5 Easy Car Photography Tips: Great Pictures For Used Car Ads
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5 Easy Car Photography Tips: Great Pictures For Used Car Ads

Name
Dennis Walsh @lawjolla
Profession
Owner, Crosscut
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I’ve taken thousands of used car pictures for used car sale ads and am excited to share my 5 biggest tips for high quality, professional looking car and truck photos.  Car or truck photography is key for your ad.  Not only do the images create an emotional connection and show the condition, they also show the seller’s competence and seriousness.

blog imageDon't be this seller! Would you trust a seller to know his/her vehicle condition that shoots this picture?

This blog post will help you improve your pictures 100x with 5 simple tips.  Then I’ll give my recommendations for the best camera for car photography, best lens for car photography recommendations, and I’ll cover phone vehicle photography for those that just want to point and shoot.

Stand Back From the Vehicle and Use a Telephoto or Portrait Lens

The biggest bang for the buck to improve your vehicle pictures is this tip -- zoom in and stand back.  Most people use a wide lens and stand next to the vehicle. For example, here’s the vehicle picture most people shoot.

blog imageThis picture is too close and distorted. It's like looking through a fisheye.

It’s an ok picture, but the car is out of proportion because the lens is too wide.  Notice how the front end looks much bigger than the back -- it’s a fisheye.  Your brain corrects a lot of this picture because you know how a car should look, but it’s not ideal.  Contrast it with:

blog imageCanon 6D 85mm f/1.8 lens, standing ~45 feet away gives a composed picture with proper proportions.

The vehicle remains in proportion by using a narrower lens and staying back.  You can see how much more composed and appealing this vehicle looks compared to the fish-eyed shot above.

You can achieve a similar effect with your phone’s telephoto lens.  Use the biggest optical zoom up to 2.5x, stay low (don’t be at eye level… crouch down to car level or lower), and enjoy your great shot!

Automotive photography is best after the “Golden Hour”

Photographers define the golden hour as one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset.  Soft light evens the color with less reflection.

However, because cars and trucks are highly reflective, the flatter light after sunset or before sunrise is preferred.  Contrast these two sets of pictures showing daytime versus after sunset. Time of day matters!

blog imageNotice the harsh highlight and washed out shadows from the direct sun.
blog imageThe flat, post-sunset light makes the photo more even and interesting.

Or…

blog imageThe harsh sun makes this picture hard to follow
blog imageThe flat light accents the body lines and gives a cinematic quality.

Control Your Car Photo’s Background

Look for “lines” coming out of your vehicle, like telephone poles or trees. The simpler the better.  A great background controlling hack is to find a sloping road and shoot from below the car into the sky.  I used that trick to capture this Cadillac CTS V at sunset..

blog imageThere would be trees and fences in this shot, but by finding a steep road and shooting low and up, I took most out.

Often, simple warehouses with a nice parking lot also do the trick.  It’s preferable to a landscape background with a saguaro going through the car.

blog imageThe cactus coming out of the car ruins this shot
blog imageThe flat light, shop light, and pattern of the building give interesting depth to this shot.

Watch Your Car’s Photo Reflections

Notice the distracting vehicle reflections in the image below.  There’s a bumper reflecting landscape, a hood reflecting the bright sky, and the driver side not reflecting much at all.  This picture would be 10x better if the vehicle was turned towards the sun so it was illuminated evenly.

blog imagePut the sun at your back. Here it's off to the left creating bad shadows.

Make Your Hero Vehicle Picture  a ¾ Shot

Most vehicle manufacturers shoot “hero” pictures from  ¾.  You should too.  It shows all of the forward body lines and the full, composed design of the car.

I normally establish ¾ by moving from the front to the rear, in a circle, until the passenger headlight or passenger side grill disappears.  For most cars, that’s your ideal ¾ shot.

blog imageAlmost... but too much front end, not enough back.
blog imageThe 3/4 shot!

The Best Camera for Car Photography

Camera tech continually changes.  Rather than recommending a specific camera body, here’s what you should consider.

  • Sensor size.  If you can afford a full frame, do it!
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range):  Good in camera HDR is helpful, especially if you don’t want to composite HDR pictures in post production.
  • Mirrorless.  This is a hot take that’ll agitate the purists, but mirrorless composite your shot in real time -- the screen shows your final image.  That knowledge saves an incredible amount of time and wasted snaps.

We use a Canon 6D (full frame) and Sony A6000 (crop sensor, mirrorless).  And we’ve recently turned to an iPhone 12 Pro Max for its incredible HDR, wide angle, and computational abilities.  It’s not a better hero shot, but it is a better “point and shoot” for bulk photos like stock exterior and interior shots.

blog imageOur Canon 6D workhorse

The Best Lens for Car Photography

You want a fast prime lens. I recommend at least an f1.8.  The fast lens allows for a nice shallow depth of field -- the motion blur behind the vehicle.  Turn down the ISO, turn up the aperture (I’m normally shooting f1.8-2.2), and adjust the shutter for the right composition.  The fast lens also gives great dusk shots allowing plenty of light to the camera.

The focal length depends on your sensor size.  For full frame, we use an 85mm f1.8.  Crop sensor is 50mm f1.8.  The actual lens depends on your budget.

blog imageAffectionately called the "nifty fifty", this is the best bang for the buck lens made.

iPhone / Android Car Photography Tips

Not interested in photography and just want to use your phone? No problem! If possible, use a phone with an optical (not digital) telephoto lens. Somewhere between 2-3x will give you a solid shot and follow the other tips above.

Here’s an iPhone 12 Pro Max vs Canon 6D. You’ll notice the iPhone’s HDR is on another level (the sky is amazing!), but the vehicle isn’t as sharp. You could post-process this image and make it a lot better. Raising the vehicle shadows, blurring the sky, and removing the double yellow line would help this photo.

blog imageUnprocessed JPG vehicle picture from an iPhone 12 Pro Max
blog imageCanon 6D 85mm f/1.8 1/2000 ISO 1600 HDR composite

Share This Article And Your Car Photos With Us!

If you found this blog helpful, we’d love and appreciate the support if you shared this article with your friends (social media share links are above) and send us your new and improved vehicle photos!  If you have solid before and after vehicle photos, we’d love to share them on our social media! ❤️

Want to keep up with Dennis's work? Follow Dennis on Twitter

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