Photographing in busy environments isn't an unusual thing for someone that mainly takes pictures in the automotive or wedding industry. By default there are gonna be a lot of people around. There's a difference though between shooting a wedding and photographing a automotive trade show, after all as a wedding photographer you are there to photograph people. Sure the bride and groom are the focus of the day, but guests and whatnot don't necessarily get in the way, and, there is an awful lot less of them. Even at a race meeting, invariably I'm in front of the crowd line and even if I am not, the presence of people in a picture can often make it.
A car or motorcycle show is different though. Number one there are more people, a lot more! Number two, your main focus is the cars and the bikes that are the stars of the show! Quite frankly, anything that distracts from them is going to potentially wreck a good photo and just to clarify, when I say distractions, I mean people. There are other things that don't help as well, like other cars, pieces of exhibits and the background isn't always the best. Oh, and the low light of a lot of these shows. But! There is always a solution and you can still get some great results with your photography if you start to get a bit creative...
A car is always the sum of all of it's parts, that is, there are lots of different things that contribute to its over all beauty. Start to break the vehicle down into pieces, really analyse what it is that attracts you to that particular automobile. Is it a particular line on the bodywork? Perhaps it's the shape of the rear wing that you like, or the badge? Maybe it has a super sexy set of pipes hanging out of the back end or protruding from under the skirts? Invariably if you think about your favourite car there will be a whole list of individual details that you like and as a photographer you can hone in on these and make a picture out of them. Take the shot I've included here of the Mercedes 300SL, one of my favourite cars of all time! I've picked out the vents that appear on the side panels of these beautiful machines. For me they create interesting shots and your car friends can have a bit of fun with what car guess who.
Another thing to be aware of is not being afraid to use the cluttered backgrounds and foregrounds to help add interest to your images. Open up your aperture and use the obstructions that stop you from getting a clean shot, to produce some beautiful Bokeh. It's amazing what the bright lights, rope barriers and other cars can do for your photos when you stop worrying about their presence. Try it and experiment and you will soon start to view them differently.
The last thing I mentioned was the light. Rule one, don't be afraid to exploit your ISO, that is what its there for! Much better to cancel the noise caused by that than try and fill in distortion caused by poor exposure. The high ISO performance on modern cameras is fantastic anyway, so you can get away with leaning on it more than you ever could before. Rule two of this is to experiment with picking out highlighted areas of what your shooting and intentionally under expose the areas you aren't so fussed about seeing. Back to the Merc badge shot above and the black areas really are black, as I've set my exposure for the emblem. Over-all the shot is under-exposed, but the details that I want are there to see.
Check out this gallery from a motorcycle show I was at earlier this year, that was rammed with people and very dark! You may not be able to get that perfect shot of a whole car every time, but you can still get some fabulous photo's if you aren't afraid to experiment and unleash your creativity. Get out there and give it a go!