The perils of being an amateur car photographer

I guess it had to happen sooner or later. Having taken a quick snap of the Toyota Corolla you see above, I was approached by the supermarket’s security guard asking what on earth I was doing.

Thinking quickly, I blithered on about my love of the mundane and under appreciated, hoping he would accept my explanation and move away. Had it been a supercar or something vaguely exotic, he probably wouldn’t have given my actions a second thought, but this was different. Quite simply: people don’t take photos of 1993 Toyota Corollas. Not unless they’re about to whack them on Gumtree.

I could tell by the look on the security man’s face that he didn’t quite believe my explanation. He gave me the look that was a mixture of disbelief, concern and pity. Given that he followed me around the shop, he obviously didn’t see me as a trustworthy type. But to be fair to Mr Security, how can you trust somebody who takes phone snaps of a Corolla that, judging by its MOT history, might not see next Christmas?

Taking photos of cars when you’re an amateur snapper like me is a risky business. It’s almost impossible to look normal when you’re taking photos of cars away from an environment where it would be considered standard practice.

It’s fine if your name is Simon Clay or Andy Morgan, in which case you’re probably armed with enough camera equipment to shame a BBC studio and are dressed in thermal clothing that wouldn’t look out of place on a North Pole expedition. Professional photographers somehow manage to look right, even when they’re not taking photos of cars. They also have Thermos flasks that provide a never ending supply of hot liquid.

For the rest of us, you simply end up looking a bit weird.

Red Volkswagen Polo

Imagine, if you will, a scenario in which you turn up at a remote beauty spot to take some photos for your next new and exclusive must-read first drive review online road test. You roll into the car park and are about to find a suitable location for your oh-so-amazing glamour shots when you catch sight of a young family emerging from their Qashjuketara.

How weird do you look as you enter the car park on your own in a suspiciously oversized car that was clearly designed for a different demographic? Keen not to make eye contact, you do a swift u-turn, conscious that the mother of the family is making a note of your number plate, just in case your car appears on the next edition of Crimewatch.

Things aren’t much better when you attempt a photo by the side of the road. Typical, isn’t it? You’re driving along and you haven’t seen another car for miles. Realising the field of oilseed rape/snow-capped mountain/sun-drenched coastline/disused power station/derelict garage (delete as applicable) could provide a brochure-like backdrop to your out-of-focus snap, you park up, turn the wheel at a jaunty angle and cross the road in the hope that you’ll take a photo worthy of a Sony World Photography Award.

What happens? A stream of vehicles come into view. First, a bus-load of tourists, which is swiftly followed by a dumper truck and enough cyclists to fill a peloton. Conscious that you’ll look a bit strange taking a photograph of a base-spec Hyundai i10, you pretend to take a photograph of the scenery instead. Please tell me I’m not the only person to have done this.

Other get out of jail quick manoeuvres include pretending to get something from the back seat; preparing to remove something from your empty boot; going for a quick walk; or simply getting back into the car and driving off. Whatever happens, you end up looking a little deranged.

1992 Nissan Sunny

I’m fully aware that some people are fortunate enough to make a living out of taking random photos and videos of cars they spot in the street. But evidence suggests that these people tend to be based in London where every other car is either super-expensive or super-desirable. Taking photos of such cars is as normal as taking a selfie.

But I’m even less likely to take a snap of a supercar than I am a selfie, so I’ll continue to take photographs of J-reg Nissans and faded-red Polos. Imagine my joy when I discovered that Sunny has a fresh MOT and has covered a remarkable 243,000 miles from new. What, you can’t imagine? Right, moving on.

The embarrassment of being caught taking a photo of a random car is bad enough, but it’s a whole lot worse when the car’s owner springs into view. How on earth do you explain a love of a 1992 Nissan Sunny? Or why you’re so keen to take a photo of an original RAV4’s three-spoke alloy wheels. Sometimes it is better to hide around the corner until the owner has driven off.

Yes, I’ve been there, done that.

This is the life of an amateur car photographer. If you can relate to any of this waffle, pull up a chair. You’re amongst friends. If, on the other hand, you happen to see a tall, lanky chap who looks like he doesn’t get out much, do a Dionne Warwick and walk on by.

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Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.


  1. April 30, 2016
    Jake Belder

    Totally relate to this! Although I don’t feel embarrassed about taking photos of my car with nice backdrops. I do it all the time.

  2. May 2, 2016

    I can relate.

    Saw a 1300 Lancia Delta the other day in a hospital car park – how can I not take a pic!

  3. May 9, 2016

    Hahaha, I really know this 😀 Other people looking like: “What? What´s so interesting ´bout this old crap? Does ho want to steal it?!” Great article!


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