I edited this post 11-12-02. Half of the images were hosted at a site that doesn't exist any more - so I put them somewhere else. Truth is I am not at all sure I used the same examples for some of these as I had in the original.
It is all about light, focus, distance distortion, and composition.
1) Light is all important. As a rule, bright sunlight is almost always bad. There are exceptions, but cameras (digital or film) can't cope with big differences in brightness nearly as well as the human eye. Overcast days are excellent - especially for photographing people. Light cars show well then too. Even fog can be very dramatic:
The darker the car, the more reflections you get. On a black car, the photo is ALL ABOUT the reflections.
The following example shows this taken to an extreme, by shooting the black car at night:
Learn to "see" the reflections and overall shapes - not the car itself. Natural reflected light will be most dramatic in the "golden hours" which are the hour before sunrise and the hour after sunset.
2) Focus carefully, and understand "depth of field". The surface of the car may be 1 foot from your lens, while the reflection may be 10 feet behind it. The focal length for a sharply focused reflection will be 11 feet. If you really want to focus on the car itself (to show swirls, orange peel or a logo for example) focus the camera at 1 foot. (Most cameras have manual focus capability.) If you want everything sharp, you have to compromise. Focus the camera at about 3 feet, and use the manual exposure mode to set the "aperture" to as small an opening as possible. Lens openings get smaller as the "f" number goes up - so f22 gets you the smallest opening and hence the greatest "depth of field." By contrast, f2 is a very "wide" opening wilh little depth of field. Good to know if you intentionally want to blur the background, as in a portrait. Note that the proper exposure is a combination of lens opening and shutter speed. The smaller the opening, the longer the shutter has to be open. So - for a shot at f22, you better have a REAL steady hand, or use a tripod.
This picture was shot at F2.8 - notice the blurred background:
this picture was shot at F11 - to get the logo and background sharper. If this camera had an F22 setting I would have used it.
3) Distance Distortion is a term I just made up to describe the following phenomenon. Wide angle lenses tend to make the closest object the only center of attention, and everything else gets real small, real fast as its distance from the lens increases. You can get a dramatic effect by getting very close to an object with a wide angle lens. For this shot, I really wanted to emphasize the "F40" embossed in the spoiler. No other composition could have done that while still showing the car in a recognizable way:
In the shot above, notice how the rear of the car more than fills the frame on the left, but by its nose it has already gotten very small. For a shot like this, movement of an inch in any direction changes composition dramatically. Use a tripod! (also a good idea in order to support using your camera's aperture-preferred mode, to "stop the lens down" all the way for maximum depth of field.) This shot was exposed at f11.
Note that convex curves on your car do the same thing to the reflections. In this photo, I wasn't all that close but the compound curve of the car made the fence look like it went for a long way - when in fact it only went about 8 feet:
This image, by contrast, works only because was shot with a long telephoto, which makes the distant cars recognizable. Had it been shot with a wide angle lens, everything past the 2nd or 3rd car would be ridiculously tiny and look even further away. What is harder to tell from this shot is that I had to stand a LONG way from the lead car (mine) - probably 200 feet.
Here's another example of a picture that just wouldn't have worked unless shot with a very long lens, photographer a good distance from the 1st car. Makes all the cars almost the same size:
One of the simplest guidelines I ever learned had the most impact on my photos - so I'll pass it along here. In your mind, divide the viewfinder into 1/3's horizontally and vertically. You should be visualizing a tic-tac-toe board superimposed on the image in the viewfinder. Now - if there is a strong vertical or horizontal line (and in particular, a horizon), place it on one of these lines. Do NOT place it in the middle! If there is a particular item of interest - say, a single flower, place it at one of the intersections of these lines - again, NOT in the middle. Follow this one rule and I promise better pictures instantly. The only bad thing is that auto photography doesn't lend itself to this rule too often. Too bad. But now you know!
With cars, I have a few simple rules. 1. FILL THE FRAME. Most people shoot from to far away. 2. Vary the shooting angle vertically, not just horizontally. Many amateurs photograph everything from eye level. Boring. 3. When in doubt, get closer. Examples:
From the ground (note the ground in the foreground)
Finally, avoid distractions
. The human brain is very good at ignoring stuff within the field of view that it isn't "looking at". However everything in a photo seems to be treated more evenly. I have screwed more pictures by failing to see a piece of trash, a weed, a sign, a light pole sticking up apparently right out of the sunroof. Learn to look for these.
That's about the best I can do. Go out and shoot a lot. Remember, when you see a bunch of photos from a photographer you like, you're looking at the ones he was pleased enough with to show you, not the possibly hundred he threw out! And finally, one last hint: There are exceptions to every rule. These are guidelines. They work - but they are not law.
You can find more of my pics here
and on my website