Most of us carry snapshots of our family around in our wallets or, more likely these days, on our smart phones or tablet computers. There are dozens of sources (maybe hundreds!) on how to snap that perfect picture of your child, pet or significant other. However, there are very few places to give you meaningful advice on how to photograph your car and, more important, why you would ever want to do that. Here are my tips from 25 years of shooting cars.
First, why would you want to take a picture of your car: Looks are a key feature of every vehicle - the designers spend a fortune getting the lines and colors just so. And, when you go to a dealer or search online to check out your next purchase, you are provided with beautiful photographs of the car or truck or SUV as an inducement to plunk down that hard earned cash for their vehicle. The same holds true for when YOU sell your vehicle. Whether it's at an auction, through the want ads or eBay, you need to take a picture (or as you will learn, pictures) of your car. The better the picture (just like with the car manufacturers) the more appealing the car.
There are other reasons for taking good pictures of your car. If you belong to a marque club like the BMW Car Club, you may want to write a story about it for the local newsletter. As an editor I can tell you, a good story looks better when there are good pictures to support the text.
And, finally, if you have a special interest auto, your insurance provider will want to see pictures of the vehicle to make sure it is what you say it is and is in the condition you claim it to me.
Taking pictures of your car:
When to shoot: Just like when you take pictures of people, the quality of the light is key. Early morning or late in the day work best. The light travels through more of the atmosphere when it's low in the sky so the light is warmer and more flattering. Light at mid-day is both harsh and unflattering. Also, it casts a shadow directly under the vehicle, creating a dark blob that makes the lower parts of the car disappear in shadow. Definitely not good...
Where to shoot: Cars look best when they are photographed where they belong. Photographing a car in the middle of a baseball field makes no sense. Find a non-distracting background with light falling directly on the car for best results. Remember, keep your shadow out of the picture!
How to Shoot: Like a person, a car or any other vehicle has a "face". The headlights are the eyes, the grill the smile, the chassis the body and the wheels and tires the legs. You want to accentuate the beauty of the vehicle so like when portrait photographers reach in their camera bag for the perfect lens that makes the human subject look his or her best, you should do the same. Professional car shooters use lenses very similar to the ones the human portrait photographers prefer - a short telephoto lens in the 80mm to 150mm range. World famous car photographer, Michael Furman, prefers lenses in this range because it does not distort the shape and lines of the car he's shooting. (See his work at http://www.michaelfurman.com). Your typical point and shoot camera has a zoom lens and if you zoom out to the telephoto end of the camera's range, you will see that the car's lines look more appealing, less distorted and, for want of a better term, more masculine.
When you shoot, you should crouch down a little so that light shows under the car, eliminating that black shadow at the edge of the car.
What to shoot: The "profile" of your car is a front three quarters view with one of the headlights pointing at your lens. Use a small lens opening (i.e., aperture) so that the whole car is in focus. This is the most common and most attractive view of most (but not all) cars. One insider trick is to have the front wheel turned to the side slightly so that the when and tire face the lens. Repeat this shot from the rear quarters only this time, turn the wheel to the other side, again having the tire face the camera.
Next, turn the wheel forward and take a shot that captures the whole side of the car. This gives the viewer an overall look at the lines, height and shape. This is my favorite shot.
The last two exterior shots are a picture head on toward the front and the rear.
If you are selling: The potential buyer needs to see things like the condition of the interior, paint, chrome, etc. Make sure to take close up pictures of unique items so that the potential buyer sees that special leather interior or optional alloy wheels. Take a picture of the sound system (if you have a unique one) and include a picture of one of the speakers if they are a significant component of the stereo.
You will want to take a picture of the engine - but before you do that, always use a rag and some cleaner to remove the dust and dirt that gets in there with use. Don't go crazy, do just enough to give an honest impression of the condition.
Shoot closeups of the wheels and tires so that the potential buyer sees the overall condition. Again, a quick clean up will go a long way to increasing the appeal.
Dents, rust, missing pieces… If you car has some minor (or major) flaws, don't forget to shoot these and speak of them in your ad. Being honest with your pictures (and text) will prevent disappointment by the buyer and hard feelings.
Camera Equipment: I do not recommend using a cell phone camera for these shots. While they have improved a lot, they do not have a lens that can give that telephoto look that really sells the car. Almost any point and shoot digital camera will do but the best (sharpest) images almost always come from DSLRs (digital SLRs).
Last Words: If you are sending your car to an auction, and it's a significant vehicle, the auction house will probably commission someone to come and take photos for their catalog. Be sure to watch the pro at work - it's an eye opening experience.
You can read more about taking pictures of cars at: http://www.motorsportsmarketingresources.com/short-stories/dom-miliano/p...