One of the most important things to get right when trying to sell anything is the listing. Take a look at the lengths most realtors go to when listing a home for sale. They’ll often spend the money to hire a professional photographer or even stage the house with furniture to help potential buyers visualize what it would be like to live there.
Listing your car for sale is a similar concept. Getting the right photos for your advertisement can make or break your chances of finding a buyer. Taking the time to get high quality shots at the right angles will set you up for success.
This post is part of our series about selling your used car.
How to take pictures when selling your car
Listing your used car for sale online is incredibly easy. Doing it properly however, will take a bit of thought and some effort. Your car will be competing against hundreds of others for sale – a handful of random, blurry shots with your 10 year old cell phone isn’t going to cut it anymore. Here are 20 easy tips for taking photos of your car:
Detail your car
While it’s true that cars tend to look better in photos than in person, you still need to put some effort into making sure yours is ready for its photoshoot. Dull paint and dirty wheels will not be hidden by the camera. Set aside some time to make sure your car looks great in real life so that making it look good in photos will come easily.
In this article, I share a bunch of tips and tricks for prepping your used car for sale. Detailing your car won’t just help with your listing – it’ll also impress potential buyers when they check it out in person.
Ditch the cell phone
A modern smartphone will be able to take decent photos of your car but if you have access to a proper camera, use it. A good camera will allow you to adjust the proper settings and even change lenses and filters if you wish. It isn’t necessary but a polarizing filter can help to remove reflections in your paint and glass resulting in nicer photos.
In my opinion, the Canon M50 is a great little camera for automotive photography (and video too!). It won’t break the bank and it shares a lot of the characteristics as a more expensive DSLR camera.
Get your settings right
If you’re using a DSLR or mirrorless camera, try not to shoot in “auto” mode. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a photography expert and you don’t need to know how to run your camera in full manual mode.
Using an Aperature Priority mode on your camera works great for automotive photography. On Canon cameras, this will be labeled as the “Av” setting on the dial. Use this mode and drop the aperture number down as low as you can. This will give you a bit of a blurry background effect and the camera will figure out the right shutter speed all by itself.
Get a plan
Come up with a plan of attack ahead of time. Don’t wait until you’re on location to decide what kind of background and angles you want. Put some thought into it and make a list of all the different angles you want to capture.
Decide on a location ahead of time rather than driving around aimlessly looking for the perfect spot. Speaking of the perfect spot, keep your eyes peeled as you go about your regular life for a good photo location. You never know what you’ll stumble across.
Doing all of this ahead of time is much easier than trying to think of everything while you’re standing in front of your car with a camera in your hand. You’re bound to forget something when you do it that way. Instead, make a note in your phone or write it down. Then all you have to do once you get on site is execute your plan.
The best angles to shoot cars for sale
One thing a lot of people get wrong in their for sale ads is the angles they take of their car. The goal is to show any potential buyers the entire car. That means getting photos of all 4 sides, the interior, engine bay, trunk, and some close ups.
If you’re having trouble figuring out which angles work best, all you have to do is study the listings from used car dealerships. They do this day in and day out so they know what works. You’ll quickly find that they all use nearly the same angles. Copy those if you need to.
Some important angles to include in your ad:
- Hero shot – front 3/4 angle
- Straight shot of each side
- Straight front shot
- Straight rear shot
- Rear 3/4 angle
- Interior front
- Interior rear (if applicable)
- Gauge cluster (with engine running showing odometer and lack of warning lights)
- Engine bay
- Extra close ups (wheels, exhaust, headlight, driver’s seat condition, any damage etc)
Find a good location
The spot you choose for your photos matters. Even if you live in a small town, you should be able to find plenty of good places to take pictures of your car.
Ideally, you want your car to be the only one in the picture. That rules out your busy neighborhood or shopping mall. You also want to pay attention to the background – are there a lot of poles or trees that will look like they’re growing out of the roof of your car?
Remember, your car is the star of the show. You don’t need a picturesque scene to photograph your car for sale. If anything, that might pull attention away from the car itself. A plain wall or empty parking lot are great options.
Use lighting to your advantage
Lighting conditions are definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to. Ideally, you want to have the sun behind you in order to light up the side of the car you’re photographing. The biggest thing to avoid is shooting from the other side which causes the car to be in a shadow. Those pictures will be useless.
Use the sunlight to showcase how scratch-free your paint is if it’s been polished recently. Remember, any paint job will look good on a cloudy day – if yours looks great in direct sun, that’s something to brag about.
When the time comes to take photos of your interior, it’s best to pull the car into the shade. Trying to shoot the interior out in the sunlight will reveal a lot of shadows and the detail will be lost.
Turn your wheels
Positioning your car properly can really improve your photos. Turning your wheels when taking 3/4 shots will show them off to the camera. Leaving them straight isn’t necessarily the end of the world, but having them turned the wrong direction is a big no-no.
I like to give the steering wheel one full turn when parking the car for photos. I do this for 2 reasons: it turns the front wheels just enough for them to be seen by the camera, and it also keeps your steering wheel perfectly straight up and down. Why does that matter?
Because there’s a chance that you’ll like the current lighting and choose to shoot your interior without moving the car. If you aren’t thinking, you’ll end up with a crooked steering wheel in your interior shots which is again, a big no-no.
It’s equally important to put your wheels back to straight for certain shots. Having your wheels turned when shooting directly from the side, front, or rear will look awkward. Set them back to straight for these ones.
Move the car, not yourself
Consistency is key when creating the photos for your for sale ad. Keeping the lighting and background the same will make your entire photo set look more uniform.
The lighting might be great on the driver’s side of the car but if you move yourself over to the opposite side, you’ll end up with a big shadow. Instead, turn the car around so the sun lights up the other side. Do your best to park in the same spot so your photos match. Try to imitate the car being on a turntable.
Car photography techniques
This is certainly a case where you want to keep it simple. Your photos don’t need to be very artsy – in fact, they shouldn’t be. Their sole purpose is to accurately display the condition of the car you have for sale.
Skip the fancy shots with blurry tree branches and leaves in the foreground. This isn’t the time to express your creative side. These photos should be catalog-style. Once again, refer to the ads posted by used car dealerships. No one is trying to win a photography award here.
Take more photos than you need
The beauty of digital cameras vs film is how easy it is to take and store photos. Aside from the space on your memory card and your battery life, you have no reason not to take as many photos as you can.
If you’re unsure of a camera setting, try a few different versions of the same photo. Shoot a bunch of angles, even if you know the website you’re planning to put your listing on only allows 10 photos. Capture as much of the car as you can – once you get home, you can sift through them and choose the best ones for your ad.
It’s much better to have too many photos than not enough. Keep snapping!
Get the Hero Shot
Make sure to take your time on what I call the “Hero Shot”. This will be the first photo in your listing that will show up in the list of other ads. The job of this is to capture people’s attention and make them want to learn more about your car.
If you pay attention to the car dealer’s ads, you’ll notice that most of them use the same angle – the front 3/4 shot. Stick with this because it displays the most of the car.
This is something that a surprising number of people get completely wrong. Using a photo of a wheel or tire here gives people very little knowledge of what your car looks like.
Watch out for your shadow
Since the sun will more than likely be behind you, keep an eye on where your shadow is placed. A big dark spot blocking the car can easily ruin an otherwise great photo. Even if the shadow is only on the ground, it can still steal the attention away from the car. It can also be confused with some type of fluid leaking from the car which could scare off potential buyers.
Try to avoid having your shadow in photos by adjusting your position in relation to the car, squatting, standing to the side, zooming the camera in and standing further back, or even eliminating it afterward in Photoshop.
Fill the frame with the car
Remember that the car is the star of the show. That’s why people clicked on your ad and it’s what they want to see. They don’t care about the sky or weird looking trees. They’re trying to see as much of your car as possible, so give it to them.
A good rule of thumb is to stand at the car, then take 5 or 6 steps back. At that point, you can make the necessary adjustments to make sure the car is taking up the entire photo.
Focus on your car’s strengths
When you’re shooting the close up or detail shots of your car, focus on things that make your car stand out from the others. If trucks like yours are known to have a rusty frame and yours doesn’t, take a picture of it. If most cars like yours have cracked or dimpled dashboards and yours doesn’t, capture that.
These can really grab the attention of buyers that have done their research and know what to look for on specific vehicles.
Show your car’s flaws
Don’t hide any cosmetic flaws. People are going to see these themselves when they look at the car in person, so it’s best to be upfront and honest right from the start. Showing a scratched bumper or curb rashed wheel shows that you value people’s time and aren’t trying to pull one over on someone.
It also shows buyers that there likely isn’t any other unknown damage to the car. If there was, you’d probably have included a photo of that too. Showing off your car’s wounds might actually have a positive effect.
Don’t use your camera’s flash
The flash that comes on your camera is awful for automotive photography. It’ll blow out some spots and create really bad shadows in others. Besides, you shouldn’t need a flash in the first place if you’ve chosen your location and time of day correctly!
Grab a quick video
You already have your car positioned in a great way to display it and you already have a camera in your hand. Why not switch over to the video setting (or use your smartphone) and take a video? Some buyers will really appreciate being able to see the car from a first person view. It can be really helpful to show them how well it runs and a simple walk around.
Video is much more difficult to alter than a photo so this also shows a level of honesty. It doesn’t hurt to give people more info than they’re asking for when advertising your car for sale.
If the website you’re listing your car for sale on doesn’t allow you to include a video, simply mention it in the ad and provide a link to an “unlisted” video on YouTube. Only people with the link will be able to see the video.
Edit your photos
If you’ve done a great job shooting your photos, you won’t need to do much here. Some small adjustments can make your photos pop – but don’t overdo it. You can resize them, crop them so the car fits the whole frame better, bump up the color saturation slightly, and even adjust the levels to fix some shadows or weird lighting.
Don’t make your photos too nice
Whether it’s in terms of shooting them or editing them, don’t make your photos too nice. You aren’t making a brochure to sell a brand new car. You want these to look authentic.
They can still be high quality and professional looking, but they shouldn’t be over the top. You want them to look like the owner took a lot of pride in taking them and not that they hired a studio to fool people into thinking their car is in better shape than it is.
Following these 20 tips will help you to take some great photos of your car. If you combine these with a proper detail, your car (and it’s listing) is sure to stand out from the rest of the crowd. The more eyes you can get on your ad, the more likely it’ll be to sell!
Next, learn how to write the perfect for sale ad for your car!
Tim is the creator of Canadian Gearhead. His experience with auto detailing and working for Toyota shows through all of the articles posted here. He runs the Canadian Gearhead site and YouTube channel full-time now and currently owns a 2007 4runner, 2006 Tacoma, and 1991 MR2. Read more about Tim: