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Improving Vehicle Photography

Discussion in 'Car Dealer Hangout' started by DarkSky, Sep 30, 2016.

  1. DarkSky

    DarkSky Moderator
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    Improving Vehicle Photography

    Hello everyone. 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. 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.

    I. 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.
    • 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.
    II. 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: 1C4RDJAG3FC245296_1.jpg edfa93e7dbb43505e23a80c5cf69ffb0x.jpg
    • 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. Google Drive is a great option.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    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.

    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!
     
  2. geraldg

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    I also think the color of the vehicle is important, some models look better in a certain color.
     
  3. DarkSky

    DarkSky Moderator
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    I totally agree with that, but this is meant for taking better pictures of every vehicle in inventory for the dealer website.
     
  4. Dave Z

    Dave Z It's me, Dave
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    Dang, DarkSky! that's terrific!

    You wrote all of that? (I _have_ to ask.) I'd like to feature it.

    One quick addition: the car does not have to be running for the dash to be active and the DRLs to show — it can be in the run mode with the engine OFF. Also, I like to photograph with the parking lights on, sometimes - some cars look better that way (some don’t) and on Chargers, Darts, and Durangos, you can see the cool tail-lights.
     
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  5. DarkSky

    DarkSky Moderator
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    Thanks Dave!

    I did write it. I just figured some of the stuff I've learned may be useful to other people. Feel free to do whatever you'd like with it. At some point I may do a write up on simplifying dealer website layouts and other various topics that may be of interest.

    I also agree with your last point; Dodge vehicles are some of my favorites to take pictures of because of the "racetrack" tail lights!
     
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  6. page2171

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    Great write up! I tell people all the time here that good pictures will sell their car. It is a little different because it isn't a dealership, but is a site similar to Craigslist. I'll be using your tips to help me sell my cars when we leave Okinawa next summer.
     
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  7. FreeLantz

    FreeLantz Well-Known Jeeper
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    I worked for Dealer Specialties and trained their new reps in the Houston area for several years, and I can tell you that DarkSky is spot-on with his analysis. Wherever possible, we would find areas behind a shop or under a pavilion or car port and encourage dealers to let our photographers work there rather than in direct sunlight. This was often mistaken for a desire to just be out of the Texas heat, but there was a lot more to it than that as he has explained.

    At my current job with a high volume Toyota store in Houston, we have multiple photographers and pre-owned cars are actually photographed several times over the course of their time in our inventory. For instance, when one first arrives it will get two shots, usually a front corner and a rear corner, and a basic description just to get it online. Once it's detailed, it will get 12 shots, this time with the interior and basic features of importance such as a navi system or sunroof included. If it's a highline or specialty vehicle, we may choose to do as many as 30 photos inside a staging booth, and list it on Ebay. Often though, the "Ebay" units end up selling quickly to non-Ebay customers just because the extra photos draw a more educated, and often more qualified, customer. About 25-30 photos however is the most you should ever take. Leave a few questions unanswered so people have a reason to contact you. It's only when you get a customer on the phone that you really have a shot at the sale, and people also tend to just stop paying attention after 25 photos, and may simply click away out of boredom if you have 50, 60, 70, or more as I have seen some dealers do in the past.

    We keep photos on file for about 120 days so if the system deletes a car or it is sold and returned, traded back in after only a few days, etc., there is never a need to "reshoot" something that was just done. When I think back on Dealer Specialties in particular, they must have been losing thousands of dollars a month just in the Houston market "reshooting" cars.
     
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  8. DarkSky

    DarkSky Moderator
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    I have a similar process. When we get a trade in I take one picture of the front left corner of the vehicle just to give a general idea of what it looks like. After they are detailed I get 20-32 pictures depending on the model, trim level, etc. When we have something like the Viper or a Hellcat I'll get more pictures showing the exhaust, engine, shifter, and other items that may be of interest (never over 32 though, that's the limit on one of our websites).

    We keep our photos stored until about a month after the vehicle is sold though, just because they are useful to have on hand. If a car returns and is in the same condition with no additional add-ons, I just reshoot the odometer.
     
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  9. Shane Estabrooks

    Shane Estabrooks Active Member

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    This is good info ... thank-you Darksky... I do have a bit of experience with this and after reading what you wrote I see where improvement is needed and where success is working (even though I do not do that job anymore). This can be applied to just posting pictures too, so next time I'm on a big adventure with friends and family... apply new learnings.
     
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  10. 01rt

    01rt Active Member

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    One thing I can add for the car guy type. Don't just go out in the driveway and shoot pics. Try and find a neutral back ground or a wall. Trees can sometimes show up like they are growing out of the car. One of the nice thing about digital cameras is you can take many pictures at many background and see if you like them.
     
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  11. AllanC

    AllanC Well-Known Member

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    Every year in the fall and towards Christmas you will find the next years calendar with various themes in retail outlets. One theme is automobiles. Pick your favorite classic car and you can find a 12 month calendar with various pictures of that particular car. Study the lighting and backgrounds used and you will get great ideas for taking excellent vehicle photographs.
     
  12. FreeLantz

    FreeLantz Well-Known Jeeper
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    Yes. But if you're like DarkSky working in a dealership you are often stuck with the background you have, based on where they stage the inventory or the spot the management of the store has picked out for photos to be taken. You have to do the best you can with what you have in that instance, and this requires framing the car so that background distractions are minimized as much as possible. Obviously you don't photo a car in front of a trash dumpster or inside a shop (although in northern states during the winter you see this done often!), but trees and light poles in the background at a dealership - as well as other inventory in the background - can't always be avoided. Remember the goal here is to present the vehicle in the best way that shows feature content and cleanliness to a potential buyer, not end up on the cover of the Car & Driver. :)
     
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  13. Dave Z

    Dave Z It's me, Dave
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    A “temporary structure” helps (a wall) or painting a wall you already have.
     
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  14. DarkSky

    DarkSky Moderator
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    Yep. If the sun is in an agreeable position, we have a nice rock wall with a wooden fence and trees behind it that I like to park cars in front of for pictures. We're a small town dealership, so having that "country" look to the pictures can help people relate more.
     

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