter speed and the aperture. A built in scale will show you the cameras monitoring (again often using a -3 to +3 range) to allow you to adjust to what the camera sees. This is a great mode when shooting tripod shots for before and afters or when shooting in stable light. If you are shooting in changing lighting conditions (clouds for example) then you may spend a lot of time chasing the ideal settings. In this case use either AP or SP modes.

Taking Photo's Of Your Car

Now that you are armed with some basic information, go out and experiment. Take your favorite car, your favorite background (backdrop) and snap some photos. Keep the following tips in mind.

Always try to photograph with the sun at your back- If the sun is in the background (particularly if you are shooting a dark colored car) you will overwhelm the camera's ability to meter the picture. If you auto meter (press the shutter down half way) while aimed at a dark color car the camera will select exposure settings that attempt to show the detail of the car itself. While the car may show up in proper light, the background (the bright sky will be extremely bright). This is referred to as being “blown out”. Alternatively if you meter the sky (depress the button half way and hold it while aimed at the sky) the camera will assume you are trying to capture the bright sky and the car itself will appear as nothing more than a shadow.

Manually Focus- If your camera allows you to, and most do, use the manual focus selector. To get the best clarity zoom all the way in with your lens, adjust the focus for the sharpest clarity, and then zoom out, and take the photo.

Avoid shadow casting- If the sun or light is at a low area, you may cast a shadow that is visible on the car. Stand further away and zoom in more or move around in order to avoid your shadow ruining your photo.

Experiment- Take photos from different angles. Kneel down or lay on the ground and shoot upward, shoot at hard angles to maximize gloss. Have fun! Unlike the days of film where you had a finite amount of shots before your roll was full, the only thing that limits you is the space on your memory card.

White Balance

The white balance settings on your digital camera allow it to produce accurate colors in a variety of lighting conditions. Light has a color, known as a color temperature, which will have a dramatic effect on accurately colors appear in your image. When shooting outdoors the AUTO setting tends to work well. Many cameras offer settings for daylight, cloudy, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, and more.

The following series of pictures shows how White Balance effects the results in the final image of this C4 ZR-1. When used indoors, white balance settings can have a dramatic effect. Shoot several images in different settings to find the one that looks best to your eyes.

When used in "Tungsten Mode" the color balance is way off giving the picture a blue appearance.

When used in "Fluorescent Mode" the camera gives the image a purple tone.

When used in "Cloudy Mode" on a sunny day the camera can give the picture too warm of a temperature. The pavement appears orange.

And finally, when used in the "Daylight Mode" the color balance gives the image a natural feel.


Focus represents the area where your camera is 'looking'. Digital cameras have an auto focus feature that allows them to automatically focus on an area (single or multiple areas are used depending on the camera and the mode). For the most part the auto focus does a good job, particularly if you are trying to capture something large from a distance. If you remember from the aperture information above, the lower your F/Stop (the wider your “iris”) the smaller the area in focus. If you use a higher F/stop (smaller “iris) then the more area that will be in focus.

If you want the ultimate in control over your image I would using manual focus. You can pinpoint the area of most interest and assure that the focus, and thus the image, is razor sharp in this area. If you are using manual focus, remember to reset your focus every time you change distance from the subject.

The images below of a 1930 Bentley show the dramatic effect that focus can have on the subject. These were shot with a low F/Stop (wide aperture) to throw the background/foreground out of focus and emphasize the subject in focus.

Photographing Cars & Detail Work

How Do I Capture Swirl Marks In Various Lighting?

Capturing swirl marks with a digital camera can be very difficult. Some colors when shot with some types of lighting (for example capturing paint defects on red paint when using a halogen light to highlight them can be near impossible. The color temperature of halogens appears very similar to the color of red paint to your camera). Even the sunlight's “yellow” glow can make capturing defects on red and orange paint very difficult.

The first thing to do is to use a manual focus. Paint can be difficult to photograph because your camera, like your eyes, will “see” the paint at two different distances: The surface of the paint and the reflections. The paint defects are on the surface of the paint. The two images below illustrate this point.

In the first image, you can see that the trees and reflections are crisp. A piece of green tape has been placed on the paint, and is completely out of focus. The swirl marks are on the surface (same distance as the tape). Paint defects in this image would be impossible to see because they would be out of focus as well.

In the following image the surface of the paint is in focus. You can clearly see the orange peel texture to the paint and the green 3M tape is on focus. The reflections are throw out of focus. This image would capture the swirl marks.

Note: DON'T BE FOOLED! If you notice that a detailer is posting before pictures with the swirl marks in sharp focus but in the after pictures you notice how crisp the reflections are, then there is a chance that some paint defects can be hidden from view. This is an easy to use trick that makes all paint look great.

In the pictures below of the Bugatti Veyron Super Spot you can see that the focus (sharpness of the carbon fiber) is identical. This is a true before and after shot.

If you set the focus to manual but you are still having a difficult time capturing the swirls try moving around the car and shooting at different angles. If you are at an angle that directly reflects the light of the sun into the camera lens it could wash out (the rest of the image will appear very dark). Instead try to capture the sun at an angle in the paint to avoid overloading the camera's metering system.

When you are done detailing your paint and trying to show off the swirl free finish dry to capture shots that are in the direct sunlight. Even the smallest clouds will diffuse the light and hide swirl marks. A proper “after” shot is in direct sunlight (if available, this is not always possible).

Metal flake (metallic) paint jobs make it easy to get the proper focus on paint defects. Metal flake is just below the surface of the paint, if the flakes are in focus, then so are any paint defects. As you can seen in the heavy metal flake of the Aston Martin below, the paint is truly flawless. There are no tracer scratches or hidden swirl marks.

When shot from a distance, I used a higher F/stop (smaller aperture) to increase the depth of field (area that is focuses). This way I could capture the sharp reflections as well as accentuate the metal flake and the fact that this paint is 100% swirl free.

Shooting For Maximum Reflections

Reflection is a function of angles, the subject (dark, flat paints will reflect more), the contrast between the color of the the subject and the background, and the angle. I said angle twice! Shooting at sharper angles will greatly accentuate the reflections.

The Porsche 356 Speedster below has flat paint that received over 30 hours of polishing. The result, when placed against a white wall in the sun, was stunning. A high F/stop meant that as much area was in focus as possible, and the sunlight peaking above the building in the reflection adds a touch of class.

Shooting this Aston Martin and an angle maximizes the reflections.

This thread is just a taste of what can be done to increase you photographic ability and have more fun shooting one of your favorite subjects: Your Car!!!! If you are a professional detailer I hope that some of the information and tips in this thread will help you present your work better.
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