1. Find a Good Location
Focusing on the interior, it would be wrong to think that your location doesn’t matter. If you are concentrating on macros of interior details this will not be as relevant but with a wider angle, you are sure to capture the car windows in your photograph, probably the windshield and one of the side windows. Take note of your area and find one that has a background that is mostly free from distractions as those distractions will take away from the impact of your photo drawing the eye away from your focus. Look for a clear sky, small hills, a clean tree line, etc. Avoid people, buildings with logos, and unappealing structures. Keep note of what you want the viewer to focus on, check your photos and look to see where your eye goes in the frame. If it goes straight to the exterior, you’ll probably want to move the car or adjust your framing lower to eliminate the background as much as possible.
2. Take Note of the Light
This is a tricky one, as low light is preferred it can also give you weird shadows in the interior. If you are taking these photos outside, try to avoid mid-day sun as it will create harsh shadows in your photo that do not look great. If you can’t avoid the mid-day sun, find a place with optimal shade coverage. Having an open area with low light can give you the option to move the car to the angle that gives you the light you desire. Also, low light can give you the option of having the sun peak in the corners of your interior shooting directly into the light which can add a lot to the impact of your photograph. You’ll want to shoot into the light and move around so the sun is just peeking into your frame to get that sunburst. The higher the f-stop the bigger the sunburst, so start around f/8-f/10 and go up from there. Keep note of your time as well as the light falls it will greatly impact the light in your photos and it will happen fast.
3. Clean Up
Taking interior photos it’s incredibly important to clean up as much as possible. First, shake out the floor mats. Even if you don’t plan to get the footwell area in your photos, you’ll thank yourself if you do capture the floor in one of your photographs because every single piece of dirt, gravel, grass, sand, etc. will all show and it will be a lot of cloning and patching during post-processing. Do yourself a favour and take the mat out, shake it and make sure it’s positioned correctly when you put it back. Having the mat off by even an inch can make a messy and unprofessional-looking photo. Secondly, use a micro fibre cloth to wipe down the dash, instrument panel, and gear lever/gearshift area. Remove as much dust as you can as again this will save you a ton of time as you will have much less to remove during post-processing. Manual transmissions tend to get the most dirt and dust buildup around the shifter area.
4. Make Sure Everything Else is Neat
I recommend making sure all dials and air vents are lined up properly. That means making sure your dials are in the same position. For example, if there is a physical toggle or dial, be sure to have them consistently positioned either in the middle (if possible), or all to the left or right. Also, having the positioning of the air vents in the middle and making sure they are preferably facing straight both vertically and horizontally is important. This is a step that can be easily overlooked, but it’s one of the most important as it will make a world of difference to the professionalism in the presentation of your photo. If possible, look at some press photos of the car you are photographing to see how they have them positioned. Just google “year, brand, model, press photos”.
5. Watch Your Angles
Depending on what aspects of the interior you want to capture you can go from small details with a macro lens to wide angles capturing everything from one door to the next. When using a macro, focus on an f-stop as low as possible to eliminate background elements with nice bokeh. Macro lenses are very precise with focus when using a low f-Stop. You’ll want to check your photos immediately after taking them to ensure your focus is where you were intending and if not, either reframe or increase your f-stop to get what you want. On the wide end, it’s very easy to get too much in your frame (including you). Keep note of reflections on the doors as you will probably be just outside the car when taking these photos, to make sure you don’t capture yourself in the frame. Also, take note of the angle of your shot to avoid distortion of the interior elements. Personally, I prefer to use a 24-105 lens as anything below 24mm seems to be too wide for my liking.
To conclude, there is a good deal of preparation when shooting interiors as overlooking small things can greatly impact your photo. Be sure to bring a micro fibre cloth with you if you have one to quickly wipe down the interior. Also, this post is assuming you are using a tripod. Macro shots will mostly be handheld but anything else should have your camera secured to a tripod. This will allow you to use a high f-stop and avoid any potential blur or missed focus.