How To Take Car Photos With An iPhone

In the spirit of Chase Jarvis's excellent book The Best Camera is the One That's With You, I've recently started shooting cars with my iPhone 3GS. Who knew that tiny little lens had soul?

The images you see here were not retouched. They weren't sharpened or cropped, their colors weren't boosted, and I didn't put them through any filters. The only magic here is the glow of a California afternoon and the liquid love that passes for red paint in Ingolstadt. Not bad for a phone camera, eh?

Don't get me wrong: None of these pictures are masterpieces. But like any other camera, the iPhone rewards attention to detail, and it can produce remarkably good images if you're paying attention. It also recently became the most tagged camera on Flickr. We figured it was time for a few car-snappin' tips.

How To Take Car Photos With An iPhone

If you want to start pointing your phone at shiny things with wheels, it helps to remember the following: One, always have the sun at your back; it reduces both glare and graininess and increases contrast. Two, avoid low-light situations — the iPhone's high-ISO performance is good, but it's still a phone with a slow lens — in order to maximize sharpness and clarity. And three, remember that a camera is a camera is a camera — in the end, composition is paramount. If you think about what you're doing rather than just flinging off quick snaps, your shots are far more likely to be interesting.

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Still, you could say the same about almost any digital camera. The iPhone 3GS's 3.0-megapixel camera is a bit special, if only because it offers so few options and limited adjustability. Here are three more tips that might help:

  • Everyone knows that the 3GS will focus where you tap your finger. Don't forget that it also meters for exposure based on that tap. If an image is too dark or too light, try tapping in a different location. Nine times out of ten, you can trick the camera into exposing the subject the way you want without losing focus. (Note: Apps that offer exposure compensation make this a lot easier, but we've yet to try one.) It may take a bit of perseverance, but the end result is usually worth it.


  • Location, location, location: The iPhone's lens and software like natural contrast and hate big washes of light, so go for subjects and backgrounds that look clear and crackly in person. If all else fails, stick to details — the 3GS seems to be happiest when it's focusing close and operating with a relatively short depth of field.
  • Stay away from motion and diffused light. Sadly, the iPhone is at its worst when asked to deal with moving objects or complex lighting. Avoid pan blurs and soft, hazy light unless you're willing to shoot hundreds of throwaway images for one good one.

In other news, the 2010 Audi S4 — the car in the picture — is a press vehicle that recently passed through my driveway — goes like a Bruce out of hell and begs you to flog it. But then, you already knew that.

Got cool iPhone car photos? Show us — drop 'em in the comments!