If the end goal is to get a customer to the showroom floor, then your website and the content and images that live on your site are a sneak peek into just how incredible your inventory is. That being said, it is crucial to make sure that the photos of your new and used cars are top-notch. In this straightforward, 10-step guide, our Director of Dealer Strategy, Christine Plunkett will help you build the tools to take photos of your inventory that will build trust with your customer and make your inventory shine!
Step 1: Invest in a decent camera. Your iPhone will work but if you have the budget, spring for a Canon or Nikon between $200 and $500 to set your pictures apart from the competition.
Step 2: Make photography someone’s responsibility. Preferably someone with an interest in photography, cars, or ideally both! Make one person personally accountable for photos being taken and properly uploaded to the website. Even if multiple people are involved in the process, one person must champion the cause to ensure it is done regularly and correctly.
Step 3: PAY THAT PERSON ACCORDING TO RESULTS. Whether it’s a side gig for your lot attendant or you hire a photography vendor, make sure their pay is tied to the percentage of vehicles on your website which has photos. 100% is an unrealistic goal, but 75-80% is a reasonable expectation. If they can’t achieve the goal, ask them why and help remove roadblocks.
Step 4: Implement a process where used vehicles are photographed as soon as humanly possible after trade-in or purchase from an auction. Even if the car is not in pristine condition, if there is dirt on it, if there are bumper stickers, if you’re not sure how to price it until it goes through re-con – IT DOESN’T MATTER. Even if you’re not sure you’re even going to sell the thing, just snap some quick preliminary shots to go with the website listing as soon as it is stocked in. Tag your image with a watermark or banner that reads, “Sneak Peek” or “I haven’t had my bath yet” to let shoppers know it’s a new arrival. Instead of being annoyed by the dirty picture, a savvy shopper will like that they have first dibs on a new piece of inventory. Just don’t forget to go back and re-take and re-upload fresh images once the car is pretty (and remove the old images).
Step 5: Consider the framing of your inventory photos. You can go HAM and build a giant studio with white walls and a rotating platform – or just take a bit of time and energy to find a neutral location at your dealership. Even if you shoot the cars in the line, just be sure to back the vehicle out of the space and separate it from the pack. The image should fill the frame and there should be no distracting elements in the background. For heaven’s sake don’t have anything blocking any part of the car.
Try to avoid seasonal indicators in your pictures, like snow and ice on the ground. If the vehicle ages for long, observant shoppers will notice the picture was snapped months ago and question what must be wrong with it for it to still be available. Photoshop can help here when weather is unavoidable. Which brings me to my next point…
Step 6: DO NOT ALTER YOUR VEHICLES with photo editing. This is a huge no-no. It is perfectly ok to use photoshop to clean up the area around the vehicle, remove an ugly sign in the background, etc. But never ever ever ever change the appearance of the car. Do not remove dents, scratches, peeled window tint, anything. In fact, a strong case can be made for being overtly transparent about the condition of the used car. Highlighting a small dent will not typically turn an interested buyer away, but it might help build trust with the dealer. Most shoppers’ number one fear of car dealers is that they are being shady or lying. Not you! Show it all.
Step 7: Frame all your images the same way. Make it formulaic. Start at the front driver’s side quarter panel and methodically work your way around the vehicle snapping every angle plus all noteworthy features inside. You can’t really take too many photos, but you can take the wrong ones. Stick to highlighting features and benefits. Don’t show off the carpet under the floormat.
Step 8: Get low low low low low low low. Standing up straight will never result in a great vehicle image. Squat down and get eye-level with the headlights and shoot straight on from that height ALL THE WAY AROUND THE CAR.
Step 9: Be aware of the lighting. Bright sunlight can cause terrible shadows creating dark spots on your pictures. Whenever possible shoot on overcast days or under cover of an awning which shadows the entire vehicle evenly.
Step 10: TAKE PICTURES OF YOUR NEW VEHICLES. Some people want world peace, others want to end cruelty to animals, I can get on board with both – but my own personal crusade in life is to convince every car dealer of the necessity of photographing their new inventory as well as pre-owned. A stock photo is as useless to a shopper as no photo. Your website is your new showroom. When a shopper walks into your dealership to see a specific car you would never hold up a photograph of a similar make/model. You show them the REAL THING. Do the same online. It’s worth the extra expense to beautifully showcase your full REAL selection in your digital showroom.
Slow weekday in your sales department? Start a “car photo conga line!” Have a few of your salespeople that are not next in the “up” rotation each round up a car that needs a picture taken. Have them line up near the photo staging area, and one after one they can pull up for the in-house photo master to quickly go snap all the key shots. After the car’s photo session, the salesperson can park the car and grab another one. This is a fantastic way to expedite a large number of vehicles that need photos and will also help your salespeople learn more about the inventory available on the lot!