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Taking Great Shots For Better eBay Auctions

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These step-by-step instructions are meant to give you a quick start in taking decent eBay photos. Whether you are a photo newbie or an avid hobbiest, these tips should help increase the bids on items you are presenting for sale.

Step 1. eBay Considerations

eBay can be a great place to offer up those books, toys or even automobiles you no longer have a need for and would like them gone from the house. The site has seen many modifications over the years to help those selling products have an easier time of listing their wares.

One thing that has stayed pretty constant since eBay's beginnings is the importance of photographs in auction listings. It has been shown that more people will view and bid on items with a photograph then those without.

But eBay also suffers at times from some of the worst product photos on the planet. This is no fault of the website, but the fault of the seller. It can work against the seller to have poor photos, sometimes even causing the listing to do worse than if it contained no photos at all!

It's important to get decent photos, and while no one is expecting professional grade pictures (indeed, those photos that look too 'stock' make buyers suspicious of the validity of the product being sold) there are some simple steps you can take in order to present decent photos of what you hope to sell.

Step 2. Watch The Background Clutter

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Copyright James Nash

We've all seen them. The hastily posted photos when someone has an item they just don't care about selling. And it shows in the pictures, which makes many people suspicious of the quality of the item being sold. These photos often have oddball backgrounds. Maybe the scene is cluttered with other items left out on the counter when the photo was shot. Maybe the background is just so loud and visual that the item being sold is all but lost in the frame.

Always check your background before taking a photo. This is one of the easiest things for any photographer to get right with a product photo. Make sure the background in the photos is not a supreme distraction from what you are asking others to bid on. It might be that you need to move the product to a wall or a counter top and shoot straight down to minimize the clutter.

It may, at times, seem like a lot of work to get such a simple, sometimes bland, shot of what you're selling just to make it look like all the other items on eBay. But the alternative, making it stand out by cluttering up the picture, will ensure less money comes your way.

Step 3. No Reflections

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Copyright vernalanemgmt

One of the biggest annoyances with eBay photos is the overpowering glare of flash or other light. Reflections all start with the best of intentions. Every point and shoot has a flash and you want your item for sale to be nice and bright, right? The only problem is the flash tends to be very close to the lens (especially with P&S cameras) and brings a reflection right back to the lens.

Often times this bright spot on the product will obscure some key feature or text you were meaning to show off. No matter which way you point the camera, that reflection seems to come right back at you! Here are some things to try to reduce the glare of a flash.

First, try placing just a bit of tissue paper over the flash. Experiment with varying degrees of thickness so as to not completely block all the light. The idea here is you're diffusing the light and spreading it out. This will leave a more even light (rather than the spotlight effect of most on camera flashes) bathing your fine tea cups in softness rather than a harsh edge.

Second, if your camera has a longer shutter speed and you have a steady surface, consider not using the flash at all. Check to see if your camera has the ability to change the white balance (I bet it does) and set it according to whichever light you use, be it indoor tungsten lights (the standard, old-fashioned light bulb), fluorescent or daylight. Consider using something like a beanbag for a quick, cheap tripod while shooting smaller items.

Step 4. Use A Light Tent

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Copyright dbgg1979

Light tents come in a variety of sizes and with varying price tags. You can also make one of your own for fairly cheap. The idea behind a light tent is to surround the product with a nice, even light and to help isolate the product. A light tent can be used with any type of lights, but again, make sure to set your white balance accordingly. A light tent can also be used with a point and shoot camera or a DLSR and a couple of lamps. If you want to get fancy and have the cash for it, a professional, folding model with multiple strobes if a nice investment if you will be shooting a lot of items.

If you choose to build your own light tent, review the instructions in this blog post at Digital Photography School for an easy step-by-step guide to getting one completed. Once setup, it's preferable to have a curved type of background and it can be any color, as long as it doesn't clash with your items.

You'll want to set your camera for a nice, high numbered aperture, if your camera allows this to be set. Pick something in the f/8 or higher ranger to help get good front to back focus. Remember though that this artwork is not going on the walls of the Lourve, but it does need to be good enough to give viewers a clear idea of what they are purchasing. The more a buyer can be assured what they see is what they'll get, the more likely they are to bid.

Step 5. Use Natural Light

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Copyright Andrew Stawarz

If it's available, use natural lighting. This can be through a window or skylight if you are indoors or take your shoot outside for some good daylight. You're looking for indirect light, not the direct, harsh rays of a sun at noon. That type of light will make your images anything but appealing. Ideally you will be able to shoot in some shade or, if none can be found, make some!

A white, translucent or semi-translucent umbrella is an excellent option and fairly easy to find at a second-hand store. It will help diffuse the light just as the tissue did for the flash in the example above. When using natural shade, don't choose a very dark area, but instead look for light reflected in from the sides or below.

If you are indoors and have indirect light coming from a window, try to get as close as you can to the source. Also consider placing a large piece of white paper or poster board on the side opposite the window to act as a reflector, evening out the light coming from outside. Turn off your flash and slow down the shutter speed if needed in order to get a smaller aperture (which corresponds to a large f-stop number). If your camera has the ability to adjust white balance, set it to the shade setting for most accurate colors.

Step 6. Sharpness (Aperture Control)

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Copyright rawheadrex

I've mentioned it a couple times before so let me explain aperture control and how it relates to making your product look good. Behind the glass in your lens is a device that constricts the amount of light coming through the lens and hitting the sensor. The aperture is usually constructed of multiple blades in a circular pattern and will close down to a smaller and smaller hole the larger and larger the f-stop is set. When aperture is shrunk very small, it will bring objects at different distances into focus. It's a bit like squinting your eyes.

Stopping down the aperture can only bring so many things into better focus, but it works quite well in controlled environments, such as shooting products. When the aperture closes down, it blocks out more and more light, requiring longer shutter speeds. If there is ample light, such as noonday sun, this is not much of a problem. But if you're shooting in a bit of shade and wish to get maximum front to back focus, a tripod may be required with the corresponding slow shutter speed.

Check to see if your DSLR (or even point and shoot) has a aperture preview button. It will often be near your left hand when you are holding the lens, just below where the lens attaches to the body. They are often not marked. Pressing it will active the aperture to close at its current setting, allowing a sneak peek through the viewfinder of just how much focus range you may expect.

Play around with the aperture setting on your camera and also look to see if you have a maximum depth of field mode. This can be handy as it will pick a focus point not at the front of the object you are shooting, but part of the way to the back. Your camera will then choose an appropriate aperture to bring both the rear and front of the object into focus.

Step 7. Shoot All Sides

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Copyright andreaplanet

The best eBay auctions show you all sides of the product - or at least all that are important. If you are stressing the newness of an item, it'll be important to shoot all the sides in order to prove how unscratched and pristine your ancient Ming vase is.

Also don't forget to get any close-ups of important features or detail work. In this case, the Macro setting on your P&S or DSLR will be useful. If there are nicks, show them for how they are and try to avoid super bright light, as it'll make them seem more garish than they may be in real life.

Step 8. Don't Photoshop!!

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Maybe 'Don't Photoshop' may be a bit too constricting... You may need to adjust brightness or add some contrast to make the image more appealing. It is widely accepted that adjustments of this nature are okay. What I mean by 'Don't Photoshop' is, don't modify the image.

Avoid adding anything in that wasn't there and definitely don't remove scratches or rips to your nearly pristine baseball card collection. Fraudulent at worst and dishonest at best, using Photoshop to change the actual product itself can lead to a lot of headaches down the road.

Photoshop, though, can be very handy for removing some unwanted items from the frame of the photo that don't have an impact on the final product. If you weren't able to get a clear shot of your fine china and didn't notice until the images were in the computer that the telephone on the wall is showing in every frame, cropping or using a healing brush/clone tool to remove objects that aren't the object you are selling is OK in my book.

Again, don't go overboard or things will look fake - even if you haven't touched the main product - and people will shy away from your auction. Keep your images as authentic and real as possible and your auctions will go more smoothly.


If you want to get the most for your secondhand items when selling them on eBay, give your photographs the attention they deserve and you will find decent returns on your efforts. Start by reducing the amount of glare and reflection your flash is throwing on the item, using a light tent or diffused light when possible.

Shoot outside with some diffused sunlight if the sun is shining that day and make sure you capture all sides of the item. Lastly, don't Photoshop the main subject of your photos to make them look better than they do in real life. Honesty will make your buyer satisfaction rating stay near 100% and that will make your future auctions more profitable.

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