Photographing vehicles seems like it would be easy right? Sure, you just point the camera at the car and press the button – the camera does the rest. Well, on the surface, yes, it does seem easy – but as with most things, the more you learn about it, the more difficult it becomes. Let’s take a step back for a minute by asking, why are we taking pictures of this car? To list it online right? Exactly. Now, think about how you present your cars on your dealership lot. Are they haphazardly placed or are they in nice neat rows? Nice neat rows you say? Good. I’ll bet you go so far as to categorize your inventory into vehicle types – sedans here, minivans there, luxury suvs over there… The reason you display your cars in nice neat rows is so that a potential customer can quickly scan your lot for the type of car that they are looking for. A potential customer shopping for a minivan can look at your inventory of minivans and, if they are all presented together, quickly see differences between the vans, and zero in on features they like or dislike. The human eye is very efficient at detecting patterns and is thus aided by consistency and distracted by inconsistency.

Presenting a vehicle inventory online should follow the same principles used on your dealership lot – mainly, consistency. Take a look at the two inventory displays shown below. The foreground inventory display is clean and consistent allowing the eye to quickly travel down the page and compare vehicles. Here, a clear pattern is established by the consistency of the images allowing the eye to then concentrate on comparing vehicles.

The background inventory display confuses the eye, preventing any quick comparison. Here, the eye naturally jumps between images as the brain attempts to make some sense of a pattern in the images.

When faced with clean, clear, and consistent images, shoppers can (and will) spend more time comparing vehicles in a dealer’s inventory and are thus more likely to return to a site to view new inventory.

two images of an online inventory display highlighting proper consistent vehicle alignment

Generating consistent, high quality images is the result of following a consistent process and learning how to take quality photos under the less than ideal conditions presented on a dealership lot.  The quality of a photo is generally a function of the environmental lighting conditions, the condition of the vehicle, the experience of the photographer, and the setup of the camera. Unfortunately, we don’t always have control over the first two, and the last two come with time. However, there are several things that we at AULMA can do to make the best of poor photographic conditions.

At AutoUpLinkUSA Mid-Atlantic, we isolate the vehicle whenever it is possible to do so. This, at the very least, entails pulling the vehicle out of line, but can also mean staging the vehicle in front of an isolated background. In the ultimate scenario, each vehicle would be photographed in a studio with a backdrop and high-intensity lighting allowing complete isolation.

Often, dealers will want us to stage the vehicle in an isolated location, or with dealership signage in the background.  We try our best to accommodate, however, some dealership lots are so tightly packed with vehicles that we can’t isolate vehicles safely or efficiently.  We’ll work with the dealer to find the best compromise between efficiency and good photographic conditions.  We are always aware that our job is to take pictures that will sell vehicles. We feel that a dealer that understands the necessity of taking consistent, high quality photographs will take the time to help us properly isolate vehicles.

The image below is a photo taken in under ideal studio conditions – perfect lighting, alignment, and complete isolation. No, we can’t reproduce this under most real world, dealership lot conditions – but it’s what we strive for.

A photograph of a car taken under ideal studio conditions

Here are a few examples of poor isolation that could have been easily avoided by taking a few extra minutes to better isolate the car and align the shot.

A photograph of a car that wasn't isolated from the other cars on the lot
A photograph of a car showing an example of poor visual alignment

Car designers and manufacturers go through great lengths when designing new vehicles to look at their designs from common viewing angles to insure that they are as beautiful in reality as they are in concept. One of the most common viewing angles used when manufacturers produce their studio shots for publication is the three-quarter front view. At AutoUpLinkUSA Mid-Atlantic, we go to great lengths to capture this common, and often flattering, view of each vehicle. The three-quarter front view is the recommended first shot – as it is the most flattering, and the first shot in a series is often the first (and sometimes only) image seen in an online listing. One of the keys to a successful three-quarter front view is to align eye level with the side view mirror. In the image below, we’ve added lines to show how we align the three quarter front view – to maintain consistency between each vehicle we photograph.

A photograph of a car taken under ideal studio conditions with lines added to show visual alignment

Another often overlooked area of outdoor vehicle photography is the lighting conditions. Harsh or undesirable lighting conditions are common on dealership lots – but following a few simple guidelines can make the difference between poorly lit shots and taking a respectable shot under adverse conditions.

A photograph of a car displaying poor lighting conditions
A photograph of a car taken using natural light

Perhaps the easiest guideline to remember and use is to keep the sun at the photographer’s back. As we can see in the first image above, the photographer took the shot facing into the sun – which completely washed out the car in glare. In the second shot above, the photographer used the harsh sunlight to naturally light the car. This simple alignment of the car with the sun made all of the difference in the world. We should note that with the sun at the photographer’s back, it is often difficult to find an alignment that won’t include the photographer’s shadow in the photo.

A photograph of a car with the photographer's shadow in the picture

So, as you can see, there is a lot to think about when photographing vehicles on a dealership lot. Here we’ve just referenced a few items in a long list of procedures that we at AutoUpLinkUSA Mid-Atlantic practice every day. Our data agents are trained to take consistent, isolated, well lit, and well aligned shots of dealership vehicles. In fact, each of our agents undergoes an extensive training period under the watchful eye of one of our senior agents. Each of our data agents receives a photography manual – outlining the procedures and best practices developed over our years of experience photographing cars on dealership lots in Maryland and Virginia. Our agents also self-audit their images once they are published online – often retaking photos that aren’t up to our high standards. Sure, anyone can point a camera and shoot – but when it comes to your dealership inventory, there is often one shot for a car to stand out and shine. Why not trust the responsibility of that one shot to the capable hands of AutoUpLinkUSA Mid-Atlantic.