Whether you want to show off your cars on your webpage, or to sell them online through auctions, photographing your cars can make the difference between people coming back to see more, or getting the money your car deserves. A good photograph or two is the next best thing to being there.
Cameras are the first important step. Save your money, shop around and get the best camera you can for the money you have to spend. Find a camera that will take a 1024 x 768 picture at least. Most cameras today go much larger than this, and multi-megapixel cameras are common. Many cameras come with what is called a "Macro" feature, which allows you to get up very close to your cars and they come out very clear. In my opinion, this one feature over any other is the most important for what I do. All others, like zoom, storage space, or anything else, come second. One other feature to look for is a rechargeable battery. Digital cameras eat up batteries, so if you'd rather spend your money on models or diecast, get a camera with a rechargeable battery.
Some people have had good success using a scanner to capture their cars on their computer. This is fine for blisterpacks if all you want to do is show off your finds. Loose cars are a bit more difficult, but it is possible to get clear side, top, or bottom shots. They're not very artistic, but sometimes good enough to represent the car for an auction. Again, the better the scanner, the better the picture. Sometimes a blue and red streak shows across the image caused by the scanner, which is caused by the scanner lights reflecting off the shiny parts of the car. If you have to choose between a scanner and a camera, and have no other use for a scanner, I'd say save up and spend a little extra money and get a camera.
It's important to understand a few basic ideas when photographing your cars. Though this article focuses on diecast, the same principals can be applied to model cars, slot cars, or any other miniature. Think like a designer. Are you shooting the table top, or the car? Is there something else in the picture that would distract from the object you're trying to capture on film (or disk)? When someone looks at the picture, are they seeing what you want them to see, and ONLY what you want them to see?
Is the picture blurry, out of focus? A smaller picture of an in-focus car is better than a large blurry one. As mentioned earlier, the Macro feature lets you get up close. If your camera doesn't have a macro, but does have a zoom, then try pulling back from the car and zooming in. This can be effective, but the major problem with this is that any movement at all at the camera is magnified at the focal point (the car). A tripod helps greatly to eliminate this problem. Tripods can be purchased for under $10 for a tabletop mini-tripod, and can go $50 or more for a good floor tripod. Tabletop tripods are fine, but are limited in their usefulness beyond photographing cars.
Another thought on focusing is that when you're up close to a car, the camera's focal length isn't very long. This causes a problem when part of the car is farther away from the camera than the rest of the car. What happens is the part of the car closest to the camera may be in focus, but the rest of the car may not be. A way to cure this is to back away from the car, then zoom in using the zoom lens feature of camera. This will help to keep the entire car in focus when shooting down the length of the car.
Backgrounds are another issue. Unless the background is part of what you're trying to photograph, like a diorama, then keep as little in the picture as possible. A white background is best for most cars. It doesn't have to get elaborate, though an all white photo booth is a big help if you are really picky about your pictures. I use a white bathroom counter top and get pretty good results. The biggest problem with a white background comes when photographing white cars. The white cars tend to get lost in the background, and it may be necessary to switch to another color background for the car to show up. Photographing a car on a wooden tabletop is a big distraction, especially if the wood grain is very noticeable. The plainer the background the better. Dioramas are a nifty way to show off your cars and add some interest to the picture. The trick is to set it up so that the car is still the center of attention in the picture. You don't want people to look at the picture and say "WOW, nice building!" The diorama should enhance the car, not detract from it. Dioramas can be a lot of fun, and allows people with other creative interests to really show off their skills. The love of model railroading and Hot Wheels go quite nicely together.
Lighting is very important. Some cameras can be set to allow for lower light, but adjusting for lower light can cause the picture to appear grainy. The more light the better, and the best light is natural sunlight. Some people actually take their cars and equipment outside on a sunny day to get their shots. This is fine on a calm day in spring, summer or fall, but Michigan in winter is a bad time to practice this. Using a flash is not recommended unless you have some way of controlling the direction of the flash. Flashes often produce too much glare for up-close work.
As I mentioned before, I shoot my cars in my bathroom using the bathroom lighting and ambient light from the bathroom window in daytime. One thing to remember is that regular light bulbs create a somewhat orange or yellow light, fluorescent lights come across as a bit blue. I feel fluorescent lights work the best, though both can be worked around, and not everyone has fluorescent lights to work under. You can buy lights designed specifically for photography, but they can be a bit expensive and unless you're very serious about your photography, I wouldn't suggest spending the money. The biggest thing to remember is that more light is better.
I'd like to discuss angles. What is the best angle to photograph a car from? Get creative and take several pictures exploring what looks best. Not only can you turn the car around on the table, but you can also raise and lower the camera. When I only have one picture to represent a car, as in my price guide, I try to get as much car in the picture in one shot as possible. I try for what I call a 3/4 front shot, with the camera just a bit above the car. I try for consistency to make all the shots look the same for every car, though sometimes this is not possible. Most of my pictures show the front and left side of the car, and some of the top. This works for me, but you're going to have to find your own style, and it's quite probable that you won't have to make all you pictures looks the same every time.
Getting the camera closer to the surface that the car is sitting on makes the car look more like a real car. Sometimes I try to find the angle that if it were a real car, where would the camera be located were I standing next to the car? Getting just a bit lower makes it appear as though you were kneeling next to the car. Getting creative can make the difference between a snapshot and an artful photograph. The most important thing to remember is have fun. Does the shot look good to you? Is there something you can do to make it look better? Use your artistic eye, and get creative.