How To Photograph A Dead Car

  • December 9, 2010

There are certain things that attract people to grunge photography; they are mainly abandoned places, forgotten objects, and of course, dead cars. In this post, I’ll show you how to properly photograph a dead car, or at the very least, the methods I use to photograph one.

If you are looking for inspiration, there is a fantastic group on Flickr dedicated to dead vehicles appropriately called Found on Roadside Dead.

Dead Car (1 of 6)
I came across this old abandoned car while visiting a close friend. Although this car is currently sitting on private property, with buildings nearby, the angle of this shot gives the illusion that the car is in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The negative open space gives the feeling of isolation.

Dead Car (2 of 6)
Photos taken head-on show details such as license plates and details such as how cars used to be manufactured. Despite the age, this car still has a nice shiny chrome bumper.

Dead Car (3 of 6)
At a near 45 degree angle from center, this shot reveals an empty engine compartment. This angle is typical of most modern-day car photographs. This angle gives the car a powerful, almost superior appearance. It also works well for grunge style car photographs.

Dead Car (4 of 6)
In my opinion, the inside of a dead car is really where it’s at. If you’re really lucky, the interior will have signs of decay, or at the very least, some sort of environmentally-related damage. If you are faced with a wide variety of dead cars, such as a junkyard or any other location with a bunch of old cars, the cars missing doors, windows, or sunroofs will decay faster on the interior.

Dead Car (5 of 6)
For those of you who are impatient, stains, enviornmental damage, and decay can sometimes be “faked”. However, unless you have a lot of time to spend on props, the one thing that cannot be easilly faked is the ravages of time. The back seat of this car is a prime example of this phenomenon. It just so happens that a plant has found purchase in the foam rubber padding of the rear seat.

Dead Car (6 of 6)
Decay, mess, and muddle is the heart of grunge photography. A close-up shot of the floor inside the car reveals just how long this car has been left to decay; there are large holes rusted through the steel floor.

Just like abandoned buildings, dead cars can be found literally anywhere. I have found several in the woods. If you are looking for a database of dead cars, one actually exists here.

Here are a few take-away tips for shooting an abandoned vehicle. First, make sure wherever your car is located, you can access and photograph it safely. Some abandoned cars found their final resting places as the result of an accident, most are located on private property. Be sure to take a good look at your surroundings before you go in for a closer look.

Second, although it is popular to include models in modern car photo shoots, be extremely careful if you decide to have someone pose against, on top of, or inside an abandoned vehicle. Metal rusts and can be sharp or even jagged. Likewise, with all the weakness associated with structural anomalies, the car itself can become very unstable and/or unsafe for human occupation. I speak from experience when I say that there was one situation where I had a car door fall off of a car as soon as I tried to open it.

Finally, anything you find on, inside, or near the car that belongs or might belong to the car should be left there. No matter how interesting something is, chances are, you don’t want it. The reason for this is safety; the government has enacted strict standards for safety that were non-existent in years gone by. Therefore, it is possible to find lead-based paint, residue from leaded gasoline, or even asbestos.

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