Photographing Cars in Museums

Car museums are great fun. When traveling I always try to find a local auto museum and spend some time looking at cars that I might not otherwise get to see or photograph. People too. At the Unser Racing Museum on Albuquerque I not only got to see some beautifully restored classic automobiles and race cars but got to meet and talk with Al Unser, Sr. And the only Talbot Lago I’ve seen is the one in the Cussler Auto Museum. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that sometimes the lighting is not that great and using a high ISO setting and the noise it can create can be a concern. And often the space between cars—and the lack thereof—can sometimes be a challenge to photographing them and then there’s the stanchions to prevent over-eager visitors from dripping ice cream on the car—or worse.

That’s why you may need to change the way you shoot to suite the situation and not worry so much about getting a perfect shot of a particular car but making the best possible photograph under the conditions you’re working. Case in point: The J&R Vintage Auto Museum in Rio Rancho, New Mexico where there are more that 60 antique cars and trucks on display! During my visit to J&R, I brought along a Canon EOS 50D and my do-everything lens, Tamron’s 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC lens, that’s designed for cameras with APS-C sized sensors.

Tip #1: Stanchions can get in the shot, so avoid them by sitting on the floor and shooting under the ropes, chains or whatever that are strung between the posts. A wide-angle zoom lens helps and I’ll always push it a bit by sliding just a little bit more under the ropes, etc when sitting on the floor. So far nobody has ever asked me not to do that but if they did, I would apologize.

 Tip #2, Wear your grungies so you don’t care if you get dust, motor oil, bubble gum, whatever on you clothes. J&R Vintage Autos, however has spotless epoxy painted floors and like everything in the museum was squeaky clean.

Tip #3: Be sure to make images of parts of cars. Don’t be frustrated by the lack of space and crowded conditions found at some museums. Use that to your advantage by finding small details, such as the delicate nature of a Bugatti’s grille or the sensuous lines of a street rod’s fender and capture them in sharp focus.

Tip #4: Get close to the car. Begin by working in close and gradually back off until extraneous non-car details start to appear in the frame. Wide-angle lenses and wide angle zooms let you fill up the frame with part or even the entire car while making sure distractions are eliminated Make sure your zoom lens allows close focusing. I once purchased a lens only to discover it didn’t focus close enough to do me any good. Tamron’s 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC lens focuses to 19.3-inches but it will do so for the entire zoom range. That means that you can use the 270mm setting to get up close and personal enough so that your image looks like true macro photography

Author: Joe Farace

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