If you've ever agonized over getting the lighting and reflections just right in your 3ds Max vehicle rendering, just imagine doing all of that in real life. Tabletop product photography is challenging enough, but car photography—where you're dealing with an enormous and ultra-reflective object whose surfaces seem to bend in every direction—takes it to a whole ’nother level.
"One of the biggest problems shooting pictures of cars is controlling the light," says Lance Kouchi of the So Cal Viper Club, an auto enthusiast group. "Sunlight always puts hot spots on the car or there is incredible glare." In the photo below, you can see the massive overhead softbox rigged up in photographer Lyle Okihara's studio, where Lance's Dodge Viper ACR was the shooting subject. Softboxes like these are used to diffuse the light, softening and spreading it over as wide an area as possible.
A less expensive alternative to ginormous softboxes—which can reportedly run upwards of US $300,000, depending on the size—is to use standard studio lighting and bounce light off of an enormous overhead reflector, as seen in this shoot by the UK's Pure Creative Marketing.
Depending on what kinds of reflections you need, these overhead "bounces" can get absurdly large, as seen below in Belgium's Izmo Studio.
The powerful and heavy lights required for shooting large-scale objects require your grip skills be up to the task, of course. In an essay on "Dangerous Photography Jobs," pro shooter Danie Nel (shown below) writes "Car Studio Photography: Danger Factor 4 - Dropping a Bambino light on your head."
Above all, to light and shoot a car you need a massive amount of space, preferably one you can drive right into, like Studio Sitges in Barcelona.
To cut down on distracting visual breaks in the background, ideally you'd shoot someplace with a cyclorama, which is a skateboard-park-like blending of the walls and floor common in many photography studios, like Detroit's Blue Sky Photography Studio.
If you want to go all out, you'd find a place that has not only a cyclorama, but a cove (a cyclorama than encompasses the ceiling), as they do in several of the UK's Calvert Studios' six spaces.
For shooting 360, there are heavy-duty automotive turntables available, like the kind they have at the aformentioned Izmo Studio.
And lastly, if you can't get your car to the studio, you can find a hardcore photographer like Peter Harholdt, who will bring the studio to you.
Harholdt, who specializes in on-site photography for museums, where it's often impractical to transport objects, hauled his portable studio all around America to shoot images for the Art of the Muscle Car coffee table book.