If you plan to list your collectible car for sale online, either by ad or auction, you need to familiarize yourself with the basics of car photography.  While today’s smartphones have the potential to take spectacular pictures, great photographs that highlight your prized possession only result if you follow some basic rules. A potential buyer may not give your collectible car’s ad a second-look if the photos are not attractive – even if you have your collector vehicle priced well.

Become an artist and have fun with it!  A picture will really say 1,000 words about your car and you don’t need an expensive camera and lens.  On thing is certain: when trying to sell your car online, the more pictures the better.  Following the tips below will help you showcase your car, create a better used car listing, and in turn sell your car much more quickly.  

First, Clean Your Car.  Seriously!

Seems obvious, right?  Apparently not to everyone.  We have seen cars listed for sale with filthy interiors and windows that you can barely see through.  No one buys a dirty car! Do you really want to sell your car or are you just appeasing your wife , i.e., “Honey, I DO have the car listed!”  While a basic wash and shine will improve your collector car’s appearance, make the time to detail your vehicle and that includes removing all personal effects from the vehicle during the shoot.  The next buyer wants to imagine themselves in the vehicle you’re trying to sell, so don’t make that hard for them by leaving your stuff in the car or worse,  yesterday’s lunch garbage.  No one wants to imagine anyone eating in their “brand-new-to-them” car!

Next, Lighting: Picking the Proper Time Is Critical!

Where and when you take your photos can make all the difference in your shots.  If possible, photograph during the “Golden Hours” (known as the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset) to ensure your  vehicle is surrounded with a warm look.  If you can’t take pictures during the Golden Hours, then either wait for a cloudy day or pick a shaded area.  Either of these is better than bright sunlight as long as you are able to minimize shadows.  Midday light is too harsh and never good for any photo and worse may cause intense hot spots from the sun reflecting off the car and flatten the car’s appearance.  If you’re an early bird, aim for sunrise as there will be less distraction. For instance, if you take the car to a park, beach, or empty parking lot the chances of people getting into your photos are less likely then at sunset.

If you’re using a camera rather than your smart phone, you may want to invest in a polarizing filter.  These filters minimize glare and reflections and work very well.  A bright, sunny day is wonderful unless you’re photographing a car.   Investing in a polarizing filter is a win-win as you will find many uses for it years after your car is a distant memory.

Walk around the car and carefully look at the direction and quality of the light and how it impacts your subject.  Be conscious of where you need to stand to achieve the result you are trying to obtain.  What many incorrectly do is park their collector car in one spot and then take all of the pictures in that same spot.  To maximize the use of the correct light on your car, don’t be afraid to turn the car around in the same spot and then take more pictures of the opposite side from that vantage point.

One last thought on lighting.  The internet is filled with car ads showing a dark space with something in it. That’s right! People are trying to sell their cars by taking photos at night? Okay, it may be that wife thing again, but come on.  Don’t waste anyone’s time, especially your own. Put your car in the best light it deserves.

Next, Shoot Many Angles…as in Every One!

Buyers want details when they are considering purchasing a car online.  Shoot as many angles of your vintage car that you can.  Lie on the ground and shoot from really low and/or stand on a chair or ladder and shoot from really high. Kneel down to make sure the photos you’re taking are eye level to the car.  Here is a checklist you can use to ensure you have every angle covered.

Car Photography Checklist

Regardless of the angles taken, make sure every shot used has the entire section of your car in view.  There’s nothing worse than finding a collectible car online that catches your interest only to realize that there is only one image with the car not fully in the frame or worse, it’s the only photo or the rest are blurry.  If you want to sell your car, provide as many photos and angles as you can.

In addition, take close-ups of some of the coolest features of the vehicle such as a hood ornament, horns, wheels, logos, custom leather seats, a heavy-duty winch, or towing package.  Also don’t be afraid to take pictures of the books and receipts that will be included in the sale.

Composition – the placement of relative objects and elements in a work of art

Treat your collector car as a work of art when photographing it, regardless of its condition!  Carefully frame your photos and be sure to reduce any unnecessary clutter.  Look for backgrounds that don’t detract from the car. Your neighbor’s home or cars in the driveway does not make for a great photo.  LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!  Scout around for a beautiful background that compliments your car.  For instance, a convertible would look stunning against a big, blue open sky and already give the potential buyer the experience of driving with the top down on a gorgeous day.  Be careful that nothing like a tree or pole is growing out of the top of the vehicle. Position yourself for great shots and don’t make the mistake of taking photos too close to the car as it could create distortion – it’s better to zoom from a distance than to stand too close to the vehicle.  Be sure to fill most of the frame with the car as nothing else in the photo is important to the viewer.

Keep it Honest

While you may want to edit unsightly parking lot lines and the like, don’t do anything to touch up the car or cover up flaws.  Give careful thought to and then take close-ups of the things a potential buyer needs to see. If your photos look too good to be true, a potential buyer will think they ARE too good to be true.  We listened to a story of a professional car photographer who had taken images of thousands of vehicles. When he was trying to sell his own car (a Mercedes E300) online, he didn’t get a nibble until a friend shot some photos and gathered immediate responses.  In other words, if people think they’re stock photos and not the actual car, you won’t get the traffic that the car rightfully deserves.

Lastly, Take Your Time!

The beauty of modern smartphones and digital cameras is there isn’t any film to waste, so if you don’t get a particular picture right the first time, delete it and try it again until you do.  Like many other things in life, when it comes time to sell your collector car, you rarely get a second chance to make a good first impression. Take the time to get all the pictures you need to make a great first impression!

As an example, the Bring A Trailer listing linked from user “CTaylor” when he recently sold a beautiful 1955 Chevrolet 3100 Pickup remains one of our benchmarks for taking a lot of great pictures that tell a great story about the vehicle.  Note the still pictures were all taken on a very cloudy day!

“CTaylor’s” 1955 Chevrolet 3100 on Bring A Trailer

Good luck with taking better pictures and please be sure to comment below if you have any additional ideas or would like more information.