5 Tips for the Best Automotive Photography With Your Cell Phone

Not everybody can afford a nice camera or the extra equipment that professionals use to photograph their favorite Corvette. So, when the bug hits you to take a picture of your own Corvette, take heart because today’s cell phone can take really great pictures too! And, most everybody already has a cell phone. I have even learned a lot from taking pictures with my cell phone. So, here are my 5 tips on how to take great cell phone automotive pictures of your special Corvette, Tuscon, Accord, or Tacoma.

The front end of a C7 Corvette that has been wrapped in a grey and yellow camouflage.
A wrapped C7 Corvette at a car show. Picture taken by cell phone camera | HJ Pizarro

1. Focus on the tool that is available

If a cell phone is the only tool available, then learn the functions within the camera app of your cell phone. Most cell phone apps will have an in-screen button for HD, HDR, or High Resolution. Use it. But, be aware, you will quickly run out of memory space unless you have an extra SD card installed on your cell phone.

Regarding learning the camera app on your cell phone, do not be afraid to turn off the automatic flash. Some pics are considered low light and the automatic flash will go off and leave a bright spot reflected on the car. If you take shots without the flash as well, you may be pleasantly surprised. 

Also, if you go to the settings function of your camera app, there will more than likely be an option for grid lines, or for a 3×3 box function. Use it. This will place a grid on the screen that will help you frame the car you are shooting.

A yellow and orange McLaren sit side-by-side in a parking lot
Two McLarens sit next to each other. Picture taken with a cell phone. | HJ Pizarro

2. Position matters

The best piece of advice I received regarding photographing cars is to take the shot from either bumper high, or from an elevated position. The general public already takes eye-level pictures. If you want your picture to stand out, take the picture from a position others have not already.

Also, not every shot has to be taken from beside the car. Don’t be afraid to step back and include something from the background in your composition of the picture. Or, step closer and capture small details such as a manufacturer’s badge, painted brake calipers, or hood vents.

The rear of a white Dodge Challenger Hellcat
A Dodge Challenger Hellcat at a car show. Picture taken with a cell phone camera. | HJ Pizarro

The last thing regarding position, be aware of reflections and shadows. Don’t be afraid to let your buddy know that his reflection is bouncing off the windshield and into your shot. Also, don’t be afraid to ask the owner if they can move the car so a building’s shadow does not cut the car in half. 

3. The front wheels of the car

Experiment putting the front wheels of the car flat to the cell phone. So, if you are standing at a five o’clock position, the wheels would not be straight. It gives a stronger flavor to the image if you turn the wheels flat, or close to flat, to the camera. Notice the picture below from Acura that has the front wheels turned into the camera.

Red 2021 Acura TLX Type S
2021 Acura TLX Type S | Acura

4. Keep the cell phone attached to you

If you are considering taking rolling shots, be safe. First, make sure you are not compromising your own safety. Second, make sure that the cell phone is somehow attached to you. The last thing you want to do is have to explain to an insurance company how your cell phone was dropped and bounced off another car and chipped the paint, cracked a windshield, or worse. 

5. Don’t be afraid to rotate the cell phone

Pictures are most often taken with the cell phone flat or standing up. However, rotating the cell phone a few degrees can yield a neat stylistic flare that makes the picture stronger. It is a trick that is easy to do. 

BONUS: Practice, practice, practice

Start snapping pictures in your own yard or driveway. You don’t have to find fancy locations until you start feeling confident with your cell phone settings and skills. But, the only way to get better is to start somewhere.

When you come across a car that is hard to photograph, and you will, take your time to find the right angles. The new Toyota Supra comes to mind. From some angles, it is a stunning car. From other angles it is disappointing. Take your time to find that right angle. For example, a side profile picture of the Supra will not be all that intense. However, if you take a picture that accentuates the rear fender bulge, like in the picture below, that will grab some attention.

The Toyota Supra is on display at the Dream Car exposition, which is part of the Brussels Motor Show
The 2020 Toyota Supra | Didier Messens/Getty Images

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Cell phone photography is often looked down upon. But, with practice, pictures can be every bit as stunning as when taken from a legacy camera. If you begin your cell phone picture taking skill-set by using the five tips above, you will eventually be surprising yourself at how far you’ve come in a short period of time. I’ve been using a cell phone almost exclusively for ten years now because of budget restraints. I am grateful cell phone camera resolution has increased over that time. But, I’ve learned that even with poor resolution, if I follow the five tips above, I can still have some decent, or even jaw-dropping and frame-worthy shots. Soon enough you could be looking at your Corvette, Supra, Durango, or F-150 in a different light.