How To Photograph Cars
Taking good clear photographs of the car you want to sell is the single most important task you undertake. You want someone to fall madly in love and they can’t if the images are grainy, out of focus, poorly lit or don’t provide any visual information. We are talking romance here.
Since we are in the business of helping you to sell your car, here are some of our tips and some fine examples from photographers John Casado and Mike Dean. Emulate them and you’ll do fine.
You need a scrupulously clean subject. Pay special attention to the bright work, be it stainless or chrome. Sparkle helps. And the windows need to be free of any For Sale signs showing you are selling it in your driveway.
Location, location location. But be sure that the car is the focus (no pun) of attention. If you want to convey a particular feel of the car then consider the location carefully. If you are selling a classic Bentley or Lincoln, then perhaps in front of the gates to a grand estate might be in order. A nimble sports car like an Elan or Healey might be more comfortable on a winding country road. You get the idea.
You should also try and be a bit bold in your selection. If you live in a metropolitan area, try and use it. Professional photographers use dramatic cityscape backgrounds often. Others position the car near buildings with strong architectural details. Just make sure there aren’t poles or power lines messing up the shot.
In natural settings, try not to be overly creative. The subject should not be too far out of context. A Series IIA Landie looks great on the sand bathed in a warm glow at sunset. A ’72 911S wouldn’t feel right. And the saltwater…yikes!
Personally, I like stonewalls for sports cars but that too depends on the color of the car and the stone. Open, expansive parking lots with black asphalt and freshly painted white lines can also be cool. Just watch out for lampposts poking out of the roof.
Let there be Lighting
The essential element of every photo shoot is lighting. And unless you are a professional (why would you be reading this if you were) then avoid trying to enhance what nature gave us with additional lighting. Set your alarm clock and get up early enough to catch the sunrise. Leave enough time to get to the location, get setup, take a few test shots and then wait. Bring coffee with you. Be patient but be ready. You’ll only have a few minutes of perfect lighting to get what you need.
The same goes for sunset although you might be less tired. I can’t emphasize getting to the location early enough. Preparation is important. Make a list of the shots you want and go through the list to make sure you don’t miss something. And finally, when the sun retreats just so, turn on the lights for a little drama.
Okay, so you have a funky work schedule and you’ll never be able to catch the golden hours. Just don’t shoot when the sun is the brightest. Overcast days are better.
If you are lucky enough to have an E-Type to shoot you have thousands of options for shots. But what ever you have you need to exploit its virtues to the max.
Shoot from eye level, but to make your shots stand out, you’ll need to exploit different angles and vantage points in the shoot. Shoot from just above the ground. This gives the car an aggressive look. But if you have a Bugeye Sprite aggressive isn’t going to work so well. Move the car around in the location to make sure you are getting the most out of the location. Avoid distractions behind the car: no trees or utility poles. If you don’t have a tripod, borrow one. They will add sharpness to the image.
Now get to the details. You know the
important design elements of the car. Don’t be afraid to get in there close and shoot them. Watch your focus too. Some digital cameras need to be set for closeup shots. Take that beautiful period Talbot mirror, a Cibie Super Oscar, the beautiful gills behind the wheels of your Ferrari. They all need attention. Again, be close and make sure you are in focus. You will be handheld during this portion of the shoot. And get some shots of the uniform gaps around the car too. Most buyers like to look at all 4 wheels to make sure there is no curb rash on those Campagnolos.
You will want to take a few shots around the car at a little bit above eye level. Crouch down or sit on a stool to steady yourself. A dramatic shot of the sweeping sides of the car are great and show how nice the door fit is.
There are many opportunities to show detail with interior shots. Make sure you show the crack-free dash or if you have a crack, time to fess up. Don’t try and hide anything here. We all have wrinkles and cracks. It’s part of our character. If you have beautiful chrome gauges or trim like on a Mercedes from the ‘60s, go in close. Leave the key in the ignition but make sure you have a nice key ring. Images of the gauges operating with the engine at operating temperature are helpful too.
Make sure you take photos of the door jams too. All of them. People want to see the quality of the paintwork if it has been repainted. Sloppy masking over the labels can tell a lot about the quality. And the trunk must be free of all the junk you store in there. Showing a pair of battery jumpers isn’t going to instill confidence. I keep all my tools in a vintage American Tourister Tiara. Very ‘60s and very tidy.
The engine compartment should be squeaky clean. So do what you’ve been putting off for the past 2 years and clean it up. Then take a good overall shot. That should be enough. Now the undercarriage is the hardest. Obviously if you can get it on a lift, do it. And take a few shots especially near the rockers or jack points. Everyone seems to like to know about those areas. The exhaust system is a good place to focus on too. If you can’t get it on a lift, jack it up a bit on one side and here is where you may need to shed some unnatural light or use a flash. These pictures don’t have to be artful, just convey information.
And then there is always Photoshop or countless digital photography enhancers. But I can’t go into that in any detail. But it is easy to figure out how to crop, enhance the contrast, punch up detail or adjust the temperature. Just be sure you don’t fall prey to using all of those fancy treatments that distort the reality of the shot. No antiquing, sepia tone or anything else Instagram offers. Tell it straight and you will be rewarded with a quick sale at a good price.
Images courtesy of Mike Dean, all rights reserved.
Image of Pontiac Ventura courtesy of John Casado, all rights reserved