9 Best Ways to Photograph a Used Car for Sale

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Willing to Invest Some Time? Results Are More Money for Your Used Car

It's tough to take a bad photo of a 2015 Lamborghini Huracan. (c) Keith Griffin for About.com

We’ve all seen them: the bad photos for selling a used car. It’s so simple to take really good photographs with just a little planning. You don’t need to be an expert photographer.

Why bother with good photos of used cars? They are the first impression you’re going to make in a cold digital world. Good photos are going to make people click on your ad regardless of price. Ads with bad photos are only going to be clicked on if the price is really good.

In effect, if you don’t take the time to take good photos, you’re going to get less money for your used car. Do you really want less money in your pocket? That’s less money you have to spend on your next used car.

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Check the Time of Day

Harsh sunlight and shadows from the midday sun make for a bad photo. (c) Keith Griffin for About.com

Sunlight is a beautiful thing, unless you’re taking photos of a car. Then the midday sun is going to wash out the lighting of the car. The photos are going to be very harsh. Your best bet is going to be to shoot probably a half-hour after sunrise or maybe an hour before sunset. The light is less harsh and the colors are going to look crisper.

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Shoot from Lots of Angles

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata shot from the 3/4 front angle. (c) Hyundai Motors America

Pretty much shoot every angle of the car that you can. Take photos straight on, from the side, and then from each corner of the car. Selling a used pickup? Shoot from above so buyers can see into the pickup’s bed. Do you need engine shots? Only take them if the engine is exceptionally clean or has an unusual feature. Otherwise, an engine is an engine and it’s tough to make them special in a photo.

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Always take a Test Photo

The Toyota 4Runner is a great looking vehicle until it's shot in bad light. (c) Keith Griffin for About.com

In the old days of film, designers used to take Polaroid instant photos to frame their shots. Do the same thing with your digital photos. Take a photo, then stop and actually look at it. Look for the elements outlined in this article. How are the shadows? Is the interior cluttered?

Consider this an additional tip: turn the steering wheel so the car’s wheels are visible in your picture. In the above photo the wheels are turned correctly but the car is in deep shadows. The next step explains why that’s a problem.

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Watch the Shadows

A misplaced shadow makes for a bad picture. (c) Keith Griffin for About.com

OK, so this isn’t a photo of a used car. It’s the new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. I took a shot of one parked in a driveway at an exclusive resort. There is a horrible shadow line dissecting the vehicle. It’s also a bad photo for the cluttered foreground. Don’t make the mistake of letting your shadow be seen in the picture either.

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Take a Step (or 2) Closer

Take a step or 2 closer when photographing a car. It reduces unnecessary background clutter. (c) Keith Griffin for About.com

Sure, you want to get the whole car in the photo. But you need people to be able to see details of your used car. Fill the frame with your used car. Or, at least use some basic photo editing software to crop the photo closer when the time comes to post it. Here are 11 good photo editing software for Windows. If you’re a Mac person, check out these free Mac photo software choices.

As you can see, in the cropped photo the car “pops” more than when it sits surrounded by dirt.

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Focus on the Cool Elements

The interior of a BMW Mini Clubman and its cool backup detection technology. (c) Keith Griffin for About.com

The picture above is from the backup warning system of a Mini Clubman. It enthralled me so much I took a photo of the lights that flash as you approach the obstacle behind you. Who needs to see what's back there when the lights do such a great job?

It would be difficult for me to describe in words how effective this feature is. Yet, a simple picture in this case is really worth a thousand words. By focusing in closely on the feature, you can show a potential buyer how cool the technology is.

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Clean the Clutter

Ugh - clutter ins a used car for sale photo is a big mistake. (c) Keith Griffin for About.com

You might be surprised how many people will post used car ads with photos of dirty interiors. Can you imagine? You’re just asking for low-ball bids on your car like the owner of this Dodge Neon. Prospective buyers will seriously undervalue your asking price – and who can blame them? If you don’t care enough to take care of the interior, you are surely not taking care of the exterior or the mechanical aspects. Maybe you are, but it’s highly unlikely.

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Do Not Use a Professional

Mercedes-AMG S65 Cabriolet. (c) Mercedes-Benz

A friend of mine is a professional car photographer. Has shot photos of cars for decades. Tried to sell his Mercedes online and got no nibbles, even though the price was fair. His girlfriend, an accomplished but by no means professional photographer, took the photos and people started to respond.

The moral of this story? Buyers are suspicious of professional quality photos because it usually means the photos aren’t of the actual car.

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Get a Window Sticker!

2008 Mazda5 window sticker. Courtesy KBB.com

OK, so this isn’t so much a photo tip as it is just basic common sense. Take the time to go to a website and generate a window sticker for your car. The one above is for my 2008 Mazda Mazda5. Normally the window sticker would have a telephone number but, no offense, I left that detail off!

With the KBB.com window sticker, you can even share it via social media, which is a nice touch.