It might not be a Tesla Model X with falcon-wing doors and a sleek sunroof, but car-sharing apps still want to rent out your ride.
Putting your Toyota Prius on any major car-sharing app means it gets the same royal treatment as a Ferrari or Porsche, with a professional automotive photographer taking glamour shots.
Free professional photo shoots are the current norm in the competitive space of car-sharing apps. The industry is expected to grow from $5 billion in 2016 to $11 billion in 2024 with more and more peer-owned cars available. Turo, Getaround, and Maven all offer "hosts," or car owners, photo services to create better online listings. Ultimately a stamp on your profile that reads "verified photo" is supposed to make renting out your car to strangers more appealing since you can potentially earn more.
Turo, one of the earlier peer-to-peer car-sharing companies since 2010, has made free car photography a distinguishing feature of its service. It's available for hosts in the US, UK, Canada, and Germany. A network of car photographers are hired through Turo, and car enthusiasts and active hosts rely on and expect the photo service. So far more than 100,000 photos have been taken through its photo program.
Early on, Turo saw "it wasn't just the volume of listings, it was about the quality," Tom Wang, Turo chief product officer, told me in a conversation earlier this year. This pushed the company to move from an intern who took some photos of cars to build out a global network of freelance photographers. "Guests [renters] expect it to be high quality, almost retail level," Wang said about car listings on its site. A main advantage of car-sharing sites over car renting agencies is knowing exactly which car – down to the make, model, year, and color – you'll be getting.
Take this DIY Tesla Model 3 listing and compare it a Model 3 photo shoot with a pro. The red Tesla looks more legit and what users expect from a traditional car rental company.
Turo goes as far as to liken itself to apartment and home rental service Airbnb, calling itself the "Airbnb for cars." So it makes sense that Turo takes the Airbnb approach, with listings presented on the site. Airbnb also offers professional photography services for hosts, for a fee. An Airbnb spokesperson confirmed that in early days of the house rental service, Airbnb offered free professional photographers for hosts, just like the car-sharing companies today.
Airbnb pushes its professional service with stats like 40 percent earning increases, 24 percent more bookings, and 26 percent higher nightly costs, all because of high-quality photos on your profile. Turo found similar results for its car listings. A Turo spokesperson said hosts with professional photo services have 50 percent more views on their profile page.
Just like car owners using the service, Turo CEO Andre Haddad has gone to scenic overlooks with photographers for photos of his Tesla cars that he lists on Turo for rent. He told me about an exhilarating shoot to catch the car in action, all the more better for his profile. Turo, and other car-sharing companies, are bringing everyday car owners to the world of automotive photography — something traditionally reserved for high-budget marketing teams at car companies or high-end car collectors.
Thomas Rueby, a 39-year-old Hermosa Beach, CA-based automotive photographer, has a background shooting for Volkswagen, Maserati, and other "luxury exotics." He now takes photos for Turo aiming for 50 to 100 car shoots in a week. One of the most popular rentals on Turo is the Toyota Prius.
He says the 10-minute photo sessions he snaps for the site are a "bastardized version" of what he used to do for big brands, but it gets the job done. He suggests times with low lighting and locations like big empty parking lots or dead-end streets. Here's how he breaks down his job duties as a Turo car photographer: 25 percent photographer; 25 percent photo editor; 25 percent scheduler and admin work; and 25 percent location scout.
Rueby is dedicated to producing high-quality imagery and wants car owners to appreciate his work. "Taking a few shots with your phone is different than a professional shoot" with proper equipment and training, he said. It's also about marketing: "We're trying to sell the adventure here," he explained. So he makes it an on-location shoot, not just in front of your garage. "I don't want to give Turo a thousand pictures in the same location," he said. "I keep it fresh." He's found location gems, like on rooftop parking lots with the Hollywood hills in the background. Other prime spots have tighter security, he noted.
He said most car owners are fun to work with, and some even have a vision, like sunset shots near the beach. He once shot a $200,000 Lamborghini and carefully selected a location. While on vacation in New York he shot a Porsche Macan. It helps that he's not only a professional photographer with an auto background, but an authentic "car guy." "I enjoy seeing all the new models that come out," he said. He says he prefers classics like Rolls-Royces and Lambos. He has three of his own SUVs listed on Turo.
When he goes to a shoot, he takes about 20 "basic" angles of the car and takes photos showing the condition and features of the vehicle, like the seats, trunk space, how the seats fold down, anything notable.
For novice car photographers on a smartphone he suggests zooming in to create a depth of field. "Even with your own smartphone, backup, kneel down to the level of the headlights, and zoom in a bit." Another tip: always point the wheels toward the shot.
Other peer-to-peer car companies offer similar free photo sessions like the ones Rueby does for Turo. A Getaround spokesperson said "onboarding specialists" take photos of cars that look a certain way that San Francisco-based Getaround has determined works best for rental listings. Owners can add captions to the photos to inject more of their personality or to share compelling details.
General Motor's Maven car-sharing service assigns owners a "Maven Peer Mentor" within 24 hours of posting a car and then the owner and mentor meet up to make the car rental-ready. At the meeting the mentor is tasked with taking car photos and uploading the best shots to the owner's listing. Once that's all set the listing goes live and the car is available to rent.
"It doesn't matter if it's a 2009 Prius or a brand-new Lamborghini," said car photographer Rueby – he's still paid the same. So, go ahead. Give your Prius the celebrity treatment it deserves.