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Auto Detailing Photography Tips – Master the Before and After!

If you own your own auto detailing business, you know how big of a deal quality photos are to building your brand (especially online). Whether your main traffic source is social media or your own website, the real purpose of taking these photos is to help to showcase your abilities.

While you don’t have to be a professional photographer, snapping a couple before and after pics is a great way to build your brand. Since auto detailing is a business built on reputation and trust, it helps to show potential customers that you take pride in your work enough to showcase it online for the world to see.

In this post, I’ll share a few ideas for taking before and after shots for your auto detailing business, as well as offer some advice on what you can do with this photography.

Tips for photographing cars as a detailer

different angle car

Standing out as a detailer is more important now than ever in this day and age, and posting photos online is really no longer optional.  Whether you are looking to create some time-lapsed videos, or just take basic pictures of your process here’s what to keep in mind.

Shooting vehicles from different angles

One concept that helps when it comes to shooting cars is to shoot in what’s called the front 1/4th or 3/4th position. For example, shooting a car in a front 1/4 position would capture 1/4 of the car including the front and part of the side.

Instead of simply taking a picture of a car that is stationary, use as much natural light as you can and practice taking pictures using these techniques outside. Natural light is usually the best for photographing cars, unless you are familiar with lighting indoors.

The video below does a good job of illustrating this concept:

While you work, another idea would be to showcase your crew detailing the various parts of the car in the photo. This can help highlight exactly what was done and gives customers an idea of the level of detail your team takes when washing and/or detailing.

While a good location and proper technique (which I will describe in the next section) are important to an extent, try to remain as authentic as possible. You want to avoid your photos looking like they were photoshopped or doctored in any way. While soft high-quality photos taken with an expensive lens are ideal, making everything look 100% perfect isn’t really necessary especially for before and after shots. You may want to even point out that no filters or special effects were used.

Choose the right equipment for taking pictures of cars

dslr shooting car

If you have a shop, having a couple of photography lights that produce natural light somewhere around 5000K is ideal, since this mimics natural light. You can set these up on either side of the car, or wherever you are working and experiment with lighting as needed. It really helps to watch a few videos on really how to light vehicles if you plan to take these yourself.

Smartphone or DSLR camera?

Although not necessary I would highly recommend picking up a DSLR camera if you don’t already have one and are planning to take photos regularly. I was actually surprised to find a few Canon EOS Rebel T6 DSLR cameras here on Amazon that were certified preowned and much cheaper than most. I have a Canon similar to this model and it really does make taking close up shots a lot easier, especially if you are zooming in on scratches and other fine details.

On the other hand, using an iPhone or any smartphone with a good camera is better than nothing, and there are quite a few cameras that can blur backgrounds. While not up to the standard of a DSLR, smartphone cameras have some pretty good presets these days for shooting high-quality pictures.

No matter what device you choose to use, lighting really is anything when it comes to capturing clear photos. I would recommend shooting cars in the daytime if you are using a smartphone since it’s really difficult to take non-pixelated photos in low light conditions (even with the flash on)

What to know about photographic cars

One main difference when photographing cars is the amount of glare that you have to deal with when taking photos. Since all clear coats reflect light, it’s important to understand the basics. For example, a lens hood is an accessory that can help reduce glare, in addition to properly using the zoom function on your camera or lens.

Photographing vehicles is really an art form in itself, but some accessories you may want to pick up are a polarizer, a light bar, as well as a 24-77 millimeter lens if you are shooting with a DSLR.

While you’re at it, you may as well get familiar with taking photographs of your equipment, team, and various actions you take every day as a detailer (like spraying down a vehicle) since these types of action shots can be great to use online when building your brand.

Watching a few videos to understand exposure, aperture and other photography basics can really help if you are a beginner. I found this YouTube video by Ammo NYC particularly helpful in getting started with vehicle photography using a basic DSLR camera.

With that said, here are a few shots and angles to experiment with:

  • Front shot of the hood
  • Close-up of the hood
  • Close up of the wheel
  • Front ¼ shot of vehicle with wheel showing
  • Overhead shot showing the entire vehicle
  • Engine bay closeup
  • Headlight close up
  • Before and after carpet cleaning
  • Before and after leather cleaning and conditioning
  • Before and after scratch removal shot

Take pictures for your website or other marketing materials.

car photography for website

Since stock photography can get expensive, it’s not a bad idea to go ahead and take some pictures for your website or social channels. Another cool way to showcase your work is to shoot a continuous video of a vehicle as it’s being washed and detailed on the inside or outside.

Like I mentioned earlier, these time lapses work really well for Instagram and really any other social media platform you regularly post on, especially when detailing dirty vehicles where the before and after shots are drastically different. If you have an iPhone, just set it up on a tripod, select the ‘Time Lapse’ shooting option, and when you play it back you’ll have a nice sped-up version of your work.

When working outside this can also create a pretty cool effect as the sun moves over the vehicle.

Tip: Select a location that suits the personality of your car

nighttime photography car

Another idea when taking before and after photos is to choose a cool location that fits the type of car you have. While you don’t have to detail the car in this location, you can get some really awesome shots if you are overlooking an ocean, a major city, or even a nice house. Simply take the vehicle back to your shop or your detailing rig, photograph your crew washing and detailing it, and then park it in the exact same location you took the before photo.

Tip: Take photos related to the services you offer

Since most detailers provide a lot of different services, try to capture as many different angles as possible – from close-ups of a headlight being polished, or a couple of interior shots of the car’s carpet.

Do you specialize in scratch removal? It’s important to have some visuals, especially when it comes to advanced techniques you may offer as a detailer like scratch removal or carpet cleaning.

These types of before and after shots are perfect for including in the services menu of your website, where you can outline a step by step process  (including pictures) of each type of service. After all, it helps to give potential customers some proof that you know what you’re doing.

If you’re looking to revamp your services menu, check out my post 7 Add-ons to Include in Your Auto Detailing Services Menu.

There are obviously thousands of combinations to try, so take as many as you can! Nice photos are really helpful to have when building for your website, to use in emails you send out, or other marketing materials you may want to produce, like flyers or brochures.


Now that you have a few ideas for where to start, go out and shoot some awesome photos of your entire detailing process from beginning to end! Potential customers really just want to see that you go above and beyond what most run-of-the-mill detailers offer, and photography is a great way to illustrate this.

Whenever taking photos of your client’s vehicles, it’s always best practice to first get permission and avoid shooting any license plates. Having access to Lightroom filters or Photoshop is also nice, but there are online services like Fiverr or Upwork where photography professionals can make your shots look a little bit better if you choose to go that route.

You really don’t have to be a professional photographer to achieve pretty good results as a detailer. In the end, it’s really about documenting your overall process and being authentic to who you are as an auto detailer.

For free eBooks, webinars, and even business card templates to help grow your detailing business, click here to check out our Resources Library. Let me know in the comments if you have any other photography tips, and happy detailing!

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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