Many people who have browsed online private-party listings for used cars have run into this. A car catches your attention. You click on the link to see more photos, but there is only one image, with the car not fully in the frame. Or worse, there are a number of photos, but they are blurry and were taken at night with a low-quality cell phone camera.
Poor photos make your car less appealing to a buyer, prolong the selling process and lead to customers who aren’t exactly sure what they’re getting. You don’t have to be an expert photographer to create an effective used-car listing. You just need to know what to focus on and when to take the picture. The following tips will show you how to photograph your car, which creates a better used car listing and in turn sells your car much more quickly.
There are two important points we need to make before you even start. First, wash the car. Make sure it’s nice and clean, and the wheels and tires are shiny. And second, roll up the windows. It gives the car a smooth, solid look.
Use the Right Camera
These days, the most convenient option is to pull a smartphone out of your pocket and use it to take photos of your car. And if you’ve purchased a smartphone in the last few years, it should suffice. But we all know someone who has held onto a phone for way too long. Grainy photos shot on an iPhone 3G or old Blackberry aren’t going to cut it. Instead, use a point-and-shoot digital camera, even if it is a few years old. The image will be superior to any taken on an old cell phone.
The Golden Hour
Where and when you take your photos can make all the difference in your shots. Don’t go out on your lunch break and snap photos of the car in a parking lot. The light is too harsh at midday and your photos will look washed out. Similarly, don’t take photos at night, because a camera’s flash is a poor substitute for the sun.
In photography, the “golden hour” is when the sun rises and when it is about to set. Photos taken at this time are less likely to be overexposed, and the light has a warm look that enhances the colors in the photo. The Golden Hour Calculator can help you determine the perfect time in your area. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to take photos during the golden hour, your best bet is between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. Cloudy mornings work well, too.
The location of your photo shoot can also help the car stand out among the crowded online listings. Try to find an isolated location or parking lot. This allows your car to be the focal point in the photos. The Edmunds offices are a few miles from the beach, so we often use it as a location. If you are landlocked, a nearby park is a good choice. In a pinch an empty parking lot will suffice.
Quantity and Variety
The more photos your listing has, the more likely it is that your car will sell. If the online listing is free, upload the maximum number of photos the site allows. With sites that charge for listings, it’s worth the extra cost to have more photos in the ad. You don’t have to spring for the top package, either. Something that gives you about 10 photos should be sufficient.
Take photos of the car at eye level. There’s no need to get creative with fancy high and low angles. Start out in front of the car and make your way around it, snapping a photo from every angle. You may not use them all in the ad, but you can sort that out later.
Make sure you get the basic car-selling angles covered. This includes the front, back, side profile and wheels. Turn the wheels left slightly so that you can take a photo of the tire tread. Finally, open up the hood and take a photo of the engine.
Inside the car, make sure you take a photo of the seats, paying close attention to the driver seat, which tends to get more wear. Sit in the back of the car and recline the front seats to take photos of the front section of the interior. You’ll want to show the stereo and instrument cluster, the shifter (to show whether the car is an automatic or manual) and the condition of the steering wheel. Be sure to snap a photo of the odometer so that prospective buyers can see that the mileage reading shown is consistent with what you have said in your ad.
If your car has any special selling points or features (for example if it’s a convertible), show them. Photograph it with the top both up and down. If it’s a big SUV with folding seats, fold them down to show off the storage space.
If the car has any imperfections, don’t try to angle the shots to hide them. In fact, you should take a photo of any dents or scratches on the car. Be up front about them. The same goes for any curbed wheels. A buyer is going to see the car eventually, and it is best to be able to say, “I had a photo of this in the ad,” rather than “Oops, I forgot about that.”
Being honest with the imperfections can help with your negotiations. A prospective buyer is likely to offer you a lower amount if he inspects the car and finds a dent that wasn’t shown in the ad. But if you had a photo of that dent in the ad, you can hold your ground and say that you were up front about the damage and have priced the car accordingly.
Too Good To Be True?
A final word of caution comes from Edmunds.com staff photographer Kurt Niebuhr: If your photos look too well-produced, they may make people suspicious. Potential buyers might think you used stock photos and will be less likely to reply to the ad. Honest images, not glamour shots, are what you’re after.