How To Photograph Your Car For A Fast Sale

Aug 8, 2019 3 min read
How To Photograph Your Car For A Fast Sale

Pictures tell 1,000 words. Make them count!

Whether you're selling a car on Craigslist, through a consignment shop or at an auction, the only thing worse than a poor vehicle description (that's a whole different can of worms) is a bad set of photos. Spending a little extra time taking photos will definitely give your car more "curb" appeal as people's eyes scroll down the screen. Not including events such as car shows and auctions, I photograph at least 80 cars per year, and while my camera needs are a little different from that of casual car sellers, these basic tips should help to improve the overall quality of your automotive photography skills.

The most important aspect to any photography is lighting. Planning a photo shoot session is a good idea especially during the "magic hour" as the sun is rising or setting – that's the case with the lead image of that '34 Ford. There is no direct light on the car yet there is still plenty of light to show the car's details. If it starts getting too dark, use a tripod and slow shutter speeds to capture the car instead of using a flash.

If you have no other choice than to shoot during daylight hours, try to do so when the sun isn't directly above the car (around noon) and always position the sun (or any light source) behind the camera and move the car accordingly to limit shadows and glare; pro tip: cloudy or overcast days tend to provide the best lighting. The Porsche 911 above is a good case of not using the lighting properly. It appears to be around noon and the sun is positioned above and just behind the car making a mix of overexposure and dark shadows. Likewise, this Hot Wheels Camaro gallery shows how bad lighting can affect the appearance of a car's interior.

Play In A 2018 Camaro SS Hot Wheels Special Edition

Moving the car frequently to match the lighting is much easier if you choose the right location for your photography. This means choosing an open area where there aren't a lot of people or cars around you, and parking lots are often the most convenient example. You'll just want to avoid a busy lot, which means you might have to go on a weekend, and also keep in mind that most parking lots are private property so you could be asked to leave a location. It happens to me all the time. I've always found that the top level of a parking garage is a reliable go-to location for photo shoots!

The downside of parking lots is that the painted parking lines can sometimes create weird reflections in the paint, which leads to the next aspect of choosing a good location: background. A good background makes for a pretty picture, but it's the car you should be focused on here so the key part is to fill the frame with as much of the car as possible. Be mindful of things such as power lines and utility poles, which can clutter the picture, and watch out for the reflections of trees or buildings that can affect how the car shows in the picture. And speaking of this, stand far enough away from the car when you're shooting it to avoid being seen in the reflection.

Most pictures present best with a level horizon, so avoid overly using crazy angles, and it's also a good idea to limit fish-eye lenses or automatic filters. Remember, you're not shooting for a magazine, so they don't have to look like glamour shots.

Finally, the equipment you use will obviously affect the quality of your photographs, but that doesn't mean you have to go out and buy an expensive D-SLR camera. Most of today's smartphones are perfectly capable of taking great car pictures, although it doesn't hurt to have a decent digital camera with a stout tripod; personally, I use a Nikon D5200 with a 18/200 lens and a Sunpak tripod.

Having access to a studio (like this 1971 Corvette photo shoot, for example) is much easier yet more expensive, so it's more about timing and location than anything else. Below are two galleries with outdoor settings that show examples of good lighting (the Nova) and not-so-great lighting (the Mustang):

Spending a little extra time will literally paint your car in the best light possible, and that's always a good first step. Many report that taking better pictures helps move along the sale of a car, and you might even get a better offer!

More How-To Tips...

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