5 tips for shooting car meets and events

2 minutes read

My best tips for how to overcome the challenges and make the most of shooting busy automotive events


Picture the scene

So, you've arrived at your first, or perhaps your regular, classic car meet. The usual suspects are already there, waxing lyrical about those days, weeks, and months of adventures in their pride and joy that now sits among a selection of other machines of equally immaculate beauty. Sometimes immaculate isn't quite the right word they would use to describe it; conversations often circulate around the love-hate relationship they have with the cars, but they lean quite convincingly towards the love side of the spectrum.

The crowds thicken
The crowd thickens - people in your frame is both a challenge and a blessing
The crowds thicken
Everyone has the right to enjoy what is on display

More people arrive to meet and admire the cars on display in all their wabi-sabi character.

But, as a photographer focused on getting that next shot to show to your followers or to pop into your portfolio, these can be tricky times as the density of the crowd can make compositions a challenge. Often the cars themselves are not parked in the most opportunistic locations, often sandwiched together to save space or to collectively keep warm, like something from an Attenborough documentary. Whatever the case may be, classic car meets and events present a challenging environment for any photographer.

If you're like me and haven't had the pleasure of a private shooting experience yet or just want to practice your craft, then this post is for you.

In this post, I'll share some of the details of how my eye works, what goes through my mind, and my process for capturing the shots you see in this post and in my portfolio. I will preface this last statement by saying that I am in no way a professional, but I just want to share my thoughts to help those just starting out or who enjoy my work.

So, let's dive right in!

Tip Number 1 - Distance to subject

Get in close and fill the frame

This is perhaps the simplest way to get some great shots at a busy car event. When the crowds are too thick, it's time to get in close to the cars themselves and observe them in closer detail. I am going to give a very subjective opinion here in that I believe classic and vintage cars have more beautiful and distinctive details than their modern counterparts and, therefore, offer more creative opportunities.

Chromed dials, wooden trim, wire wheels, bits of rust, vintage window stickers—the list goes on, and manufacturers often went their own way in terms of interior and exterior design choices. No two cars are the same, and these differences and particularities should be celebrated in what you shoot.

As a compositional rule of thumb, I frequently apply the rule of thirds and put the details at any one of the intersecting lines or on multiple sections, allowing me to create some powerful and interesting compositions. The examples above show some examples of this technique put into practice. Below, I will pick out a couple of the shots to show my thinking in more detail.

Some key things to consider when using this technique are:

  • Try not to get yourself in the shots (easier said than done).
  • Focus on minimalism and focus attention on one or two key areas.
  • Use a wide, open aperture to separate the details from distracting elements around or behind it.
  • Use highlights and shadows to your advantage.
The Chrome detailing caught my eye and contrasted nicely with the fading black paintwork
I composed each main piece of chrome in three quadrants of the rull of thirds grid, creating a nice diagonal in the frame
The vintage F1 sticker in the rear window grabbed my attention here, its colour stood out and offered a great photo opportunity
Lining up the sticker with the top left interesecting line, there's also a lovely 'leading line' created by the vents towards the sticker

Tip Number 2 - Aperture and focal length

Don't be afraid of shooting wide open or with a telephoto lens

Following from the last tip, using an open, wide aperture can open a world of creative possibilities. There's a time and place for having everything in focus, but if you're at a busy automotive event, you are most likely to want to isolate the vehicle from as many of the foreground or background distractions as possible.

What we are trying to achieve by shooting on the lower apertures or using a longer focal length lens is separation. In other words, blurring out as much of the stuff in front or behind the vehicle keeps the vehicle in focus and ultimately draws attention to it.

Choosing your lens

To maximise the effect of this tip, generally speaking, the faster the lens, the better.

I am lucky to be able to shoot with a pretty unique lens on my Fuji GFX 50s system. The Mitakon 65mm 1.4 offers a look that many compare to that of the Pentax 67 105mm 2.4, a legend amongst automotive photographers. But you don't need this to be able to achieve a similar look. A standard 50mm 1.4 lens, when shot between f1.4 and f2, will offer lots of separation through a narrow depth of field. Alternatively, a popular focal length is 80mm on full-frame cameras, and these offer even more separation and a shallower depth of field; you just need to stand a bit further back from the subject to achieve the same framing with a 50mm lens.

I recommend something in the range of between 50mm and 80mm; if you use anything more, such as 135mm, then you run the risk of being too far away from the subject, and people simply won't notice you taking the shot, and you could be left waiting for a long time.

Tip Number 3 - Background and foreground

Use the background or foreground to your advantage

In the last tip, I mentioned that you want to separate the subject from any distracting background or foreground elements. But you can also use them to help draw attention to the subject for a more pleasing composition.

There are a few things I like to watch out for when it comes to this technique, I either look for clean backgrounds to really help keep the attention entirely on the car itself, I also like to use foreground elements to block off parts of the image to the same effect of reducing the amount of distracting elements there are in the frame and finally, you can use foreground or background elements to act as a 'leading line' and direct the eye towards the subject. I'll talk about each below.

Clean backgrounds

This is perhaps the hardest thing to get when at a car meet. The chances of getting a background that's free of people and other distractions are difficult to say the least, but occasionally the opportunity does present itself.


This is one of my most-used techniques, where I use a foreground or background element to screen off part of the photo to draw more attention to the vehicle. Some of my favourite shots to date have used this technique to great effect, like the examples below, where I've used trees and walls to mask off a third or half of the frame.

Leading Lines

Leading lines is a popular but difficult general photography compositional technique to master. I definitely have plenty of room to improve here, but I occasionally apply it to my shots, often using foreground elements to lead the eye towards the subject. You can also use background elements to point to or draw around the car, such as in the examples below.

Tip Number 4 - People

Capture the people themselves

I know, I've mentioned time and time again throughout this post that I try to avoid people in my shots, but for this tip, you can occasionally get shots where the other visitors provide that little extra story behind your shots. This is an area that I am very keen to improve upon over the next couple of years, especially when it comes to capturing the owners of the cars themselves.

It must be said, however, that this takes courage, and if you are just starting out in photography, approaching random strangers for a shot can be a daunting task. This is a skill in itself, which I am still mastering, but with a little patience and a keen eye, you can also capture people in your shots.

Tip Number 5 - stick around

Wait until the crowds have cleared

And so finally, the day is ending, your feet (and possibly your knees, thanks to the mid-30's!) are aching, your eyes are tired from a day's worth of peeking through a viewfinder, and you're ready to head home. But wait! There's more. As the crowds thin, now's your best chance to revisit spots that maybe didn't fit the bill when you first visited them, or perhaps some of the show cars are making their way through the exiting crowds. These are prime opportunities to capture these vehicles, either with clear surroundings or in motion for added dynamism. Some of my personal favourites have come from times when the gates are closed and waiting around just a little longer pays off. And with that, I hope these tips prove useful for you during your next automotive photography outing. untill next time!

A photo of a classic car being transported on the back of a trailer.