How to take far better car photos (and resize them for sharing)

by DarkSky

One of my main focuses as the Internet Coordinator for my dealership is to make sure that all vehicles are correctly optioned, priced, and displayed on our website. The biggest factor in a customer deciding whether or not to come into the dealership though is the vehicle photography. If done correctly, it is the most important tool we have as a dealership for bringing customers into the showroom.

Dodge Charger

This article is written from a dealership perspective, but it also works well for amateur/enthusiast photography — ed.

Unfortunately, some dealerships that I have seen do not take full advantage of this, either as a result of poor lighting conditions in pictures, terrible angles, or even an overload of pictures highlighting every specific option a vehicle has. Here I will share a few things I’ve learned to help out with vehicle photography.

Lighting Conditions

Many of the pictures I’ve seen from different dealerships are ruined by poor lighting conditions. Although out of our control, there are a few things that can be done to ensure a great picture no matter what time of day it is or how thick the cloud cover is.
  • Take pictures in a location with even shade: do not photograph vehicles if they are only partially covered by shade. It’s difficult for a camera to find the correct exposure when only part of the subject is well lit - this often leads to washed-out pictures.
  • Cloudy days are always the best days for taking pictures. As a vehicle photographer, overcast days are your friend. Because the direct sunlight is minimal to nonexistant, shadows are nearly eliminated. This is a particularly good time to photograph vehicles with large amounts of chrome. When sunlight reflects off of chrome and causes lens flares, that leads to poor photo quality.

cherokee on dirt
The bright sun created harsh contrast and unwanted shadows and reflections in this photo.

  • Use your camera flash as little as possible. The light is unnatural and can greatly affect the color quality of the subject. It also makes screens virtually impossible to read.
  • If bright sunlight is ruining your interior pictures, especially in the dash area, find a way to block it out. Personally, I love using temporary paper floor mats to block sunlight at the windows while I photograph the dash. I’m sure people who see me doing so think I am crazy, but the resulting picture is much better and that is all I’m worried about.
  • If possible, take pictures with the sun behind you. Especially during the summer months, having the sun in the background of the picture can wreak havoc on your picture quality. Sun spots, lens flares, and light rays all reduce the contrast of the picture making it hard to tell what color the vehicle is.

Angles

Another extremely important determinant on your picture quality are the angles at which the pictures are taken.

  • Do NOT stand extremely close to the vehicle. Back off a little bit and don’t be afraid to zoom in to fill the frame. Standing too close to the vehicle can cause distortion and cause the vehicle to look totally different. Backing up and framing the entire vehicle better showcases the vehicle design. Here’s an example:

wrong

right

  • If possible, take pictures all the way around the vehicle: front, front/left angle, left side, left/rear angle, rear, right/rear angle, right side, front/right angle. Customers have a tendency to be pessemistic about online advertisements; if you don’t show the entire vehicle, they could assume you’re hiding a major dent or scratch.
  • Let your front/angle picture be your main thumbnail image and the first one displayed on the website. I do this on every vehicle, it adds consistency to have one angle displayed for every vehicle and it also gives a nice overview picture of what the vehicle looks like for people less experienced with cars.
  • With interior pictures, take generalized, wide angle shots. If there are a couple features you want to show off with specific images, that’s one thing, but some dealerships tend to take close-up pictures of each button/feature/screen and they don’t give an overview for the interior. Especially if you have a limited number of pictures, you want to show the customer how the interior looks overall. The goal is to get them into the dealership so you can then show them each individual option.
  • You don’t need to take pictures of every door panel. I recommend getting in the second row and taking an angled view of the steering wheel/driver door panel from the center of the vehicle and a similar angle of the front passenger side.

III. Miscellaneous Notes

  • Post processing: not every image will look perfect, and they aren’t expected to. Photoshop or a similar program can improve even the worst pictures, but don’t overuse it. If you do edit your pictures, keep the vehicle looking natural. Change the brightness or contrast and possibly the saturation. Do not apply filters to the pictures. Keep the vehicle looking natural, not like a 12-year-old’s Instagram selfie.
  • The camera itself doesn’t matter quite as much as the technique used. If you are shooting with a point-and-shoot and you are getting images that satisfy you, that’s great! I prefer to use DSLRs, but I have also been using my iPhone 7 Plus to take pictures since the screen is much better to preview images on. It’s all up to you, just be sure you are using the correct techniques.
  • Workflow/cataloging images: I very much recommend using a cloud storage option to store your pictures, that way if something happens to your computer or flash drive, the pictures are safe. As another plus, they are accessible from anywhere and can be easily shared with others.

dashboard

  • When taking steering wheel pictures, don’t skimp. Show the entire steering wheel. It looks much better and more professional than a picture cropped to show only the center and buttons. If you want to show the steering wheel radio controls, take separate pictures for them.
  • Keep the car on! This is something that really, really gets on my nerves. Keep the car running when you take pictures. Show off those LED daytime running lights! You also can’t very well show those big Uconnect screens when the car is off. [Editor’s note: you can leave the engine off but keep the key in the Run position, and most cars will keep their dashboards, LEDs, and such on.]
  • Do not show your dealership information every other picture on the website. At the most, display it one time with the pictures. Wheover is viewing the pictures is already on your website, if they have issues finding your contact information then there’s a problem with your website, not your pictures.
  • Taking pictures of every wheel is not necessary. Your wheels are covered by the side pictures. Just take a close up of one wheel to show the design more clearly.
  • Taking pictures of trim levels and vehicle names is redundant unless it’s a special edition. Your website should be set up to show the make/model/trim level of each vehicle. Your pictures do not need to include that. Most people probably don’t even know what “SXT” or “Latitude” means in relation to the vehicle options.

Dave added: Try a circular polarizing filter to eliminate annoying shadows and reflections.

Hopefully by now you have realized that taking pictures is really an exercise in simplicity. Too much information will overload a customer. Again, the end goal is to get them into the dealership. More than likely, they don’t care about seeing every stitch, door handle, and headlight in the pictures — they want to see everything in person. Get good at taking overview shots and then showing the specifics at the dealership. If they request something specific, go out and take the picture and send it to them directly.

car photography
Overcast conditions and a polarizing filter led to a shadow-free image that still shows character lines and DRLs.

I also want to clarify that this thread isn’t meant to offend anyone here who takes vehicle pictures for their dealerships. I understand that not everyone has the time to dedicate to learning about the best techniques to use while photographing cars, but it really does make a difference in attracting customers when you have good pictures to display.

I am by no means an expert on the subject, I just wanted to get some of this information out there to help you guys sell some more vehicles and improve the public perception of your dealership at the same time. If anyone has something to add, feel free. If not, thank you for reading!

A quick guide to downsizing images for online posting

by David Zatz

Generally, shared photos shouldn’t be wider than 12 inches at 72 dpi — that is, 864 pixels wide — or taller than nine inches (648 pixels). Allpar’s current standard is ten inches, or 720 pixels wide, so pages work on tablets and computers alike. Here is a quick guide to resizing photos so they can meet those specs, using software you already have.

Mac OS X

previewOpen the image in Preview. The easiest ways are dragging the photo file onto the Preview icon in the Dock (the icon is shown at right), or launch Preview and open the image from the File menu. (Preview is kept in your applications folder and shows up in the Dock by default.) Often, just double-clicking the photos brings into Preview... but it might go to iPhoto or Photos instead. You can also use them to scale it.

Go the Tools menu and select Adjust Size; check Scale Proportionately and Resample Image (they are usually on by default). Enter the desired width or height, and make the resolution 72 dpi. Then go to the File menu, and select Save As (or Export) and choose a convenient place to save the smaller version (e.g. the desktop). Save photos in JPG format unless you have a reason not to. You may want to move the Quality slider around to get a good file size.

mac resize photo

You can also use Preview to take images from a PDF file. Open the PDF in Preview, and click on the Select (dotted box) icon in the toolbar, select Copy from the Edit menu (or press command-c), create a new file (File > New or command-n), and the image will appear. Then just resize as needed and save it.

Windows 7 and 10 users

Courtesy of Bob O’Neill

  • Right click the image and select “edit”
  • When the photo is displayed, click on the resize tool in the tool ribbon on the top (Windows 10 shown below).
  • windows resize

  • Select the size you would like by clicking on “Pixels” and then choosing the desired width or height. If “Maintain aspect ratio” is checked, the other dimension will change to match. Ignore the skew boxes.

resizing photos in windows

  • Save the file as a JPEG (JPG) (or, for line drawings, GIF) to a location you can find again. Remember to keep the original photo its original size so you will have the larger photo for future purposes. Windows will usually save the photo at a very high quality level, taking up twice as much space as it needs to; but you can get a free photo program such as GIMP to have full control, and commercial software is available at sane prices.
We make no guarantees regarding validity, accuracy, or applicability of information, predictions, or advice. Please read the terms of use and privacy policy. Copyright © 1994-2000, David Zatz; copyright © 2001-2016, Allpar LLC (except as noted, and press/publicity materials); all rights reserved. Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Ram, and Mopar are trademarks of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.


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