HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH A CAR: Barrett-Jackson’s staff photographer provides pro tips

Written by Tim Heit, Barrett-Jackson Staff Photographer

Staff Photographer Tim Heit has been photographing cars for Barrett-Jackson for more than 10 years.

Staff Photographer Tim Heit has been photographing cars for Barrett-Jackson for more than 10 years.

Photographs play a significant role in the auction process, helping us both evaluate and market your car (See “How to Sell a Car at Barrett-Jackson”). In addition, seeing exceptional photos of your vehicle will inspire confidence in potential bidders ‒ bidders who may purchase your car without ever having seen it in person. During our 2015 Scottsdale auction, for example, Internet and phone bidding accounted for 4.7% of our total vehicle sales. That may not sound like a lot, but it translates into $6.5 million in auction vehicle purchases. Photography matters.

Location, location, location

Drive your car to the rear of a supermarket, department store, warehouse ‒ any place that is a large, blank canvas on which to place your car. Keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t shoot the vehicle in your driveway, or on grass or snow.
  • Make sure there are no people or other cars in your shot.
  • Avoid trees or signs in the background.
Example of a poorly planned photo.

Example of a poorly planned photo.

Light source

Most consignors will use the sun as their light source. Shade is recommended (for even lighting), or natural light just as the sun rises or sets. This is especially important when shooting the engine and interior.

Background

Remember: you are trying to sell a vehicle, not capture an image of a stunning landscape.  The photo at left is an example of a poorly planned photo: the car is cut off, the angle is too high, the photographer’s shadow and handicapped signs are in the image, there’s a busy background, the lighting is uneven and there are unwanted reflections on the car. The photo below it was taken at the same time of day, 200 feet away from the first location. The lighting in this location is even and the shot was taken from more of a distance, avoiding unwanted shadows in the picture and allowing the entire car to be in the frame.

Example of a well thought-out photo: find a simple location, then back up and shoot low.

Example of a well thought-out photo: find a simple location, then back up and shoot low.

Reflections

You have just spent thousands of dollars and countless hours in the paint booth. The last thing you want to do is have reflections of parking lines (see the image above), another car, or your bright blue trash can visible on the side or hood of your collectible.

Equipment

Over the past year, Barrett-Jackson has seen a steady increase in consignors using cellphones to take photos. It is not optimal, but it cannot be ignored that smartphones will account for nearly one trillion photos in 2015. In the three examples below, you can see the difference between an iPhone 6, a $150 Canon “point and shoot” and a Nikon D600 DSLR. Notice how the front of the car is distorted in iPhone versus the Canon, and even more so when compared to the Nikon. However, if a smartphone is all you have, here are a few important tips:

Photo taken with an iPhone 6.

Photo taken with an iPhone 6.

  • Hold phone in landscape mode. (Remember, your photos are displayed on high-definition screens during the auction. A portrait orientation will not fit the HD screens properly.)
  • Don’t use digital zoom (pinch-to-zoom); there are only a few phones that have optical zoom.
  • Make sure your camera lens is clean.
  • Avoid shooting in low-light scenarios; this will cause blurriness and loss of detail.
  • Use natural light, not the flash
  • Use a Camera App. Yes, the iPhone’s built-in camera app has improved from version to version. But there are companies out there that only focus on photography, such as Camera+ and Camera Awesome.
  • Don’t use filters or effects. They do not help represent your vehicle’s true color or condition.
Photo taken with a Canon A2200.

Photo taken with a Canon A2200.

For those of you with more advanced cameras, here are a few key tips to consider:

  • White balance. Auto white balance can be a blessing and a curse. For this article, the sun is used as the light source, which can mean direct sun or shade. Either way, choose one of these white balance settings for more consistent color.
  • File type. JPEG is the most common file type for digital cameras. However, not all JPEGs are created equal. Most cameras use the terms JPEG Fine or JPEG High.
  • Resolution. Choose the largest size available. We’re looking for at least 2MB per image. This varies from camera to camera: it may say Large, 12MP or 4000 x 3000.
  • Use a long lens. If you use a DSLR and have a 105mm or 200mm lens, use it. This will compress the background and let the focus be on the car. If you use a point-and-shoot camera, it is very important that you turn off digital zoom. You want to capture what the camera lens sees, not what a computer chip thinks it sees.
  • Avoid using a wide-angle lens. For the interior and engine shots you don’t have much option. But for the front, rear and profile angles, a wide-angle lens will change the proportions of the car and even cause distortion.
Photo taken with a Nikon D600 W/105MM.

Photo taken with a Nikon D600 W/105MM.

Composition

Barrett-Jackson requires five standard shots of your vehicle: front 3/4, rear 3/4, side profile, engine and interior. The online consignment application includes clear examples and diagrams of exactly how to achieve these shots. The front 3/4 is by far the most used and best representation of your car. The three most common mistakes are that you cannot see enough of the front of the car, the car is cut off in the frame and the camera is positioned too high.

Angle

Every car has a stance; the height of your camera is the No. 1 factor that will accentuate its attitude. The most common shots seen are from 4 to 5 feet in height, looking down on the car. If you take the same shot from a lower angle, 2 to 3 feet off the ground, you are now on the same level as the car’s center, and with a non-professional camera you will reduce the distortion. The angle is key in showing off the proportions of your vehicle. Every vehicle is different, but a go-to rule for most vehicles involves the right rear tire: if it is visible behind the front left tire in your image (see the photo taken with the Nikon above), you’ve got the angle right.

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