I am quite sure a bunch of folks from this forum are going to be shooting in the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, so here goes!

I understand that optimal settings vary depending on the circumstancial lighting and distance one is shooting from.

I am looking more for advice on some kind of a safe range of settings I can stay within while shooting indoors (Detroit Auto Show 2013)

I am a rookie and from what I have understood in the last two days, I believe I will need to stick with lower f numbers (to be able to get quick shutter speeds) and preferably stay below 50mm for decent shots without a lot of people getting in it & to stay off the pop up flash.

Ideally, I would like to carry just one lens to the show, but cant seem to make an educated decision.

Please advise.

Here are the lenses I have:

  1. Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX

  2. 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR II ED Nikkor Lens

Paired with a Nikon D7000

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ In my early-morning mental fog I read that title three times as indoor cat show and was delighted. >_> \$\endgroup\$
    – Drew
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 23:54
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As an FYI - the recommendations about shutter speed, aperture, and ISO really apply to all photography, especially all indoor photography. I would recommend reading this: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/16/… \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 3:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Alright, so I ended up taking both the lenses and boy oh boy it was a nightmare shooting with the 35mm mouonted on the cam. It is just too hard to frame your subject (cars in this context) with people zig zagging all over the place. Slotted the 18-200mm back on for the rest of the show and felt at ease.....but dont get me wrong; the clean shots i got with the 35 mm did come out pretty good! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 14:30

3 Answers 3


The problem with the prime 35mm is that in order to frame your shot properly, you'll need good mobility. Which you may not always have in a busy and crowded car show. So I would give one point to the 18-200 for that: It'll let you frame your shots even if you can't get yourself at the exact right position you'd need with the 35.

Then, the thing is: it's a car show. I would expect artificial light, but plenty of it. The goal of a car show is to show off the goods. So they'll be pretty well lit, I think. So I wouldn't worry about having a 3.5-5.6F limitation. It's actually not that bad. You're not at an indie band's concert in an underground bar, here :).

In terms of ISO, you know your camera best. I'd try to keep it as low as possible, check at which threshold the noise becomes unbearable for you. I'd try to keep it under 800, personally.

For the aperture, you may not be able to use the widest apertures either, the reason being that if you do, you may not be able to have all the car in focus (the wider the aperture, the smaller the Depth of Field).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! Just needed the extra guidance. I was eyeing the 35mm f1.8 just hoping to get some interesting bokehs \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 21:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 to the 18-200, Other people will be taking pictures with things like camera phones and point and shoots. They will stand the distance away that fills the frame on the camera phone- which is quite wide angle on most modern phones. That puts them in the way if you have to stand farther away. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phil
    Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 22:33

No need to write off the 35mm completely, since it does have great low light gathering capabilities. However, as has been said you simply won't be able to get the crops you want with it and you won't be able to go wide enough for anywhere that there are people crowding around and you want a clear view without people in the way.

The 18-200 can do this but has much poorer low light, so you may be at a very high ISO most of the time.

You could invest in a constant f/2.8 mid range zoom which would give you a good middle ground but that would be expensive. In Nikon DX that's the 17-55mm f/2.8. Awesome lens for what you want to do, but very expensive and not worth it if you don't do this kind of thing all the time.

You could consider hiring lenses, too.

As for what settings to use? I'll give this advice just because you said you're a rookie: just use P mode unless you want a specific aperture, in which you use A mode, or you need a specific shutter speed (which I can't imagine happening there) in which case you want S mode. Basically. Many beginning photographers are brainwashed into thinking that if you're not using full manual, it's not real photography. It's true that experienced photographers often (or almost always) venture into Aperture- or Shutter-priority modes (or in some cases like long exposures, controlled lighting etc, Full Manual). But they do it for specific reasons, in order to get specific effects. Your camera will choose its aperture and shutter speed in a scientific way, not an artistic way. Start with that, and when you know you need a particular aperture, then override it. And so on. Do you know what I mean?

You will be limited by low lighting anyway, so even if you wanted more depth of field by closing down the aperture you may be compromising on noise or shutter speed a bit by getting it. So if and when you close down the aperture a little bit for that extra depth of field, keep an eye on what shutter speed it's picking to ensure is over 1/30s (when held firmly, or 1/250s if there are people in the photo you don't want blurred!) and in case of auto ISO, that it's not going outrageous (400 is good, 800 is not ideal but you can try it, 1600 is a bitta grain, 3200 is grainy as bro).

On-camera flash may create ugly looking reflections in shiny objects, which car shows will have a lot of.


Just did the Montreal Auto Show yesterday as a regular visitor, meaning during visiting hours. The press probably enters before the show to shoot cars and without crowds first and then stays to shoot the event. This is an important distinction for any type of event, shooting its content (cars in this case) is not the same as shooting the event (people looking at cars).

What worked probably depends on the setup, which I expect to be similar to other car shows:

  • Cars are spread on 3 floors each with extremely high ceilings. I'd estimate the equivalent of 4 building stories per floor.
  • The are hundreds of fluorescent lights suspended from the ceiling. Their elevation compared to the cars make them appear as thin lines relative to the cars.
  • Even during a weekday visit, the show was packed tight with people. Unless the car was fence off, there are constantly people touching, entering, and opening cars.

Having gone before, this matched my expectations, so I decided to bring:

  • Nikon D800 with Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm F/2.8 with 77mm HD polarizer.
  • Pentax K-5 iIs with DA* 50-135mm F/2.8.
  • Pentax K-5 with DA* 16-50mm F/2.8 (Mostly backup for the 24-70mm).

The single most useful item was actually the polarizer. The lights make plenty of reflections on the surface of all cars with the exception of two rare matte-painted models from Honda. Because car surfaces are very specular, the polarizer only reduces most reflections, very few disappear but it still made a huge difference by reducing the contrast to something more manageable.

The Nikkor 24-70mm F/2.8 was used to take pictures of entire or half cars. It is wide enough allowed me to shoot from close enough that there was no one between me and the cars. Because the angle-of-view is so wide though (around 24-28mm), it catches plenty of stuff in the background, like people's heads sticking out of the back of cars. This is not very appealing to me, so I focused on shooting cars where there was no room to pass behind.

enter image description here

The most used lens was the DA* 50-135mm F/2.8 and that was used to take car details. It made it much more easy to produce clean photos, isolating small portions of vehicles. The focal-length (70-200mm equivalent was just right) and the K-5 IIs' Shake-Reduction system was good to have at those focal-lengths, given the light.

enter image description here

Most times shots were taken between ISO 800 and 1600 to get a fast shutter-speed, particularly since the Nikkor is not stabilized.


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