No matter your background, be it scientist, mathematician, sociologist, teacher, mechanic, architect, artist…no matter where you fall on that spectrum, we all have one thing in common. We know a good picture when we see it. We may not be able to articulate why one photo is better than the other, and certainly we may not know how to create one photo better than the other…but we know it when we see it.

For example, here is the exact same car taken within minutes of one another with the same camera:

On the left, we simply left the car in the garage, pulled out our camera and snapped away. On the right, we simply backed it out of said garage to get away from the clutter and awkward angles and snapped the picture. Nothing fancy, no filters, but clearly one is better.

So often we see this type of thing… sellers either in a hurried rush, too lazy to move to a better spot, or simply not realizing the simple things they can do to vastly improve their pictures. And then they’re surprised when there’s no interest in their car. The level of effort put into the pictures should not necessarily commensurate with the value of the car. That is to say, whether you’re selling a $10,000 Volvo or a $100,000 Porsche…take pride in what you’re doing and it’ll go a long way. We’ll come back to this comment in the end, because we do want to qualify this statement just a little more.

Having good photos is steps 1, 2, 3 and maybe more in successfully selling your car online. Remember, you’re selling a car…online…to someone you’ve never met. Remember, there are people who are looking at your car…online…who will never see the car in person. Think about what you, as a buyer, would want to see if you were buying. That’s where you need to start.

If you Google “how to take good pictures of your car” you’ll see over 35M results. Chances are you won’t need to go past the first page to get what you need. But we’re going to summarize for you, so please note this is NOT to be a full photography lesson, and also note this does NOT require you to be a professional photographer. These are simply some very basic tips we suggest you consider when taking pictures of your car for auction submission. Ideally you would use a digital SLR with proper portrait and zoom lenses to really get some great shots, but we assume that most people will be using a mobile phone to snap photos of their little beauty, so this piece is written with that in mind. We’re going to start with the basics and then would advise you to spend just a little time trying it out.

Do Your Homework

The easiest way to begin taking great photos is to better understand what you value as a “great photo”. One thing you can check out is DriverSource’s inventory. Now before you get all crazy on me, yes, those are taken by a professional photographer. But simply take notice of some common themes throughout their inventory pictures…they take photos with non-distracting backgrounds at the right time of the day and they take LOTS of them. We’ll use them as an example for a few simple things you can do to improve your pictures.

Clean The Inside & Outside Of The Car

We really shouldn’t have to cover this, but you would be surprised how many sellers don’t do this very simple thing. You can do this yourself with a couple of hours and some elbow grease. You could also hire a mobile detailer for about $200 to really bring it to life. Think about the value of the car a little here and where you want to spend your money. Prior to taking pictures, remove all of your personal items, including keys and power cords and other clutter. Nothing says “this isn’t my car” like a chartreuse hoodie in the passenger seat and a Burger King drink in the cup holder.

Find A Good Background

This is really the most basic best thing you can do. So often we see a car freshly washed (sometimes not even that), parked in the owner’s driveway (usually slanted), with other cars, trashcans, kids, nosy neighbors, buckets and wash cloths all part of the background. It’s hard to focus on the subject matter with all the noise in the background. Not everyone has rustic barns, or city-scapes, or red rock cliffs as a backdrop…but most everyone has a church or empty parking lot somewhere within 5 minutes of their house. Find a place where there is no distracting clutter in the backdrop and start there. More adventuresome sellers can look for more interesting backgrounds, but just know there are some risks if you don’t choose wisely.

Wait For Good Light

There are many different resources detailing the best light for shooting pictures…blue light, diffused light, the golden hour. To distill it down, just wait until the time surrounding sunrise or sunset. Depending on your location, that time window of opportunity could be 10 mins or 45 minutes. The point here is that the sun is low enough in the sky so as to not create reflections, shadows, glares, and is much softer. Be sure to find a place that is either full sun or full shade if shadows are present…you don’t want the car to be half-in / half-out of anything.

Think Of The Car As A Clock

Here is one really simple tip. Think of the car as a clock, with 12 hour increments…start at the front of the car as your 12 o’clock, get level with the car (not standing above it which can create awkward angles)…get down a little so that the car is framed level with you. Take that picture as your first. Then start walking around the car like the hour hand moves on a clock …take a picture at each “hour” increment. 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, etc. That’s your first 12 pictures…level with the car at each hour increment. If you like, split the difference of each hour increment and take 1 additional photo in between. This would give you 12 + 12 for 24 first photos. Just by doing this you are ahead of 75% of all sellers in the market. Let’s continue with a simple list of the pictures we recommend you take:

  • Clock hour increments – 12 to 24 photos
  • Inside trunk space and engine bay – 4 to 6 photos
  • Interior shots showing all seats close up, dash area, door panels, and odometer – 8 to 10 photos
  • Underside showing chassis – 5 to 10 photos (these will be the toughest for some cars. Ideally you could take the car to your local mechanic for the oil change and he would allow you to snap a few on their lift)
  • Shots of paperwork, books, keys – 2 to 3 photos

Honesty Goes A Long Way

Remember the part earlier about buying a car online and wanting to see it as if you were buying it? If prospective buyers think you’re covering something up, they’ll likely walk away. Disclose the problem areas upfront and take pictures to share. Many vintage / classic / enthusiast cars will be prone to rust areas and buyers know that, so show the pictures needed to either 1.) ensure there is no problem or 2.) disclose what will eventually be found. Take pictures of the dash to show the cracks or lack thereof. Take pictures of the nicks or dents present, point to them if needed. Take close-ups of the seat bottoms and bolsters, the headliner, and the carpet. Defenders and Land Cruisers rust, we all know that… show us the door bottoms, the bulkhead, the door jams and lower sills… show us the chassis and cross-member, the fender wells, etc. Trust me, the community will ask during the auction so best to get that out upfront.

Hiring Professionals

One last thing…we said earlier that the level of effort put into the pictures should not necessarily commensurate with the value of the car. That’s sort of true… but the disclaimer is this… if you’re selling a $100,000 Porsche, and you want to get a $120,000 for it, you’ll want to put more effort into your photos. It’s just that simple. Buyers in that range expect a certain level of professionalism and presentation. That means considering moving shots, dramatic angles and lighting, micro-closeups, etc.

And to all sellers, you can consider hiring a photographer for less than a $100/hour and get some really great photos. Try your local college for resources. Couple that with a professional detail and for less than $500 you could have a professionally presented vehicle that is sure to pay it forward at auction close. If it looks like you put little to no effort into your photos, you probably didn’t and that will show. And whether it’s true or not, many prospective buyers will use that as a gauge as to how well you cared for the car…if he didn’t take the time to prepare his car for sale, he probably never took the time to care for it properly in the first place.

That’s it…follow those basic steps and you’ll be amazed at how far it could take you. In all, you should expect to take at least 50 high-resolution photos. The more the better, we’ll cull through them to pick the best for final auction. For submissions, we are only asking for about 10 to give us an idea, so pick your best 10 to send to us.