As the internet and vans sales is such a visual experience this is an important skill to master. The good news is it’s never been easier or cheaper to achieve quality photos. You don’t need a fancy DSLR or premium compact camera, you can achieve amazing results with just your smart phone.
You can use any digital camera you like. But if you have a recent smartphone I recommend starting with that. Phone cameras have improved massively in recent years, allowing you achieve amazing results without the need to carry cumbersome camera equipment around. They also allow for easy editing and uploading all from the same device.
Its easy to get caught up with buying expensive cameras and gear thinking it will make you a better photographer. But the reality is that with the right techniques your phone can take outstanding photos. With quality that is almost as good as a DSLR or Mirrorless camera and is more than good enough for car photography. Also if you are just getting into vans flipping using your phone means no additional outlay.
Smartphone camera setting
Each smartphone camera is different and with so many on the market its impossible to cover every model. So here I will focus on the ever popular iPhone. However the basic principles are transferable to all smartphone cameras.
You can find the camera settings in the setting app on the iPhone. Simply scroll down until you find the camera icon. I have found it much easier to frame a car successfully with the grid setting turned on so I recommend you turn this on. These grid lines really help with composure, so your shots need less post editing.
The next setting to change is in the format option. Changing from the default High efficiency to the most compatible setting. This allows for easier sharing to other none apple devices and actually increases image quality.
Next time you turn on the camera you will now see two vertical and horizontal lines making getting the composure of your car easier. Whilst in the camera app you will notice the icon that looks like several circles, this is live photos mode. I basically takes a live video before and after you take a photo. I leave this on as it can help in windy situations and with camera blur. I normally shoot with the HDR option turned on for the same reasons.
I always shoot with the flash off. The iPhone flash is small and weak so you normally need to be very close to a subject to get a result. But it can also produce unnatural colours which isn’t desirable in van photograph.
Also I always recommend shooting with the phone held horizontally and in the photo mode. I also never use any preset filters and always recommend leaving a photo set to original.
When you start to take a photo with an iPhone the camera immediately starts to auto focus. You can adjust the point of focus by tapping on the screen to adjust the focus. You should set the focus on the car. When you do this the photo can darken, this is because at the same time as adjusting the focus you have adjusted the brightness.
If this is a problem and the photos looks either to dark or too bright, you can simply adjust the brightness by running you finger up of down the screen until you are happy. You should aways set the focus and brightness yourself.
If your iPhone is equipped with a telephoto lens try using the 2x option. I have found the narrower lens can give great results.
While standing I normally start by shooting the van from the drivers side front 3/4 angle. Then move to the rear divers side and shoot the same angle and do the same for the other two corners. I then shoot the front dead on shot and the same from the rear. If its a sunny day or you are trying to maintain a consistent background as suggested. You may have to reposition the van for the rear 3/4 angles and dead on rear shots. I then shoot the left and right side dead on shots.
With the exterior done I move to the interior and shoot the drivers side first. With the door open I try to only capture the steering wheel, dash and gearshift areas and front of the seats. I generally try not to have the rearview mirror or seat backs in view. I then move to the passenger side and shoot the same angle, plus a squarer through the window shot.
A good tip is to lean on the van or support the camera hand by leaning against the open door or window frame. This can produce a much steadier shot allowing for better composure and control. I then shoot the boot area and engine bay if its presentable.
It’s at this point that I photograph the wheels and any damage or imperfections on the van. Once the general photography is complete I will photograph any interesting features the car might have like reversing camera, bonnet vents or colour satnav. Finally once I’m happy with everything I will open the service books and photograph the service history and the mileage.
Tips for getting the best results
Before you even think about taking a picture the van needs to be clean. DSLRs and phone cameras do a great job of masking dirt and hiding imperfections. But a spotlessly clean car makes all the difference if you want to achieve great photos.
The next thing you need to avoid is midday sunlight. The light at that time of the day can produce harsh looking images, so I highly recommend shooting either early morning or later in the afternoon. The best results will be achieved on an overcast day. This is especially true with dark blues or black. These darker colours can look terrible if photographed in direct sunlight.
Some of the old film photograph rules still apply. Shooting into the sun will still give poor results compared to having the car behind you. Also watch out for shadows from buildings, trees and the car itself. Remember a van isn’t a static object so there really is no excuse.
Never shoot the van if it’s wet. This never looks good and can look like you are trying to hide something.
Background is also important. If you have a level drive with some curb appeal then use that, a local beauty spot or costal carpark might work. Failing that a brick wall or similar can work well. A good consistent background in every photo is always advisable. Try to avoid industrial backgrounds or carparks. It’s always best to shoot a van on level surface or a slight slope with the nose of the car pointing down.
You should always lock the wheel over to the passenger side when taking the drivers side 3/4 angle. This just add a small element of car and professionalism to a photo. Subsequently the wheel should be straight on for all the other photos.
If you are photographing a convertible don’t forget to take a few photos with both the hood up and down.
Don’t worry about how many photos you take, you aren’t shooting on film. Take as many as you need to get the right angles. The first time I shot a van I probably took 100 photos. Years later its closer to 20. Your photograph skills will improve with practice.
Try to fit as much of the van in the photos as possible reducing unnecessary scenery. The photos need to be appealing but the focus should be on the van.
Remember to use the grid lines to aid composure and always keep the whole van in shot.
Editing the photos
This is the final stage, and if you have done a good job with the principle photograph it also a very simple stage. When editing van photos less is often best. Potential customers can be put off by the use of filters or heavy vignetting. That style of editing may work well on Pinterest or Instagram but it’s not advisable when advertising a car.
There are lots of powerful editing apps and software available. But I normally just edit the photos in iPhoto on my phone. Cropping where needed and balancing the photo is required, either manually or using the auto enhance button. This simple process can produce some amazing images.
If you want to take photo editing a stage further or just feel you need some extra help to start with. The likes of Snapseed, Afinity Photo, Pixelmator and RAW Power offer almost unlimited customisation options.
In any form of photography it can take time to get it right. I look back at my early attempts to photograph vans with horror. But with time you can develop the skills and techniques needed to take amazing photos. These in turn will help you sell more vans and make more money.