Parked Photography LogoParked Photography Logo

Cinematic Car Photography

By: j.wilder

Updated: 12-12-2022

Cinematic Car Photography
Escape. Sony a6000. Settings: f/6.3, 1/200s, ISO-100, 38mm. Photo by James Wilder.

Cinematic Car Photography

What is Cinematic Car Photography? The key idea is making your car photo look like it could be a still from a movie.

The next question is: what is a photo from a movie supposed to look like?

Here are a few ideas:

Instead of just focusing on the framing of a car, think of the composition as part of a scene from a movie. What might be going on?

  • Maybe include nearby elements that could be part of the story such as the door of a building.
  • Look for dramatic lighting such as hard shadows, street lights, light beams, etc.
  • Take advantage of moody weather or environment. Fog, dust, and rain are the obvious conditions. Wet streets are highly reflective and dramatic.
  • Some people go as far as cropping the photo at an aspect ratio that mimics a movie screen. I will pass on this idea, but it is interesting.

Another question would be how different is this approach from your current approach? Don’t we all want our photos to convey a feeling? Or make the viewer ask questions, rather than just documenting a car?

Parked Photography is Cinematic

There is no precise definition for cinematic photography. It is simply utilizing a variety of composition methods to tell a compelling story. Therefore, cinematic photography aligns well with parked photography.

Parked Photography is a car photography genre that captures the soul of a car in its natural habitat: parked, waiting, stored, forgotten, honored, remembered, or abandoned.

The simple definition for Parked Photography is "shooting cars where they are: parked, waiting, stored, forgotten, honored, remembered, or abandoned."

Adding cinematic style to parked photography can make the image and story richer.

Cinematic Car Photography
Mercury at Midnight. Brenham, Texas. Nikon d5000 24mm, f/4, 1/20 sec. ISO 1000. Photo by James Wilder

Other Views

What views are there on cinematic photography?

I have included a reference of a photographer that defines cinematic as one of his styles, a video that poses the same question to several movie directors, and a video by a street photographer who describes his view of cinematic street photography.

Ming Thein: Defining Cinematic

"I enjoy the shooting in the cinematic style because of the emotional charge and intensity of the moment you can convey; the richness of color and texture, and the overall feeling of drama." -Ming Thein

According to Ming, "The two obvious hallmarks of the style are an abundance of out of focus areas, a narrow/ wide format [aspect ratio], and highly directional light. ... directional light works together with shallow depth of field to provide two of the five ways of isolating a subject (light, depth of field, color, texture, motion). ... Knowing precisely how much depth of field to use is important too – I think the right amount of blur is enough to separate, but not so much to fully abstract."

Ming goes on to talk about lighting and creating depth using foreground-to-background layering (see link below).

Ming also acknowledges that cinematic might not be the best term to use for stills. He says "perhaps 'cinematic' is not precise nomenclature; it's really a fusion of street photography, photojournalism and cinema."

Defining Cinematic, Ming Thein, 2013

Top Cinematographers: What Makes an Image Cinematic?

Cooke Optics asked top cinematographers at the British Society of Cinematographers show and Micro Salon the big question: What makes a cinematic image?

What makes an image cinematic?
Cooke Optics. 11min

Eren Sarigul talks about Cinematic Street Photography

This is not specifically about cars. But it is about street photography, and "Parked Photography" is strongly related.

Eren Sarigul talks about Cinematic Street Photography and three ways in which you can make your photos more cinematic.

Rather than cinematic, think artistic, rich, story, mood.

1. Color theory. Think about complementary colors.

2. Subject. Find a great scene and wait for the right subject (car) to enter it.

3. Light. The lighting can help tell a story, set the mood. Rain shots are always cool.

Eren Sarigul's insta account includes a few car shots. Worth browsing.

Eren Sarigul Video: Making Your Photos Look More Cinematic. 9min Video

Cinematic Street Photography Group

Here is a cinematic street photography group on flickr:


If you are new to car photography you will most definitely be interested in these valuable resources:

23 Epic Reasons to Get Into Car Photography - And change the world.

Get Into Car Photography - My car photography ebook (always a work in progress).

James Wilder

James Wilder is the owner, writer, photographer, designer, and developer of Parked.Photography.


Cadillac CT4-V Series + Ricoh GR3

Ricoh GR3 for Car Photography

Cars Of 7-Eleven