Photography & travel tips from an award-winning photographer, educator & wanderlust

Photographing with cars

Photography is sometimes about the gear. Photography is sometimes about the rules. Photography is always about the eye and the perspective.

Cars – those versatile metal boxes that take us from point A to point B, but can also be a great tool, assistant, filter, location or background in your photography.

Let’s take a look at some images and examples of how you too can utilize your vehicle or a vehicle in your next photo session.

Probably the most obvious choice for a shot, would be to shoot the vehicle at a stand still. You can prop someone or something next to it, you can use any flat surface as a tripod or lean your reflector for an impromptu reflector holder. 


To challenge myself creatively, a few years ago my friend Aaron and I created a “Where’s Aaron (Where’s Waldo) Photography Challenge. Check it out here (there are four challenge photographs).

If you’re a fan of long exposures and like to play with your Shutter Speed (especially at night), you can get some great trail lights from the cars in motion. Keep decreasing your shutter speed for a desired effect. On the contrary, increase the speed to freeze motion.

I got lucky with the following shot, where a single car stood still at a red light, while others raced past it, creating light trails in this “Daejeon at Night” image.

allaponomareva-daejeon at night


allaponomareva-nickandmelissa2Another possibility for utilizing a car/truck/bus in your photographs is to get in and shoot from the inside. You may need a wide angle lens, or just stand outside and stick your head through the window to give you some shooting room. Of course, older Classic Cars or newer fancy cars would be of preference for unique lines or textured materials.

The inside of cars are notoriously dark places and one thing that I would have done differently about this image of my sister in law would be to add an external flash light in order to light up their faces better. We live and we learn.

You can see that the couple is framed by the truck’s window outline, you can utilize this rule with car’s mirrors, doors or even truck beds. Framing is a popular technique, which can be also achieved with branches, arches, door frames and even hands and fingers.

The windows of cars can also be great reflective surfaces for some unique photography. This is where your creative eye and perspective will definitely have to come into play. Walk around, shoot from a higher perspective, get on the ground, in other words – play!

You can view amazing samples of reflective abstract photography, from a guy who does it best- Peter Clark. 

Another way to utilize a vehicle is your creative photography is to shoot through it. You’d have to be inside the car/truck/bus for this technique and ideally your window would be clean on both sides. If it is rainy or snowy – even better! Oh yea, and most passerbys don’t even know you’re taking a photo = candid shots!

If your vehicle is moving, use a faster shutter speed 1/250sec or higher. Keep the lens parallel to the window to avoid glare. Be careful, the movement might cause you to hit your gear against the window if you’re not careful.

The following images were taken from the inside of a moving vehicle on a rainy day in Bali, Indonesia.



I particularly enjoy the image above of a Balinese woman, who is dressed up in an embroidered blouse. The raindrops on a window created a filter, through which I took this image. The fact that I was hidden inside a car, helped me create this photograph of her undisturbed and doing what she loves.

So there you have it – multiple ways of utilizing vehicles in your next photography shot – frame, shoot through, put your subject inside, outside or reflect it in the car itself. 

I hope you found these tips helpful. If so, please share and help spread the love for photography and creative expression.

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  1. Very cool. Long exposure shots with car lights are always interesting. The one you have there is really nice too. That car that was at a stop the whole time proves to be a great shot!
    I like all the tips, but I’m not a fan of shooting through the window. That may just be me but the shots usually are so much better without shooting through the window.

    There’s also another way to utilize cars that I like. It can be for engagement shoots or other portraits at night using the car lights at a stop as a back light for the couple. For an urban type shoot. You don’t get a whole lot of time to take the shot without having to move out of the way and wait for the next red light but the shots can be very cool and rewarding. If you have a place to do it in you could also use your own car in an interesting location and use the lights as a backlight for your model as well

  2. Beautiful with that lonesome car above. Long exposure was one of our favorite shots when we were doing basic photography. Love the memories it brings. We would wander on top of bridges or stay on side streets.

    • Nanie, if you’re interested in shooting more yourself, I’d love to see you at the photo walk on September 17 in Daejeon. If not, when I return from vacation, let’s get together!

  3. I am always fascinated with the photo of a vintage car with the element of the lovers. I just think there’s a story telling factor in that kind of photography. And by the way, I really really really love your “Daejon at Night” photo, at first I was like, oh… another long exposure shot at night, I’ve seen a lot of it, but I’ve never seen it that way where one car stands out. Great shot!

  4. Love all these tips. I’ve been trying to teach myself how to shoot in manual on my BFs DSLR, so this is super helpful for me! I love the pic of the cars in Daejeon at night! #goals

  5. I have so much to learn about photography and I never knew how to take those car shots at night! I also really loved the couple photos with the old truck! 😉

  6. Wow, that Daejeon at night image is surreal! Makes the city look waaaaaay cooler haha ;P I’d love to see an image where you utilize some reflective photography! More and more, the desire to invest in a good camera is becoming super intense.

    • Izzy, photography is not just about a camera, don’t feel the pressure to have a “good one”. Just invest in the skills, in the time to practice, keep watching other examples and you’ll notice your photography grow.

  7. Really awesome idea to do a post on photography and using cars! I love your slow shutter speed shots! I have yet to try those, but always dreamed of getting some beautiful shots of Koreas cities at night.
    I also love to idea of doing a couple shoot with an old car, it brings something special to the shots.

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