What’s more exciting than the thought of a new car? Man, oh man…wheels! You may or may not have yours at this point. It doesn’t matter, because everybody loves to look at them. It makes no difference if you’re male or female. Cars are things of beauty, and we all desire and admire them.

When I was younger, I bought magazines and drooled over the latest automobile models. I’d place paper over the ones I thought were awesome and trace them. Then I’d make changes, modernizing them to my liking. As time passed, I was interested to see how close my drawings came to the models actually produced. Some of my ideas were almost adopted for new models, and some were never even considered…thank goodness! But my drawings helped me to dream. At that time I wasn’t taking photos, and there were no car shows in my area. The big event then was the day once a year when dealers presented the new models. Dealers don’t do that any more. Back then, though, the new models were hidden from the public until one “Show Day” when people in town would congregate at the dealers’ showrooms to see the newest creations. The dealers would serve soft drinks and cookies and give away door prizes. It was our show for the year. It was a huge deal.

Now, new models appear in magazines and newspapers long before they hit the showrooms. The mystery and excitement is gone by the time you finally see them. But you can sample the old excitement by going to car shows. Old models and the newest cars are displayed, as well as cars that never were. By that I mean, there will be one-of-a-kind cars that somebody dreamed up and built from existing vehicles. When you lay your eyes on them for the first time, they’ll either knock you for a loop, or you’ll laugh yourself half to death. The creativity is wonderful. Sometimes it’s in the design, and sometimes it’s in the paint schemes. The old cars had beautiful lines–as do the new ones. When you go to a show, look at all types of cars and not just the ones you think will interest you.

In fact, I’ve found that the real beauty of some of the cars lies in the parts. Yes, in the parts–such as the fenders, trunks, hood ornaments, wheels, paint treatments around the windows, etc. You have to be as creative with your camera as the builder was with the car to discover and reveal these little works of art. I find that often the part is more beautiful than the whole. Perhaps my photos will show you what I mean.

You may want to take some general shots of the show that include several autos–to give your audience an idea of where you were and what the show was like. But as you wander around, notice the more interesting cars and determine what it was about each vehicle that caught your eye. See if you can catch that feature with your camera. Look at it from various angles before you shoot the picture. When you think you’ve captured it in the frame, be sure to look for unwanted reflections or light glares. They can ruin a photo. If you have a polarizing filter, it may help remove some of those shiny reflections. Also, be careful of people walking in front of you just as you snap the picture. They’ll never know that they’ve just ruined your masterpiece.

Don’t be afraid to get up-close-and-personal with the cars, but don’t touch them. You can give an owner a heart attack by touching. If the vehicle is roped off, respect that and don’t go beyond the rope. If you can’t get the photo you want without slipping inside the rope or moving something, be sure to ask the owner’s permission first. Owners are very defensive about their vehicles–and rightly so, because many hard man-hours of work went into them and many thousands of dollars, as well. To protect their vehicles, some owners install automated devices that alert anyone who comes too close.

Even without moving too close, you can get good shots with a medium telephoto lens. Don’t neglect those shiny engines and interiors. Look for good abstract lines in the bodies and paints. Wheels can make good subjects–even if they contain reflections. In fact, this is one time when you may actually want a reflection. Look at all parts of the car, front, sides, and back.

When you’ve finished your shots, a mat board with multiple cutouts can make a terrific wall decoration for your room or that of a friend. If you have a good friend who owns a car appearing in a show, he may be willing to pay you for a good photograph from the show. If that’s the case, be sure to include a shot of him with the car.

Before you go to a car show, practice taking shots of your family car–no matter what kind it may be. Look for parts to shoot. Some of the badges (name plates or symbols) are interesting, and they seem to change as often as leaves falling from trees. When you attend an antique car show, consider making a collection of the symbols of cars that are no longer in production. Just recently, the Plymouth and Oldsmobile lines ceased production. Desoto, Packard, Studebaker and many others have gone by the wayside. See how many obsolete models you can find. If you want to get a response out of Granddad, show him your photos of the old-timers.


A car can be more than the sum of its parts. See what you can find. Take a notebook and write down the type of car in your photo, and ask your friends if they can guess the type by looking at the part you photographed. If you take several shots of different parts, they can provide more clues to the puzzle. There are all types of fun to be had with your camera. Go capture yourself a Jaguar, Mustang, or Colt!

To help you get started just do an auto show search (Auto+Shows) online to find shows in your area. Good shooting!

By Willis T Bird

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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