Whether you’re taking photos of a car you loved as you’ve loved no other or getting ready to sell it online, pictures of it need to be stellar. There’s a lot to be said for simply snapping away, taking many more pictures than you think you’ll ever need to ensure getting just the right ones. There’s more to be said for being thoughtful about the process, however. Phones and tablets take wonderful pictures and eliminate the need to have any real photography knowledge. Some basic knowledge is a good thing, however. Striking a balance between experimentation and staying in the lines often results in those truly great pictures. Almost everyone has a device that can take a picture, whether it’s an iPhone, Android or tablet device. Phone pictures can be quite gratifying.
Composition and Background
The first rule of taking great pictures of a vehicle is to use a neutral background that will not detract from the car. This is difficult at a classic car show filled with collector cars – particularly when the car is not yours – but in most applications the owner has nearly full control of the backdrop. The first rule is that the background should be attractive but not filled with distractions. Studying car manufacturers’ marketing materials can provide lessons in how to select an appropriate background. Studying pictures snapped without thought posted on any car sales website can provide lessons in what not to do. The bottom line is that the vehicle needs to be the star of the photo.
It would seem that a bright, sunny day would present the best lighting conditions for photographing classic cars or collector cars. In most cases, that is true. The reflection of a summer sky punctuated with a few fluffy clouds can provide a nice effect. On the other hand, extremely bright sunlight can produce photos that have harsh shadows or have a washed-out look verging on overexposure. This is a condition in which an iPhone or other phone picture can be of great benefit. Many mobile devices – specifically iPhones and iPads – have a photo option that appears as “HDR.” That acronym stands for High Dynamic Range imaging. The practice of HDR is an old one that has been used in photography for years. It only recently has been added to iPhones and iPads. An add-on app can put it to use on Android devices.
When using the HDR setting, the phone takes three pictures and then combines the best parts of each to produce a single HDR image. HDR-enabled smartphones produce one regular and one HDR image for each picture made in HDR mode. The regular picture more closely reflects what registers with the camera. The HDR image more closely resembles what the human eye sees. HDR is of great value when taking pictures of vehicles in bright, glaring sunshine. It also has value for pictures where the surroundings are rather dark – such as the interior of a car – or where there is excessive backlighting.
It is crucial to get great pictures of the interior of any vehicle being listed for sale online. Particularly when the upholstery itself is dark, prospective buyers need to be able to see enough to know if they have interest in looking further. Taking pictures of the car on a bright, sunny day is a good thing, but bright sun outside can virtually obliterate the detail inside. Try the HDR setting or separate app for Android to even out the stark differences between interior and exterior light.
There are other, more basic things the owner can do to capture better interior pictures. One is to even out the differences between interior and exterior light. Open all the doors to let in as much light as possible. If the car has a sunroof, open that too. When taking pictures of the dash, turn on the car’s headlights so dash lights come on too. This is greatly important when taking pictures to post for selling a vehicle. Prospective buyers want to see that odometer reading, whether the vehicle is a collector car or will be a daily driver. Also, many cars have very different types of dash display lighting. Many remain the standard light green, but others are red or blue. Prospective buyers need to know if the dash display of the vehicle is an uncommon color.
Particularly when photographing a car for the purpose of selling it, both the inside and outside need to be shiny clean. Potential buyers can see whatever damage does or does not exist on the exterior when the seller takes pictures that accommodate bright sun and show the true condition of the finish. Inside, whatever dust or pollen grains can find their way to the dash will just be glaring in pictures. Classic cars and collector cars may or may not have floor mats. Where they are present, however, they need to be freshly cleaned for any pictures. The same is true for all glass, including rear view mirrors.
Angles and Wheels
Many people will step back from the car until the whole thing fits in the frame and then snap the picture. They generally do this while standing. Again, take a look at manufacturers’ marketing materials. Pictures used to sell new cars are filled with interesting angles and perspectives other than those of someone standing looking at a car. Take those pictures, of course, but take others too. A phone picture is wonderful here, because the individual can get a picture from close to ground level without having to get to ground level. A picture taken from close to ground level makes the car appear to be larger and even more impressive.
iPhones and tablets have amazing cameras, but any picture made in panoramic or wide angle view will need either an external lens or a downloaded app. A long-range panoramic view is great for taking pictures of the Grand Canyon, but how does that relate to taking great pictures of a collector car? A close-up panoramic view of a car can produce an amazing picture. The add-on app “stitches together” as many as 40 individual pictures to produce the same effect of using a wide angle lens. The result when photographing a car can be breathtaking. The result is pleasing for personal use but it can translate to a sale when using it to help sell your car online.
Turn those wheels some! Manufacturers’ marketing materials offer lessons here, too. Turn the wheels in or out some to highlight the wheels rather than tread. Tread is important if photographing the car for sale, of course, but wheels are as well. If the picture is only for personal enjoyment, then tire tread is a moot point and deserves to be ignored. Immaculately clean wheels need to be highlighted.
Zoom in on Some Details
How about a nice shot of the grill? The wheels? A single tail light? Everyone takes pictures of the entire car. Try some very close pictures of details and see where that leads. It can produce some interesting pictures for whatever purpose. Just make sure those details are squeaky clean. No one needs to see a picture of a dirty grill or a dusty dash.
Think of the pictures of your car as being portraits, rather than only pictures. Holding the portrait perspective will lead you to more critically assess the phone pictures you’ve taken and lead you to try more interesting shots. Shots of classic cars should never be the same.
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