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Published on July 09, 2022

How To: Photograph a Used Car for Sale

6 Simple Photography Hacks to Sell Your Used Vehicle

hero image of a car for sale

Photo courtesy of Unsplash. Note the front wheels turned to the side to accentuate the rims!

The price of both new and used cars has skyrocketed in recent months. This is the result of supply chain disruptions and record gas prices sparking demand for vehicles with improved gas mileage. If you have a used vehicle to sell, now might be the perfect time to put it on the market. But before you do, you’ll need a great series of photos to showcase your vehicle in the best possible light.

Clean Your Car

washing your car before sale

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

While this may seem obvious, one needs only to view the cars listed for sale online to see dirty, dusty, cluttered vehicles filled with trash and junk. Just as a fresh coat of paint can help you sell your home, appearances matter when it comes to selling a used vehicle. A clean and clutter free vehicle signals an owner who maintains their property, which is something any used car buyer will appreciate.

Disclosure: This article contains Amazon affiliate links to products. Purchasing via these links supports our writing at no extra cost to you!

  • Start with an exterior wash… the topic of “how to wash your car” warrants an article of its own perhaps, but to keep things simple you can start with this car wash soap and this microfiber wash mitt.
  • Empty your car, trunk, and glove box of all paperwork and clutter and vacuum all floor spaces, mats, seats, and storage compartments.
  • Use a no-streak glass cleaner to clean all the windows and reflective surfaces.
  • For the plastic surfaces use a plastic restorer to bring some shine back to exterior trim and interior plastic parts.
  • If you have leather seats, apply a leather cleaner and conditioner to soften them up and refresh their shine.
  • Lightly spray a neutral odor control spray on the floor mats and any other upholstery. Febreze makes a spray specially formulated for vehicles, or you can try this “new car smell” spray.
  • There are many possible ways to clean your engine. For a quick clean, you can try out this product. Follow the directions to cover sensitive electronics, but it really is as easy as spraying it on a cold engine and hosing it off one minute later. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfMeMKoCPJE
  • To Protect your identity, cover your license plate with a piece of cardboard cut to size. Alternatively, you can black out your plate numbers using a photo editing software. If you take pictures in a location you frequent, be sure to remove the GPS metadata that is stored in those photos!

Location, Location, Location

car in cool location

Image courtesy of Unsplash. Car in an open space.

There are two schools of thought here as some prefer open spaces while others prefer neutral backdrops. In either case, avoid locations where harsh shadows fall over the car.

For those in the open space camp, empty parking lots often work well. You might score bonus points if you find a space with some nice landscape in the back (like the desert moonscape in the photo above). Does your car have 4 wheel drive? Then find an off road location!

car against neutral backdrop

Image courtesy of Unsplash. Car against a neutral backdrop.

Alternatively, neutral brick walls work well as a backdrop. Avoid backgrounds that are too “busy” as this will refocus the viewer’s eyes away from the main subject of the photo, your vehicle!

When you arrive at your selected location, try to turn your front wheels away from the position of the photographer to accentuate the rims.

Be prepared to move your car around the location a few times as you shoot different angles on your shot list (see below) and experiment with the best perspective and framing (see below).

Choice of Camera and SLR Settings

A smart phone is usually good enough, just be sure to turn off the HDR setting.

If you have access to a single lens reflex (SLR) camera, set the settings to a fast shutter speed (1/4000) and a wide open aperture (f/1.4 to f/2.8) for a shallow field that blurs background for that bokeh effect.

Perspective, Framing, and Zoom

Don't take every photo at eye level. Try shooting from a low angle (ground level) and high angle (climb on top of something) for some interesting shots.

Remember the “rule of thirds” and don't fill the entire frame of the shot with the car. Leave some space on the sides so the background frames the subject of your photo (i.e. the car). But don't go overboard with this. The buyer is most interested in the car after all, not the beautiful background you've scouted!

If you’re using an SLR, try taking several steps back and use your zoom lens to zoom in to the shot. This photography hack helps to "flatten" the image, cutting down on warped appearing angles. Always avoid the "optical" or "digital" zoom here since that doesn't doesn't use any lens effect, but just crops and enlarges the central portion of your image. You can always “zoom in” later by cropping the image with photo editing software but you can’t zoom back out.

Best Time of Day

Avoid mid-day sun or sun directly behind you (the photographer), as this will pick up your shadow. 2 hours after sunrise or before sunset is usually a good time to plan your shoot, and if you choose the evening option here you can also extend your shoot into the sunset golden hour for a few bonus shots!

For interior shots, avoid harsh shadows and hot spots by shooting in the shade or on a cloudy day.

Planning Your Shot List

Check a few professional car listing sites like carmax or carvana to see what angles they include. Then make your shot list plan in advance so you're prepared at the location and time of your shoot.

Exterior Shots: Standard shots include the front, rear, right side, left side, and car with all doors/trunk/hood open. Open the hood and take a shot of the engine and open your trunk and take a shot of it (after completely emptying it out). Include shots of any dents or scratches and mention it in your listing description. Include at least one “glamor” shot that will be the thumbnail for your advertisement (see the first image in this article for an example). A common one is a low shot at a front or rear corner of the car with the wheels turned so you can see the rims.

image of front seats and dashboard of vehicle

Image courtesy of Unsplash. Interior of car.

Interior Shots: Include shots of the front dash with edge of front seats (taken from the back seat), front seat from outside, front to back seats from interior, gear shifter, dashboard displaying mileage, back seat, and steering wheel.

Special Features: Highlight any special features like a sunroof, heated seats, rear seat vents, etc.

For more visual learners, the youtube video below provides a great overview of the vehicle photography:

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