Car Photography 101

Selling a car isn’t easy, but as they say : a picture speaks a thousand words. We’ll show you how to get the winning shot that will sell the car quickly.

What you’ll need:

  • Of course your Camera(s)!
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra digital storage cards (I assume you are using a digital camera by now)
  • A few lenses (I prefer using my Nikkor 18-200mm and 35mm f/1.8)
  • An external flash if your camera does not have a built-in unit.
  • Bottle of glass cleaner
  • Bottle of interior dressing (a dab of sunflower oil will work too)
  • Bottle of tire shine (bring a bottle of sunflower oil if you don’t have real tire shine)
  • Three clean rags (one soaked in water and wrung out, the other two should be dry)
Step One:

Detail Your Car

Wash your car, detail the interior and engine, and make sure not to leave any garbage, personal items or your Coach purse on the driver’s seat. It sounds ridiculously rational, but just look at Used Car magazines and see how many of the cars displayed aren’t gleaming. Make sure there aren’t any water spots. Make the paint seamless, the chrome dazzle, the tires sexy.

Step Two:


Be fastidious as to where you shoot your car. Make sure the background is complimentary to the subject, not a distraction (i.e. telephone poles, ungainly buildings or structures, trash and debris, etc) For example, if you use a building as a backdrop, find a reflective building or one where its color contrasts with the car’s hue. Don’t shoot a modern vehicle in front of an old building (unless it’s a retro car or motorcycle). In my experience, driving your car to a nearby open field or empty parking lot yield the best results. Finding the ideal setting may seem like a hassle, but the intention is to capture your viewer’s imagination.

Step Three:

Camera Position

Avoid the temptation of just taking the picture from eye level. Shoot from a ground-up, 45-degree angle to give the proportions of the car more impact. Otherwise, a lateral angle slightly above the vehicle, especially if it’s a convertible, giving the car copious grandeur. Shoot about 15-20 away from the subject. You can also experiment close shots with a wide angle lens or distance shots slightly zooming-in.


Step Four:

Dusk or Dawn?

Show towards the sun but not directly into it. Shooting in the opposite direction of the sun can cause your shadow to cast onto the car, an undesirable effect. If properly positioned the light from the sun will reflect off the car and into the camera lens, which is especially beautiful if the sun is just at sunset. Shoot all angles of the full exterior body plus some angled close-up shots of body panels, such as the example shown.


Step Five:

Lighting and Positioning

Like a landscape shot, lighting will effect the composition and character of your car dramatically. The best lighting conditions are usually right after sunrise or just before sunset. The light is generally warm, seductive and forgiving – the complete opposite to mid-day sun that has a tendency to burn-out top surfaces, cause murky shadows in the lower regions and thoroughly bleaches-out cockpit and engine sections. Use flash during warm lighting conditions. It is also advisable not to photograph the car from the shadow side unless you compensate with flash.


Step Six:

Interior Shots

Shoot dark interiors without flash, light interiors with flash. Park your car completely out of direct sunlight, as it can cause ghostly (and ghastly) shadows. The wider the angle your lens is set at the better. Ideally you can shoot looking in from both the driver’s side and passenger side, while not forgetting to shoot the rear seating area, close-ups of the dashboard, center console, and instrument panel.


Step Seven:

Engine Shots

Finally, open the hood and take a few shots of the gleaming engine compartment, then the trunk area. Generally keep your flash on when shooting these darker environments. Take close-ups of vital engine components, Vehicle Identification Stickers, books and manuals, and any repair receipts you may have.


Step Eight:

Edit and Sort

Once you have the photos on your digital camera card, carefully look through them and delete any blurry, odd or poorly angled images. Also delete any clones, and if you have say four clones of the same angle then choose the best one and delete the rest. After this sort the images from exterior→ interior→ engine→ trunk/cargo→ books/records → VIN/options tags. Then rename the images in numerical order (i.e., corvette1, corvette2, and so on) so that they will display in the same order online.


Step Nine:

Resize and Upload

Optimal internet viewing size is generally between 800-1000 pixels. Anything smaller makes it difficult for buyers to see any meaningful detail of your car. Use this free photo resizing program to batch resize all your images at once:


Emailing your photos to anyone is sooo 1990’s. Rather, upload your incredible photos to a free image host like photobucket, Google’s Picasa or Yahoo’s Flickr and email the album link to potential buyers, place the link in your classified ad, or insert the album HTML into an HD Auctions template!

A general rule of thumb in photography is the more pictures you take the greater chance you will produce at least a few excellent photos. So charge up your battery and shoot away. It is not uncommon for me to take 150+ photos just so I can get 40-60 really outstanding shots.

A car is a big investment and you want a good return for it, so be patient, follow the nine steps and, above all, have fun composing the perfect shot!

Example Photoshoot:

A well-rounded example of a complete vehicle photoshoot. 150 images were original taken and 88 were kept. Pay attention to the lighting, the sun location, angles, and lens zoom or lack thereof. Most shots were made with flash, as we recommend for any car photoshoot.

Tip:  print the following thumbnails out onto one page and bring with you on your shoot so you can try to duplicate.

  • Camera: Nikon D300
  • Lens: Nikkor 18-200mm VR
  • Flash: On (all shots)

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