A successful ad for selling your used car online demands several key elements, but none as critical as photos.

Sure, setting the ideal selling price, creating an attention-grabbing headline and writing a compelling description all help move a shopper to action. But photos speak to the potential buyer's emotions the most.

There are literally hundreds of used cars of the same year and model as yours being advertised every day. You need photos that tell a better story about your car than all the others.

Here are five tips for maximizing the impact of your used-car-ad photos and spurring shoppers into action.

Use Every Photo You Can

When selling your car online, there is no such thing as too many photos. If a website allows five photos per ad, use five. If it allows 25, use 25. Photos sell cars. Take advantage and upload every photo a site permits. Your photos tell a visual story. The more photos, the more complete the story.

Create a List

A little up-front planning can save some time when you actually begin taking the photos. Log on to sites such as AutoTrader.com and check out how others have photographed their cars. Note which photos attract your attention. Consider the different aspects and features of your car that are worth highlighting. Make a list of the shots you want and work down your list, checking off each photo as you go.

Give Yourself Plenty of Choices

If you don't have a good digital camera, borrow one. One advantage of shooting digitally: You can take as many photos as your camera has memory and battery power for. As long as you are shooting photos, don't stop at one or two pictures of each shot on your list. Shoot several of each, so you have a selection to choose from.

Follow the Rules of Photography

Just because your ad photos aren't going into the family album doesn't mean you don't need to take your time and do them right. Photos shot in poor light, in too bright light or out of focus aren't going to convince anyone to take a second look at your car. Make sure the sun is behind you and that there are no shadows on your car. You may need to re-position your car as you photograph the front, back and sides to maintain the best lighting. Remember, your car is the star of each shot, so avoid photographing it in a cluttered space among things that draw attention away from the car itself. Use the flash when shooting interior shots.

Be Honest

Although the idea is to show off your car, your photos should honestly represent its blemishes, dings and dents. Whether it's rust on the rocker panel, a dent in the fender or a tear in the front-seat upholstery, your photos should present the bad as well as the good. Because you priced your car appropriately and noted any serious flaws in your written description, the photos will simply provide visual backup. What you want to avoid is surprising a shopper or buyer by failing to document damage in the ad.

Potential buyers want to know everything there is to know about a used car before taking the time to see it in the flesh -- or, in today's digital marketplace with cross-country transactions, buying it sight unseen. The right photos answer a lot of questions and sell cars.

author photo

Russ Heaps began covering the automotive industry in 1986, first overseeing the automotive pages of the Boca Raton News and then the Palm Beach Post in Florida. In 2001 he became managing editor of AMI Auto Week and NOPI Street Performance Compact magazines. Since leaving AMI he has freelanced his auto reviews and industry analysis to the Washington Times, Hispanic magazine, Journal-Register Newspapers, Bankrate.com, MyCarData.com, Interest.com, and others. He resides in Greenville, SC.

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