Photography is one of the most important drivers of generating online sales leads for RVs or trailers, yet it is also one of the most overlooked. Learn a few easy-to-use photography tricks of the trade to take photographs that will make buyers want to purchase your units.
Taking effective RV photographs doesn’t require expensive equipment or lots of time, however it does take timing and a little strategy.
First impressions are everything, and one blurry photograph on your inventory page can turn off a buyer in an instant. One of the biggest mistakes dealers make when photographing their RVs or trailers is improper lighting. However, lighting should be used to your advantage. The best light you can use in photographs is natural light, i.e. the sun. Therefore, timing is essential. Make sure to schedule your photography sessions in the early mornings and late afternoons.
Because the sun is low on the horizon in the early morning, it travels through more of the Earth’s atmosphere, becoming “diffused,” or softer and kinder. This flat, cool, light is what helps photographers avoid harsh, detail-killing shadows and “hot spots” – the bright white flashes on curved, reflective and metallic surfaces. Morning light gives photographs a fresh, cool feeling.
Much like the hour after sunrise, the hour just before sunset is perfect for RV photographs. Take advantage of this “Golden Hour” – the last moments before the sunset – when the sunlight is warm from the day, yet diffused by distance – to give your RV photographs a soft, rich hue. The golden hour is especially effective in creating a sense of luxury and warmth.
Location, Location, Location
Now that you have your timing down, the next step is location. We recommend that the first thing you should do before photographing an RV or trailer is move. On an inventory-filled lot, it’s not always possible to move a motor coach, but a slight change in the photographer’s position can minimize background distractions or shadows cast by buildings or other vehicles. Small changes in elevation add diversity to a series of exterior RV photographs – and can minimize glare and reflection. Two steps up on a small ladder at the front corner of an RV create a “through the driver’s compartment” look, while squatting to shoot from a lower angle at the entry creates a feeling of a bigger and more spacious RV.
For consistency in RV photography, consider adding an outdoor “studio” for all RV photography. Plant a small corner on the property with a backdrop of greenery, and add a tidy parking pad and a few simple props such as a fire pit and cozy camp chairs to always be ready for the next model’s photo session.
If drab, indoor showroom light is your challenge in RV photography, help may be as close as the service department. Portable halogen shop lights on a stand, or directed slightly upward from ground level, and placed far enough away to cast a wide, soft glow can give your RV photographs a fresher, brighter look. However, beware of harsh shadows that can occur if halogen lights are placed too close to the RV. When there’s nothing but a slight bump in the quality of light, the halogen lamps are in the right place.
Light for Interiors
Flood your RV with natural and ambient light and avoid on-camera flash for interior photographs. Start by opening the curtains and blinds to let the early morning or late afternoon light filter in. Then look in the viewfinder; if there’s too much light, washing out color and detail, start subtracting light by adjusting shades and curtains. Where there is darkness, add light.
A pop-up camper bathed in light will feel spacious, fresh and clean, while a coach, trailer or fifth wheel will look expansive. In larger models, fill dark corners of the room with light using a strategically placed low-wattage lamp. Turn the lights on in hallways and adjacent rooms to avoid dark corners in RV interior photographs.
If the RV interior still appears dark, place a lamp out of the photograph’s frame, and remove the shade for a boost of non-directional light. In the largest RVs you can use a white ceiling as a giant “soft box.” Simply aim an inexpensive LED spotlight (available at any big box store) upward to let the light bounce off the ceiling and drift down over the room. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Move the spotlight around the room to put the focus on an architectural or mechanical detail.
Avoid using the camera’s flash that gives a narrow beam of non-diffused light. The flash creates color distortion and hot spots in your photograph. Light from a camera’s flash travels only a few feet, causing your RV room to be lit unevenly. If a pop-up flash is your only option, make a quick diffuser by taping a small piece of single-ply tissue over the flash unit to soften the light.
Details and Distance
Great RV photographs allow potential buyers to see all parts and details of the RV. Good photos not only showcase the unit’s features, but they allow buyers to imagine themselves and their families inside the RV. In order to give buyers the 360 view they’re looking for, use three different perspectives when shooting photographs:
- Shoot an overview, at wide setting on the camera lens. Don’t going so wide that there’s distortion such as walls that appear to curve inward. This photo sets the scene.
- Take a middle distance photograph of the RV interior room. This photograph mimics what the natural eye sees. Frame the photograph by using an interesting detail in a corner of the foreground, such as a piece of custom cabinetry, an upscale lamp or sliver of deluxe window covering. Place the focal point – such as a fireplace, pair of recliners or kitchen island – near the center of the photograph. Using foreground gives the buyer a sense of perspective and size.
- Finish the story with telling details. Close in on the features that make the RV special, from control panels to upscale bathroom fixtures to roomy storage bins. Take the time to frame and focus. Fill the frame with the subject and leave out distracting bits of environment.
Before taking any photo, make sure the flash unit is disabled. The harsh light from the flash will obliterate details and alter colors. If the camera allows, open the aperture for a longer exposure time. The longer the exposure, the more light enters the camera resulting in richer, truer color. If the exposure time is too long to maintain focus, improvise a tripod by steadying the camera on a box, stool or stepladder.
How Many Pictures?
As a photographer, your job is to tell a story with your photographs. In order to do this you must take enough photos to work with. Take plenty of photos from different angles during the shoot, so you can narrow down your best ones to show your buyers. Be sure to throw out dark, blurry or poorly composed photographs; a few bad photographs will drag down the entire RV photo gallery.
The number of photographs it takes to tell the RV’s story can vary by type and size. A motor coach may require a gallery of 20 or more photographs while three to five photographs may be sufficient for a used pop up camper.
No matter the number photographs, keep the focus of RV photography on light, quality and composition.