Selling your car is probably the most common reason for taking photographs of your car. While at first glance this seems like it should be a simple task, due to the reflections, curves, and background options, capturing the perfect image can be tough.
As an automotive journalist, I’m often tasked with taking photos of vehicles. With more than a decade of experience, I’ve shot plenty of great shots (and my fair share of unusable ones). Throughout my experience I’ve learned a few tricks that can help you take a photo of your car like a pro. Here are my top eight tips for getting great pics of cars.
How to take a great picture of your car
Tip 1: Determine what you need to capture. Why you need the photo in the first place impacts the quality and type of image you will need.
If the point is to document an incident or send to your insurance provider, you will only need to capture an image of the problem areas in a visible fashion.
If you’re selling your vehicle or using the image for personal use, you’ll want to spend time making the image look the best you can.
Tip 2: Clean up your car. Unless you are photographing a vehicle after an incident or crash, it is recommended that you clean your vehicle, and remove dirt and debris.
A simple wash and wax can make your car shine. This is especially important when selling your vehicle or taking a beauty shot of a vehicle.
Tip 3: The gear matters. With today’s advancements in cell phone technology, you can get some amazing shots with most of the latest new phones. Several tout their photo-taking capabilities as a key selling point for the phone.
While a cell phone photo will work for most needs, and I’ve taken several magazine-quality photos with my phone, you simply can’t beat the capabilities of a quality camera. If you want your photos to truly stand out among the crowd, consider the use of a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera.
For images for your insurance adjuster, a photo from a newer cell phone will work just fine. Older cell phones have lower-resolution image-taking capabilities and may result in a blurry image that is unusable in most situations.
Tip 4: Watch out for reflections. A vehicle is a very reflective surface with plenty of curves. Be aware of items that could be reflected in your photograph.
Stand back a few feet from the vehicle and maneuver yourself so you are not reflected in the image. Also be aware of signs and other people that may be reflected in the image.
Consider the use of a remote for your camera so you can stand at a distance from the vehicle and snap your shots. And, while not always a possibility, open spaces are for battling reflections.
Tip 5: Don’t ignore the background. Many unfortunate photos have been taken thanks in no small part to the image’s background, and this holds true for vehicle photos.
An extremely busy background with lines or patterns can take away from the focus of the shot: the car. Too many similar colors can make it all blur together.
And, a vehicle with too much bright light in the background can make it hard to take clear, detailed photos.
Tip 6: Consider the angle. If you need to photograph the entire vehicle, a “three-quarter” view is the preferred angle to use when photographing any vehicle.
This means you are not taking the photo head on, but with a corner of the vehicle directly in front of you, which allows you to get more of the vehicle into each photograph. This can be done from the front or rear of a vehicle and from either the right or left side.
Stand a little above the vehicle to get as much of it in the shot as possible. For more artistic shots, a straight-on shot or low-down angle can be fun to play with.
If you are taking photos of damage or just need a specific area of your vehicle photographed, take more than just one photo. Take one that shows up close detail, but also take a photo that shows more of the vehicle and helps whoever is looking at the image see exactly where the damage occurred.
Tip 7: Check the time of day. It’s important to keep in mind the time of day and how the angle of the sun will impact your shots.
The best times in terms of natural lighting to photograph a vehicle are just after sunset or just before sunrise. The softer lighting doesn’t reflect the same harsh sunlight you see during mid-day. Some colors may look more muted during these hours, such as pastel hues, so experiment a little before going for the big shot.
Tip 8: Make it special. If this isn’t a simple accident report image or something used to sell your car on Craigslist, then don’t be afraid to get creative and make the image special. A few ways you can make your image come to life include:
- Capture movement, such as the car driving alone or around other vehicles or “in action,” such as cornering hard on the dirt or smoke coming from tires.
- Try a unique location.
- Get more detailed shots, up-close on elements such as the grill or hood, or odd angles for a more artistic look.
- Use photo editing software to make the image really “pop” and enhance colors or blur and highlight certain elements.
At the end of the day, if you are just taking a quick shot of your vehicle for insurance purposes, many of these tips are overkill. But, if you want to take professional, detailed photos of your car, practice your skills and check all angles to frame that perfect shot.