Doing a shoot for a client that is putting a car up for sale is a bit different from a normal shoot – less retouching and concepting, but still a fun experience. Here, I’ll use a recent shoot with a Mercedes C Class that went on Bring a Trailer, but you can use these techniques for any site. The ultimate goal here is to make the car stand out from others like it, because similar listings are both right above and below yours.
- Digital camera with lens
- Lens polarizer
1- Do your homework
It’s not possible to know everything about every car, but a potential buyer might be en encyclopedia on the particular car you are shooting, so learn the trouble spots. The more detailed you are in your images, the fewer questions a buyer will have for the seller, and the better the car will look against its competitors. Using our C Class as an example, I paid extra attention to the clarity of the headlights, which are prone to cloud over. I also showcased a rust-free underbelly. Both are sure to score extra points with buyers.
2- Location still counts
Though this isn’t a conceptual shoot for a magazine, we still want the location to compliment the car and not distract from it. I chose a mall parking lot, specifically a section with a solar panel covering, which compliments the clean, straight lines on this Mercedes.
The second part of the shoot was at sunset in a park. Because it’s sunset, I wanted a clean horizon line to make the car pop, and showcase the sky. Parks are often good spots for this sort of thing, as they offer a of of room to move the car around in.
3- Be methodical
You need a plan when shooting a car for sale, and I often write down how I will walk around the car to shoot. For me, it’s:
- 3 quarter view
- left side straight on
- back head on
- right side straight on
- front head on
- Front driver’s side wheel
- back driver’s side wheel
- back passenger side wheel
- front passenger side wheel
- underbelly (as clear as you can get it, depending on the height of the car)
- Tail lights
- Paint close-ups
- Engine bay, with engine close ups
- Doors open, driver side front seat
- Driver side back seat
- Passenger side back seat
- Passenger side front seat
- Steering wheel
- Center console
- view out of front windshield
- headliner / sunroof
I follow this order each time I shoot, so I make sure not to miss anything.
Walk around it when first arriving and look for any paint or wear issues, and discuss it with your client to make sure they are aware. You want to be as forthcoming as possible with your images so the buyers won’t feel like the seller is hiding something. Make sure the car is clean both inside and (light dust will be fine, as the camera won’t see it).
4- Make a poster
Imagine you’re the buyer scrolling through endless listings. Suddenly you see one image that stands out from the rest – you’ll click on the listing. At that point, your job as a photographer and art director has been vindicated, and it’s up to the car (and your detailed images) to help sell it. A poster image gets a buyer’s foot in the door.
To see how I’ve made them in the past, visit this previous post.
5- Go easy on the retouching
Remember that we want honesty for our seller’s car, while still making it look its best. By all means, boost the contrast, make the paint pop a bit, and make sure the image is clear. But I would avoid adding crazy effects like a lens flair, or airbrushing out dents or dings in the car itself – the buyer will find out eventually.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
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