Giving your car photography a sense of speed doesn’t have to be difficult or dangerous. In this easy-to-follow car photography tutorial we show you how to use a ‘bolt-on’ technique get dramatic photos with blurred backgrounds.
Creating a sense of action in your car photography doesn’t always mean driving vehicles at speed. With a little ingenuity and some simple techniques you can create the illusion of speed with the car travelling at walking pace.
This technique, known as a ‘bolt-on’, involves attaching the camera to the car and then using a long shutter speed to blur the background so that it looks like the car is travelling at speed. But even shooting at low speeds a bolt-on takes preparation and planning and a few pieces of kit.
The first task is to find a safe location to take your shots. You’ll need a location where there aren’t any other vehicles, such as a dead-end road.
You’ll also need a smooth surface, as any bumps will cause the camera to move, creating the wrong sort of blur. Some objects fairly close to the car will create the right sort of blur and give a sense of speed.
Once you’ve found a location you need to attach the camera to the car. Professional car photographers often use Manfrotto suction cups, along with clamps, to attach a tripod to the car.
This arrangement is cumbersome, so the safest way to do this for the first time is to use a dedicated mount such as the Delkin Fat Gecko. This will mount the camera around 30cm from the car, so you’ll need to use a wide-angle lens to include as much of the car as possible.
How to add dramatic background blur to your car photography
01 Find a location
To shoot a moving car you need a safe location where there won’t be any other traffic, a smooth surface for the car to run on, and some objects close to the car to give a real impression of speed when you blur them. We’ve got permission to shoot in this car park at a quiet time.
02 Exposure and composition
You’ll need to use a shutter speed of between one and three seconds to get plenty of blur, so before attaching it to the car, hold the camera roughly in position and check the exposure. If it’s too bright you will need to attach an ND filter to the lens to reduce the exposure.
03 Attach the camera
The camera needs to be firmly attached to the car. Using a sucker mount such as the Delkin Fat Gecko means that you can do this and keep your Nikon safe without marking the car’s paintwork. Once the camera is attached, always double-check that it’s totally secure.
04 Attach a remote trigger
As you’re going to fire the camera from a distance you’ll need a remote trigger. You can get different sorts of remote triggers, and a radio one such as the Hähnel Combi TF is ideal as it will fire the camera from any position, unlike some infrared remotes.
05 Take your shots
Once you are happy with the set-up, get the driver to move the car slowly and smoothly while you fire the camera. Although you can trigger the camera from a distance, try to stay close to the car to keep a watch on the camera and mount for any movement or loss of suction.
06 Even more motion
Once you’ve got some straight shots, try different effects. You could set the camera at an angle in order to get a more dynamic composition. Also, if you have space around the car you can shoot when the car is turning to give a curved shape to the blurred background.
For any car shoot, the vehicle needs to be clean for the best results. Always take a basic cleaning kit of a microfibre cloth and some water.
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