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Car Corner
Cars for Photography - Part I: Initial Prospects

March 1, 2015
By Scott Lewis

Life is a mystery.

For those of you that have followed this site, you know that I really love to check out the market for cars. New, Used, Classics, etc., etc. I have also been planning for some time to prepare myself for when I can buy my next car (or two even).

I pay child support for my youngest son (the older one is beyond that age, but I am paying the majority of his college tuition). Child support was supposed to go until June 2016.

As it turns out... it looks like my youngest son is going to move in with me this May. My current lease is up at the end of April and I am looking for a 2 (or 3) bedroom apartment. My ex-wife says she is not going to go against this. So child support is likely going to end a year earlier than I expected.

This seems like a perfect chance for me to go through my latest Cars Worth Waiting For article and just pick a car to buy. But it is more complicated than that... and that is the subject of this article. Actually series of articles as I narrow my selection.

For one thing... I have been struggling with my finances for quite a while, and had expected to struggle for another 18 months. During that struggle my debt gets lower and lower. Plus at the end of that 18 months my ex would have to sell the house, and I would get my equity in it (just the equity from the time I was living there and contributing to it... she keeps the rest).

By moving up my time-table, I have more debt now than I would have had in the summer of 2016. This means that more of the house equity has to go toward my debt, and less going into my savings account.

Bottom line... this is great news... but my finances will not make as big a leap as it would have 18 months from now. Add to this the cost of adding extra furniture to a larger apartment, and I will likely have far less money for a new (for me) car this summer than I would next summer.

Having said all that... I could still go through my Cars Worth Waiting For list and pick a car.

WAIT A MINUTE!

I have been doing automotive photography on the side. I have a great technique that allows me to photograph a car using flash photography in a 2 car garage. I would really like to have my own 2 car garage to make it easier to photograph customer's cars. They could just drop off their car and I am set. Getting a 2 car garage will cost more in rent, and take away even more from the amount I can afford for a car.

Next... I need to be prepared to do more location photography. The best thing I could do to help this with my business is to practice. Meaning... I want a car that I can take on location and do a really nice photo shoot to show off the location and the car. My clients could look through the location shoots and pick one they like and I take their car there.

So... I want a car that photographs well. This means a couple of things.

Color - I need a car that is in a color that looks good in photographs. I love a charcoal gray car, but they do not photograph well all the time. Yes, you can make great photos with a gray car, but you are more limited. A brighter, more colorful car will look better in more locations. Particularly if you take it to an industrial location and want the color to pop. Same with an abandoned gas station with muted colors... a bright car can pop there as well. You just can't do this as well with gray, silver, black or white cars.

I am heavily leaning toward a red car. I photograph quite a few Ferraris and many of them are red. So it makes sense to practice with a red car. Blue is my next choice, plus whatever might look good based on what is available for a model.

Size - I really want a coupe. Sedans are great, don't get me wrong. But a coupe will photograph better 9 times out of 10.

Space - Since I need this car for my own use it must carry all my photography gear, which includes a 4-1/2 foot long soft box that I currently carry [assembled] in the back seat of my car. In other words... a Miata is out of the question. I could not fit my light stands, tripods, soft box, etc., etc. into a Miata. It's just too small a car.

Timing - Since buying a car now is a compromise to buying one in the summer of '16, it might be temporary. I was toying with the idea of using my equity from the house as a down payment on a car. I could put a big, fat down payment on a Hellcat Challenger. But that falls apart now because I will need to use most of the equity to pay off debt. And yet I may still want to buy something really awesome like a Hellcat, or special edition Mustang or Camaro (with the new for 2016 Camaro when it debuts). So... do I buy a car now just to trade it in in less than 2 years?

Age - since I will be getting a loan for this car... it will need to be no more than 10 years old (the banks seem to require that). So no cars older than 2005.

Price - As of this month I have not nailed down my price range. I really need to see what happens to my budget as summer approaches. For a temporary car I will stay around $15k if possible, for a less temporary car I will likely go to $20K. Of course, if I find something I really like, and expect to have it for a few years or more, I may go as high as the mid-$20K range.

Suddenly I have a lot more to think about than before. Over the next couple of months I am going to try and tackle this new problem.

This month I am going to do a quick list of cars by make to see what models of cars could fit my needs. This is by no means my shopping list. However, I will narrow this list down over the next couple of months, so that it becomes a shopping list for this summer.

I hope you enjoy this. And please... if I have missed something, let me know.

Audi

TT - Pretty cool looking. The convertible is out for lack of space, but the back seat in the coupe should hold my soft box.
A5 - Not quite as cool looking as the TT, but more practical.
A4 Cabriolet - Convertibles almost always photograph well with their tops down.

BMW

2005-2006 BMW M3 - Very cool, but could be costly to maintain.
2007-2011 328i/335i - Not my favorite generation of 3-Series, and I worry about maintenance costs.

Cadillac

CTS Coupe - The shade of red is maroon. If it where brighter this would be a list of one.

Chevrolet

Camaro - These are so on the cusp of changing it becomes the most temporary car of them all.
Corvette - A C6 photographs well, but space (for photography equipment) is an issue. Plus it might be out of my price range.

Dodge

Challenger - The interior of the 2008-2014 is awful. But it photographs very well in bright colors.
Charger - Not a coupe. But a 2011+ (better interior) R/T (HEMI) might be a great compromise.

Ford

Mustang - I can't afford a 2015. Anything else is temporary. I will have to check older special editions, though.

Honda

2008+ Accord Coupe - Not much of a driver's car, but very reliable. This would be temporary.
S2000 - Like Miata... too small to carry photography equipment.

Infiniti

G37 Coupe - Not a driver's car. Like an overweight Accord Coupe but with more style. So temporary... and a little pricey for a temp.

Lexus

2005-2010 SC430 - These can look decent. But... not a driver's car. Hard to get excited about.

Mazda

Miata MX-5 - Too small to carry photography equipment.

Mercedes Benz

2005+ SLK - Darn... no room for photography equipment.
2002–2009 CLK - Interesting.
2012+ C-Class Coupe - Interesting, but too expensive. Or is it? This car looks GOOOOD... and would photograph extremely well.

Mini

Cooper S - Hmm. With the back seat folded down it should hold my gear. But reliability is an issue. My 2004 needed $5K in repairs in a single year once it went over 100K miles. Also, these are a little squatty for photography.

Nissan

2008+ Altima Coupe - I came very close to buying one of these when I bought my Ford Focus. The dealer was a typical dealer in that he went round and round with jerking my financing to meet a monthly payment, but never budged on his price. Even when I told him I could just drive 90 minutes to Austin and get the same car with less miles (so still under factory warrantee). So I left and went to Austin to find the car was sold earlier that morning. So I bought the Focus. These can be attractive enough to use for photography, but in the end it would be a temporary car.
370Z - Too small to carry photography equipment.

Volkswagen

2008 R32 - I like these. I wonder if they are reliable enough for a daily driver. I did not see any in Texas with under 60K miles.
GTI - Like the Mini Cooper, these are not swoopy enough for photography.

Conclusion

Next month I will start using AutoTrader to get price ranges on these cars, and see which I am willing to pay what they are going for. Hopefully I will narrow it down quite a bit. See you then.

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