Journal: Our Five Favourite Instagrammers Tell Us How They Do It

Our Five Favourite Instagrammers Tell Us How They Do It

By Petrolicious
January 14, 2016

You’ve read our weekly Instagram Roundups and no doubt wonder: just how is it possible to make a car look that epic? Some of the photographers we’ve featured in past weeks are adamant that they use only their phone to capture images, some use high-end gear, some are self-taught, and others work professionally with publications like Petrolicious.

Here’s what’s awesome: because there’s almost no cost associated with taking a picture with your phone or digital camera, it’s possible to quickly improve your photography skills by following a few simple rules.

We’ve asked some of our favorite photographers—both casual and professional—to lend a hand, and offer a bit of advice to consider the next time you click that shutter, be it on the phone in your pocket or the fancy camera you snagged over the holidays.

@HelloMissKira’s photos tend to look like she’s documenting an experience, because, well, she is: the account is helmed by her and “#thebridan,” classic car owners and enthusiasts. Here are her tips for making everyday shots more interesting:

  1. Avoid normal height and viewpoint: These photos will almost always look like a cell phone shot. Try different heights. Get on the ground. Climb a hill or a building.
  2. Framing: Use elements in foreground and background to help with depth and scale.
  3. Wait for “magic hour”—the first and last hour of sunlight during the day.

@photosbyteej is another who impresses all of the time with photos captured on “just” a cell phone. As he says, “most people don’t realize the difference, but it’s great to capture a moment when you least expect it.” He recommends three things:

  1. Think about light and reflections and take time with your composition. Good shots come from invested time and perspective, even if the moment was entirely random.
  2. Use a camera app that lets you adjust exposure before you shoot. It helps you discover light and emotion.
  3. Steady hands when you hit the trigger. Rarely is accidental motion blur interesting!

Jamey Price is a professional photographer tasked with capturing what happens—more often than not—on the race track. This means that he earns his keep from capturing action that is often traveling flat out. As it happens, he has practical tips to instantly improve your shots:

  1. Shoot the details: Car designers make the swoops and bends and curves for a reason. I love focusing on those little details. The stitching in the leather. The shifter. Anything and everything can be nice…if shot the right way.
  2. Just because it’s a cool car, doesn’t mean it’s a cool photo. Instagram is filled with countless photos of expensive cars sitting in a parking lot. And they are boring photos. Do everything in your power to make the photo as simple as possible. Change your perspective (get higher or get lower). Make the background as clean as possible. If you can’t do anything about the background, go back to 1. and shoot the details.
  3. Use the light to make a dramatic photo. Car photography can be gorgeous if you use the light the right way. Change things up from the norm. Shoot into the sun, and not always with it. Shadows and highlights can really make a dramatic photo.

We work often with Valkyr Films and filmmaker Jeremy Heslup, who was happy to offer advice on how to bring out a bit more of the “story” behind a car, person, or setting. Here are some of his pointers:

  1. Timing is everything: Every photographer has a different eye, but I prefer to utilize natural light to keep things as simple and quick as possible. Because of this, the sunrise and sunset make for the best times day for me to take photos when the car is the subject. Very soft light and rich colors make for perfect conditions to get a great shot. Also it’s amazing how similar a smartphone image will look to a DSLR image with the right light, and especially with Instagram, only an expert would be able to spot the difference.
  2. Amplify the personality of the car: Cars have faces and expressions, some look angry, some absent-minded and some overjoyed (cough, Mazda 3). For me, a great shot takes the personality of that car and then surrounding environment and stretches it to tell a metaphorical story. For example, if shooting a vintage FJ40, it will likely look better against the backdrop of off-road, rugged and natural terrain than in an urban setting like a parking structure.
  3. Balance in-camera and editing apps: I always try to do as much as I can in-camera. It speeds up the process and and keeps it simple. That being said, every photo can use a little spicing up to give it more personality. I typically don’t use anything other than what’s built in on Instagram, but certainly in moderation. I don’t ever want a photo to look like it’s over-touched or so far enhanced that it couldn’t appear in real life. I think that’s what I try to strive for with Instagram: the clearest, most vivid window into that world or scene that makes a statement about the car, the backdrop…and hopefully both.

Huseyin was “amazed by the car culture that found I here” after moving to L.A. He says that once in the middle of it, he started using his phone to follow and catalogue his passion—learning a few things along the way about capturing vehicles in their natural habitat:

  1. The key to any great car shot is being quick! After all, they are usually in motion! Luckily, many default camera apps work great for this. Panning is a great way to capture a moving car during a low light situation with your smartphone. You can also take advantage of the burst mode that many smart phones offer in their default camera apps. With using the burst mode, you will be giving yourself more chances to achieve a sharp image—as well as many photo frames to choose from.
  2. When the car is stationary, I usually take my time examine all the unique details that catch my eyes, and the most unique angle or vantage point that accentuates these details. In my experience, finding the right angle is what elevates the shot and gives it your individual artistic perspective. There is nothing wrong with the classic Instagram car shots taken from a side profile, however, it’s always nice to challenge yourself by recognizing the angles, as well as the car’s surroundings.
  3. Finally, to make the car pop and stand out from the backdrop, create an artificially shallow depth of field. Tadaa is my favorite app for effect because it gives a great DSLR look, and it is easy to make selections because it auto-detects the edges for you while making a selection. When it comes to colors and filters, my style is neutral and clean, and this is why I, like so many others, prefer the VSCO app. I believe VSCO has the most tasteful selection of filters available.

With those tips now lodged in your mind, and a number of awesome sample shots to learn from on this page, what are you waiting for? Get out and capture automotive culture from your unique perspective—and tag it #drivetastefully on Instagram so we can follow along.

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Rad Mobile
Rad Mobile
8 years ago

Great suggestions by fellow shooters. Photographers will be first to tell you that the best camera is the one that’s with you. So great to see comments with respect to smartphones vs DSLRs.

I would add to slow down. Rather than rapid firing shots just to capture the vehicle, slow down before you click the shutter release. This allows you to think harder on the composition of your photo. This slowdown also helps you think through the background, minimizing distractions. Frequenting events like Cars & Coffee is great to cut your teeth as a beginner on technical aspects of your photos. But these places also introduce a lot of factors. Shadows from fellow spectators, background distractions, unpleasant reflections, etc. These events can be both very difficult and rewarding to shoot.

Also, when composing think of the intended use of the photo. For dedicated shoots, I try to get vertical shots in case someone wants to use the photo as a phone or tablet background. I also think, ‘how would this horizontal photo look as a square crop?’ In some instances, I don’t want to square crop and will use the horizontal orientation on IG (thankfully IG lifted the square format limitation). However in other instances a dedicated shot with a square crop in mind is superior. So again, think through the photo orientation and intended use.

Lastly, photography is all about getting yourself in the right spot at the right time. Using a lottery metaphor, you cannot win if you don’t play. In the context of photography, I mean that you need to put yourself out there to capture the moments. Don’t expect to just show up and think that you’ll get THE shot. You need to show up AND put yourself in the right spot at the right time.

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