C’mon man, that vintage Ferrari deserves better than Clarendon.
Of all the Instagram archetypes littering our timelines—the flash-lit photos of soup, drunken selfies, sober selfies, that cousin who makes the same face in every group photo, drooling baby photos—shots of stunning cars are actually enjoyed by one and all. But even though the subject’s a gimme, you can do better than a pic of a vintage 911 hastily snapped in profile (the auto Instagram equivalent of steamed broccoli) that’s been molested by some stonewashed Insta filter from the deep end of the deck.
A little creativity, a little technical know-how, and suddenly all your seen-on-the-street shots of drool-worthy metal are earning you twice the likes and heart-eye emoji, your self-esteem skyrockets, the sun shines a little brighter, and you gain, like, seven new followers in a week. Which is why we asked Huseyin Erturk, pro car photog and an automotive Instagram luminary, for his tips and tricks to taking photos that emphasize the visual iconography and sculptural beauty of all the really kick-ass rides rolling around the streets.
1. Listen to Lil Jon
“Sometimes eye level works, but it’s worth trying to get low or trying high angles,” says Erturk. Flip your phone upside down—even a couple inches makes a difference—or get to crouching. (You’ve been keeping up with leg day, right?) Or you can make like Erturk, who’s been known to scout out a second-floor vantage point where he knows beautiful cars will pass by. “Shooting from above is always fun,” he says. “That point of view, it’s more unique. Especially when you capture a car in motion. It’s like you’re the drone.”
2. How to Expose Yourself
“If you’re planning on shooting, shooting when the light isn’t harsh helps,” says Erturk. Too bad: It’s high noon, the sun’s on full blast, and that glinting Porsche parked on the street is calling your name. What to do? “I usually use the iPhone’s default camera app, because it’s quick to get into. And I usually play with the exposure on the app,” says Erturk. On the iPhone, it’s as easy as sliding your finger up or down on the screen while in the camera app: Up brightens the shot, down—get this—darkens it. (Android users, scroll down through here.) That’ll dial down the sun’s harsh rays.
3. Some of the Parts Are Bigger than the Whole
“Some of these classics have really interesting details that modern cars don’t have,” says Erturk. A tightly framed shot of a car’s most eye-catching angle is more intriguing than yet another profile. Rearview mirrors that are chrome-plated, the lights—especially on those Cadillacs from the ’50s and ’60s. Fins! I love fins. Grilles. Great details on some of them.
4. Follow that Car
You see something special heading toward you from a block away, set to roll right past. That’s when you break out a photographer trick called panning. Instead of holding the phone steady, you swivel as the car rumbles by, keeping it in the same spot on the screen. “I’ll just hold down the shutter button and pan with the car, and most of the time I’ll get the shot,” says Erturk. “The light has to be low—like, sunset. If it’s really bright, you can’t do it with your phone.” Done right, you’ll have that Ferrari in focus, crisp and gleaming, against a blurred background. You’ll know you’ve nailed it if your ‘gram looks like a still from Drive.
5. Backdrop, Crop Top
“For me, the ideal backdrop is a simple one,” say Erturk. But unless you’re the guy with the keys, you don’t have many options when it comes to where a beautiful piece of machinery is parked. Doesn’t mean you need to keep what’s behind the car. Case in point, the shot above, where Erturk somehow made parking-lot asphalt into a graphic canvas for a vintage 911.
6. But If the Background’s Bad…
“There’s this app, Tadaa. It lets you blur specific parts [of a photo] and create a shallow depth of field,” says Erturk, referring to the way a real-deal camera can make the background blur so the subject pops. Unlike Instagram’s basic circle and rectangle blurring—neither of which are the shape a car takes—you can be far more particular with Tadaa. “It’s not easy, and I don’t use it much,” Erturk says. “But it can make a photo look more interesting.”
7. Find the Right Filters
“For filters, I use VSCO Cam. I think it has the most tasteful selection, from black-and-white to color stuff. There’s only one Instagram filter that I really like: Ludwig. It has that retro look, but it’s not full-bore. And I definitely dial it back.”
8. The Secret to Going Black-and-White
Black-and-white can make a vintage ride look timeless—so long as the vibe is right. “If the car is red or blue or green, I’m not going to bother doing B&W. But if the car is black and the backdrop has a lot of light colors—or vice versa—then I’ll do it. Otherwise it looks forced.”
9. Know When to #NoFilter
But for all the wizardly tricks Erturk says you can pull off with a phone, his final piece of advice: be gentle. “Too many adjustments and the picture looks artificial,” says Erturk. “I think people go too crazy with the filters. It goes too far and I’m like, what happened?”