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A picture is worth a thousand words – particularly when you’re using the strategy as an interest and engagement driver to aid with the sale of a vehicle. A vital aspect of well merchandised inventory is quality photos, more specifically, top-notch photography that creates a good first impression with car shoppers engaging with your inventory listings.

When photos of your inventory illustrate every aspect that a consumer would inspect and evaluate during a dealership visit, you are effectively engaging in a pre-sale of the vehicle. Remarkable photos can help speed up the process, as the sheer quality and quantity of the visuals contained within your Vehicle Detail Page (VDP) have already primed prospective buyers with a complete rundown of the vehicle’s appearance, condition, and features, enabling them to go straight to the test drive. Research shows that 75% of consumers find multiple shots of the exterior and interior to be useful when they’re viewing a vehicle1. Additionally, dealers who equip their inventory listings with 11 or more photos see significant increases to both VDP views and leads per ad, compared to inventory listings with 10 or less photos². As such, we recommend at least 11 photos but for even stronger performance up to 30 photos for each piece of inventory to ensure you’re ticking the box for effective merchandising and giving consumers every angle they need.

Shooting compelling photographs requires expertise, experience, and strong attention to detail. Whether capturing with a phone or a camera, follow the below guidelines to achieve the best results – and before you begin, be sure to clean your camera lens!

good photos samples of blue F150
red car in front of dealership

Step 1: Recondition & Stage Your Vehicle

  • Curb appeal matters for car shoppers. The appropriate time investment to thoroughly recondition every vehicle ahead of a photoshoot is a necessary precondition. Ensure you have removed all personal items from the vehicle, covering storage compartments, footwells and seats. Give the seating, carpets, dashboard, centre console, steering wheel, door cards, driver controls, window glass and the trunk or pick-up bed sufficient attention. This should be accompanied by an extensive exterior cleaning, ensuring the entire vehicle is washed from front to back and top to bottom, covering all panels, wheels, tires, door, hood, and trunk jambs, and degreasing of the engine bay. What you’re aiming to achieve is as close to new of an appearance as possible – a vehicle you would be proud to display in your showroom.
  • Park the vehicle against an uncluttered backdrop, preferably in front of dealership signage or your store’s facade. Using the same backdrop for all vehicles, and positioning them the same way, provides consistency across all of your listings. Make sure to remove any items in the background, such as garbage bins or delivery vehicles, that could cause visual noise.
  • Straighten the steering wheel and set the screen to navigation, (if equipped), to a home screen or a radio station.

Step 2: Capturing the Exterior

  • Avoid standing too close to the vehicle, as this approach can result in introducing distortion to the photograph. Rather, stand well back and use the zoom feature on your phone or camera, more specifically, the optical zoom, (avoid digital zoom to make certain your photos are of the highest possible quality, when the camera allows for it).
  • Your photo set for each vehicle should include three-quarter shots from all four corners; straight-on from the front and rear; complete driver and passenger side view; a front wheel; and on a pick-up truck, the bed with the tailgate down, as well as the rear bumper and trailer hitch.
white mazda
Inventory Photo with Logo
  • Having the sun behind you will limit the amount of glare in photos, however, make sure your shadow isn’t visible in photos. If necessary, stand farther back and make use of the optical zoom feature. If you can’t avoid glare from the sun, use your hand to provide sufficient shade to the camera lens.
  • The recommended aperture when using a camera is around F8 to keep the vehicle in focus. Avoid apertures larger than F6, particularly when zooming in at focal lengths longer than 100mm, to avoid any possibility of the vehicle being out of focus.
three incorrect photo samples and one correct sample
image being taken by phone with gridlines
  • Capture the vehicle from midway height, behind slightly at the knees. Don’t tower over the car and avoid shooting from a low stance. Both approaches will result in an odd and unnatural looking visual.
  • If photographing on a phone, enable the gridline feature to ensure photos are straight and centered in the fame, both vertically and horizontally.

Step 3: Quality Interior Shots

  • When possible, capture the interior of every vehicle in a lightly shaded area to avoid sun glare, even if you must move the car.
  • Positioning yourself in the middle of the backseat, photograph the entire dash and steering wheel at a focal length of 18mm or wider.
  • While standing outside of the vehicle, open the front and rear doors to their maximal extent, and capture the first- and second-row seats straight on. Be sure to include some of the doorframe to demonstrate ease of entry and exit. Consider lowering the driver and passenger side window glass to shoot the front seats directly through the window frame.
  • For a three-row vehicle, move the second-row seats forward to their entry position and photograph the rear seats, visually demonstrating the entry space.
  • When shooting the instrument cluster, close all doors and hatch to avoid warning messages. Ensure the odometer reading is displayed within the cluster. Avoid displaying the fuel consumption read-out on a configurable instrument cluster, which may erroneously show an elevated figure if the vehicle was recently fuelled and only driven a short distance.
  • Take isolated shots of the climate controls, centre console, centre screen, steering wheel, steering wheel controls, and, if applicable, all-wheel or four-wheel-drive controls.
  • Take shots of special features you intend to promote, such as seat stitching, controls for heated or ventilated seats, power-folding rear seats, controls for safety as well as driver safety assist technologies, and more.
car interior two good photos and two back

When in Doubt, Put Your Trust in Professionals

To assure yourself of first-class photographs, that accurately represent the quality of your inventory, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Capture Services team at AutoTrader. This first-rate service delivers a professional photographer directly to your dealership threshold to capture your used and new vehicles, ensuring you showcase your vehicles in the best possible light to car shoppers. Our professional and knowledgeable Capture Services staff will support all of your photography needs, including post processing of every visual using industry leading photo editing software, ensuring every angle and feature is showcased to draw the attention of car shoppers, and, most certainly, convert browsers to buyers.

Happy shooting!

Source: (1) Vehicle Purchase Behaviour Research, December 2021 (n=496). (2) Data Warehouse, January – July 2022.