So you've got your hands on a new Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus ($800 at Amazon), Google Pixel 3 ($499 at Amazon) or Huawei P30 Pro ($684 at Amazon), and you've got the keys to the incredible Aston Martin DBS Superleggera. Of course you have, you lucky bastard.
To document this wonderful event, you're going to need to take some truly wonderful photos. That's where I come in. I'm going to take you through my top tips on how to get pro-level images of cars using just your phone.
Though I'm using a Galaxy S10 Plus and an Aston Martin (because of course I am), most of these tips will apply if you're shooting on any recent phone or indeed any car. All images in this piece have been taken with, and edited on, the Galaxy S10 Plus. Let's begin.
Location, location, location
Finding a great setting for your car is the absolute best way to increase your chances of getting a brilliant shot, so think carefully about where you want to go. A car park around the back of a supermarket probably isn't going to yield much success for you, but a beautiful coastal road? Now we're talking.
For me, I headed to the idyllic rolling hills and sweeping roads of the Peak District in the North of England. I know this area well, so I already had some good spots in mind. It's also a great place for driving a car like the DBS, and I wanted to make sure the location fit with the theme of the car. A race car would look a bit out of place on an off-road track in the mountains, for example.
Use weather to your advantage
The weather can completely change the mood of your image, so think about how you can use that. A rainy day with billowing black clouds overhead is great for giving an impression of nature at its wildest -- I'd use this to add drama to a car like a Land Rover that belongs in the great outdoors. A beautiful, golden summer's day meanwhile is worth seeking out to fit the mood of a luxurious open-top cruiser.
Of course you can go only so far in planning around the weather, so you'll often find yourself having to deal with what you've got. Again, location planning is important here -- don't head to Scotland if you want guaranteed clear blue skies.
Use the available light wisely
Though today's smartphones, like the Huawei P30 Pro, can take great shots at night, you'll still get the best results when shooting in the day, so that's when you should plan to take most of your photos.
But even then, pick your times well. On my shoot with the DBS, the midday sun was far too harsh, often making the already dark car fall into shadow as the phone struggled to balance it against the bright sky. By waiting until later in the afternoon when the sun was lower in the sky, I was able to capture much better-looking shots of the car as the light took on a softer quality.
Even then, it's still important to think about how you're using that light. Don't take a shot of the car with the sun directly in the background behind the car. The side of the car you're photographing will be in shadow and one of two things will happen. Either the phone will expose for the sun, throwing the car into shadow, or the phone will expose for the car, leaving the sky looking completely blown out. Neither is a good look.
Instead, moving around will let you find an angle where the sun is lighting up the car, letting you achieve a much more even exposure.
Find your angles
While finding the right angle will help you capture the car in its best light, it's also how you'll add real drama and creative flair to your image.
The classic view on any car -- certainly the angle you'll see most in advertising -- is the front three-quarter view. This shows the most of the car possible in one shot and captures all those fancy front details. It's the best starting point when thinking about your shots, and it's an absolute must-have angle.
But how you get that angle is up to you. For powerful performance cars like the Aston Martin, I like to use a lower angle. This gives the car an imposing, dominating stance, which really works well with the powerful nature of the car.
Move around the car and try it from different angles to see what works best. By moving in close and using the wide-angle lens on the phone, you can keep only the car itself in your shot -- great if you can't control where the car is and you want to eliminate any background distractions.
I wanted to show off the car in the beauty of its surroundings, so I moved away from it and used the standard zoom lens to add more context to the scene. After all, why come all the way to the countryside if you're not going to capture it in the shot?
Capture the details
Every type of car has interesting details that tell a bit of a story about what the car's all about. For the DBS, I got close up on the stitching details on the seat, and on the DBS badge on the sparkly paint, making sure to tap to focus exactly on the spot I wanted to be pin sharp.
Look around your vehicle and think about what details you should highlight. If it's a performance car, look out for rear wings, aggressive-looking air vents, carbon-fibre details or anything that suggests speed and power. Shooting a luxury car? Get inside and get close up on the posh leather seats, real wood paneling or any hood ornaments, like the Rolls Royce "Spirit of Ecstasy."
Shoot in raw, process later
Though the Galaxy S10 Plus takes great, vibrant photos in its standard photo mode, I highly recommend switching to the Pro mode and shooting in raw format. You'll find this option in the settings menu in Pro mode. This file format strips out all of Samsung's default image processing and gives you a much more 'clean' file to work with in post.
Raw images often look quite flat and lifeless straight out of the camera, and you'll always need to do some processing work. It's therefore not as quick a process as shooting in the auto JPEG mode, but getting high-end shots like this is much more of a slow craft than about quick snapping. I always shoot my car images in raw, whether on my phone or my Canon DSLR, because I know I'll always have to do a certain amount of postprocessing.
I edit my images on the phone using Adobe Lightroom CC, though I've also spent a lot of time using Snapseed and VSCO. Don't be afraid of editing your images, and don't be fooled into thinking that you're "cheating." Keep in mind that there isn't a single advertising image of a car out there that hasn't undergone editing -- or heavy expert compositing in many cases -- and the vast majority of the car shots you see on Instagram will have had at least some work done to them.
On most of my images, I'll tend to bring down the highlights to control the sky as well as bring up some of the shadows, which helped to lighten the dark-colored Aston Martin. I also used the brush tool in Lightroom to selectively brighten the car itself and add a bit of contrast which helps its pop out a little more -- it is, after all, the hero of the image.
Finally, I'll usually do some sort of color-balance work, adjusting the hue, saturation and luminance levels of each color to give the effect I want. By using the raw files, you can do a lot more to your images without developing the sort of unpleasant image artifacts you get when using a JPEG.
How much or how little you do to your shots is up to your tastes, but it's worth messing about in your app of choice and experimenting with styles. My advice? Grab a cup of tea, put on some music and sit back and spend some time tweaking those sliders to see what you can come up with. After all, you can always go back to the original if you're not keen, so why not go a bit wild?