My automotive career started when I took a job working for a few friends who bought and sold cars. As the son and son in law of lifelong photographers, it was my natural abilities that got me assigned to this particular task.
I quickly learned that like any field of photography there are several layers of the right and wrong way to take pictures of cars. More importantly however, there are multiple ways that pictures of cars can and will be used and if you are not aware of them you won’t be able to serve a wider variety of clients and thereby get more automotive photography jobs!
How Much Do Car Photographers Make?
According to what I was able to find, it appears the average salary for a vehicle photographer in 2018 is $40,000 a year. In this section I have included a visual from Glassdoor where it appears they took a bunch of automotive photographers stated incomes and created an average from them. Before you focus too hard on that $32,000 a year number, it is important to remember that Freelance Photographers are not included in that number and Freelance is where you will find your publication and special event photographers getting paid the big bucks.
How To Make Money In Automotive Photography
The reason I put the money questions first is no accident. If the first question a photographer asks before ever taking a shot is how much money can be made, your chances of success drop dramatically.
Passion is what drives you to learn. Passion is what drives you to innovate even when your images are already unique. But the biggest reason you must have passion is because it’s the only thing that will get you through the initial period of your career when no one cares what or how you shoot.
You can test your passion the same way I do, by always asking if my images are as good as they can be. The day that I am fully satisfied is the day I stop looking to improve, and that my friends is the day photography becomes just a job
Types Of Automotive Photography
- Sales (Dealerships or Car Makers)
- Event (Racing, Car Shows, Car meets)
- Stock Photos (Automotive third-party companies, Publications, Etc)
How Do I Get Into Car Photography?
There are one of several ways to become a car or automotive photographer, let me list a few:
- Apply on job sites like Indeed, Linkedin, and even Glassdoor.
- Apply to one of the largest car photography companies in the US (Car Data)
- Bust your butt walking into showrooms, sending out emails, and working freelance.
- Post your work with a blog, YouTube Channel or a website.
What to consider when looking for Photo Shoots/Jobs
Anyone of these ways will get your photos in your demo reel and excellent experience, moreover, they will help you connect with people in the industry which is THE most important factor for growth in Automotive and Photography in general.
The decision to start via a posted job or going freelance is going to depend largely on your ability to not have an income for awhile or work in your free time. However take note that in the photography business, clients (Even the non-paying ones) want their work 5 minutes in the past! So, if you work part-time, either make sure you can deliver product quickly or that everything is laid out for your clients up front so their expectations match your abilities.
Car Dealership Photography Tips (Inventory Photos)
For me, 360 interior Virtual Tours were a great value prop. The problem I discovered real quick is that they were cool enough to get me in the door, but not cool enough to make anyone part with their money. Once I learned (For them) how they could use the images to make better ads, I started to get some money coming in. So, whatever unique ability you have, just make sure it can translate into car sales. If it can’t, then take the time to learn on your own how it can and be able to show that with real figures (Facebook ads, etc).
Car Dealership Photographer Pay
Hourly Rates or Salaries are going to vary if you plan to photograph inventory for a car dealership or dealerships. Some dealerships will sell high-end vehicles and require very high-quality inventory style shots while also mixing in some Stock type images for their listings.
A 300K car needs to look cool!
- Standard Car Dealership Rates- $10-$16 Per Hours
- High-End Cars- (Photo Shoot Rates $100-$200 per car
The Car Dealer down the street is going to be about volume and your specialty dealership or car collector is going to be focused on quality. So with regular dealers, you get the “Kid out of college” rate whereas the luxury vehicles will be billed/shot at whatever your skill level would demand as a photographer (In a general sense). Meaning- Forget that it’s a car and charge for your time.
Other Automotive Photography Opportunities
Private car sellers are value conscious and working on a budget. If you are shooting for free or very cheap and your photos can help them sell their car for more many will be eager to let you take as many pictures as you want.
Race Tracks, Car Meets, Car Shows
These are all public events and killer places to get the most exciting types of automotive photography. The best part is that it’s cheap and many of the people there with cars love more than anything the opportunity to show them off. Some people don’t even want copies of your photos, they are just honored that someone loves their car so much they want to take pictures of it.
Car Photography Tips
Know the Best Angles For Each Car
1. Head On:
There are going to be cars that are going to look amazing from head-on, or from the front of the car. Some vehicles have an amazing presence with a very impressive “Grill” design, however, others do not. If you can’t make it look good, don’t take those pictures and maybe instead take pictures of the front at different angles. If that doesn’t work, move on to the quarter panel because it will/should show enough of the front of the vehicle for any client or viewer.
2. Quarter Angle:
This, for most car photographers, is the money shot because this is where you get most of the car. Again, exactly where you position yourself will depend on the vehicle. You could be more toward the front or shift more toward the side. If you are unsure, shoot a variety and look back on it later. (Always better to have more than less).
3. Attention To Detail:
Cars have certain aspects that are signature to their particular model or brand. Take for example the Lamborghini logo, or the Bentley “Flying B”. Don’t be afraid to focus on it by getting up close and personal. Get your aperture wide open and blur the background, make it pop. In this case, don’t worry about the car, people will know what it is when they see unmistakeable features.
4. Blur and Shutter Speed (Moving Photos)
You have probably seen the moving photographs of cars where the vehicle is sharp as it drives but the road and background are blurry. Most photographers know how to create that effect, but how many are actually doing it correctly? And yes- There is a correct, or at least a, “More Correct Way” to do it.
Typically you want to keep your shutter speed between 1/60 and 1/25. Why? Because you want to create a blur without creating too much blur that makes the picture more artistic than realistic.
Remember- The goal of a picture, and especially if you are shooting for a dealership or some sort of business client, is to let someone see the vehicle as they would if they were where you are. “Appealing to the eye” is the go-to terminology here. Blurring out the background is natural for our eyes to perceive, but not to the point that all you can make out is the car.
The exception: A ton of blur is just plain COOL! So, if you dip down below 1/60 you are going to get some really neat stuff. Weather it’s usable for your client? That’s between you and the client!
2019 Car Photography Tips
Take A Look At What Others Have Done- If you are shooting for a Car Dealership then look at what other dealerships in their particular market have at the top of Google Images. Google will always provide you what people want to see and what is trendy/popular- That’s Googles Job!
Tip #2- Use The Rule Of thirds Frequently
The rule of thirds is often used in photos similar to this one here where you will see the subject of an image off to the left or right with open space on the other side. These photos are dynamic in and of themselves, but they provide an inherent commercial value that you must understand as someone who will be taking pictures of cars for business and commercial use:
When you have made a picture where there is a perfect spot to place a logo you have truly made something of value for a business above and beyond the cool factor. And take it from me, a photographer that shoots 360 virtual interiors of cars- Cool doesn’t always open the checkbook!
Tip #3- Location and Context Matter
Are you taking pictures of a 4×4 truck or Jeep? Then you should probably be out in the country or on some rough terrain. Are you shooting pictures of a compact car? Then you should probably be on location in a more urban area or downtown in a big city.
More than likely a car photographer is taking pictures for someone selling something in automotive, and in that case the context of WHY someone will be buying something matters to your client, which means it matters to you. Take the time to coordinate with your clients and find the perfect setting for your photo shoot.
Tip #4- Stray Away From Being Boring and Obvious
Just because you are shooting in a parking lot or on a road doesn’t mean you have to make that obvious. Take on a unique angle that doesn’t allow anyone to know you are in a boring old parking lot. Maybe cut out some of the car and use something in the background to share space in the frame. For Example: In this photo I am standing on a used car lot, but glancing at the photo, all that really stands out are the Truck and the Palm Trees, which are eye catching during the Winter Months.
Tip #5- Eye Level Is For Auto Trader
Eye Level photos are great for vehicle listings on websites like Autotrader or Craigslist, but they won’t stand out or get you many (High Paying) jobs as a car photographer. Get High, Get Low, and for gosh sakes tilt the camera to one side or the other. Car Photography isn’t usually going to be about placing someone in a particular setting, like you might with Real Estate Photography, rather it’s about having a significant amount of Cool Factor. You can get high quality photos with a phone these days, but Apple and Android still can’t make people creative, that’s one tool you MUST have to get hired and work as an Automotive Photographer.
Tip #6- Go Vertical for 2019 and Beyond
If you are not thinking Vertically for your Car Photography as of 2019 you are going to fall behind. Vertical is taking over, and why:
Instagram is a perfect example of why you need to take some pictures specifically with the intent of vertical viewing. Not only is a regular instagram post more appealing with more vertical pixels but you can dominate Instagram Stories with a great vertical shot that takes up the entire screen. If Instagram isn’t enough to convince you, add Pinterest to the list of social sites showing preference to Vertical Format Photography.
Tip #7- Depth Of Field Is A Must
Im not sure there is any segment of the photography world today that can get away without using a good amount of variation in their depth of field. It’s simple: The public loves the look of a photo taken with a very shallow depth of field, or the type of pictures that have the very blurry backgrounds with a super tack sharp subject. Again, taking a hint from Instagram, their filter, the Tilt/Shift (Which is a reference to a type of lens), is supremely popular and has in fact inspired mobile phone makers like Apple to create phone cameras that can more easily replicate bokeh without the need for multiple lenses or editing.
The hint is that these companies spend millions on research to find out what people want, and if they are pumping out Bokeh tech, you and I need to be shooting more of it.
The final tip for this article is going to be to get out there and take photos. Shoot for free, call dealers and ask to shoot their cars, go to a car show. The more you shoot, and the more varieties of cars you get to photograph, are going to make you a better car photographer than any blog post or video.