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Sell More, and Make More Money on eBay With Good Photos

October 9th, 2007 by Skip McGrath

The ability to take good photos is an very important skill for the eBay seller. Better photos will make you more money.

ebay Image Tips

You will make more money on eBay if you use appealing photos and a basic photo strategy.

  • Always use eBay Gallery.  I know it costs a few cents, but eBay listings with gallery photos get far more hits than those without.
  • Use more than one photo. Try and shoot products in use and always provide a good closeup.
  • Save money by finding a free photo hosting site or use the Auctiva auction management service
  • learn and experiment with video as this is the new trend on eBay and is showing good results. (See my previous post on using video in auctions)

Photography is one of those skills that can take years to learn to do well, but fortunately digital cameras with their high level of automated features have made this task much simpler.

Digital Camera Selection

Your first task is to select a good digital camera with all the features you will need. There are hundreds of digital cameras on the market and new models are coming out virtually every week. The trend today is towards higher and higher image quality. This is expressed in the number of pixels –or mega pixels a camera can resolve. The higher this number, the more expensive the camera.

Fortunately you do not need extreme high-resolution for your auction photography. In fact, high-resolution photos are undesirable because they take a long time to download when someone opens an auction.

eBay recommends that photo file sizes be limited to 50 kilobytes. Actually you can go up to 64 kilobytes with no problem. Sixty-four kilobytes (64kb) is the size of what is called the email setting on most digital cameras. So this is one of the first features you need to look for when buying a camera –make sure it has a low resolution or email setting. This feature is on most digital cameras so it is not a hard option to locate. The email setting is OK for most digital photos if you are not going to crop them. When you do, you lose detail. If you are selling a product where detail is important, then you will want to shoot at a higher resolution, at least 1 or 2 Megapixels, and crop or resize the photo in your software to get down to 65KB. Shooting at this higher resolution will preserve the detail when you crop or resize.

Here are some of the features you need in a camera for auction photography and why they are important:

Tripod: Digital cameras have a very slow shutter speed that can lead to motion blur. Almost all cameras have a standard tripod screw mount in the bottom. It is very important to use a tripod when taking auction photos to avoid blurred images that occur when you handhold a camera.

Macro Setting: Macro is the photographic term for the ability to focus very close to an object. Typically the macro feature will allow you to focus as close at 3 or 4 inches from the subject. This is important to photograph small objects or to get up close to details you may want to show such as the original manufacturer’s price tag or a maker’s mark on pottery or silver.

White Balance Adjustment: We will talk about white balance in detail below. Basically this is how you adjust a camera to account for different color temperatures of light. Almost all cameras have an automatic white balance, but you want to make sure you get one where you can manually select the white balance between daylight, fluorescent and incandescent.

Manual Focus: The auto focus on digital cameras is often fooled. The ability to manually focus on an object or part of an object is very important.

Exposure adjustment: The light meter in a camera can be fooled by bright backgrounds. Since we often shoot against a white background especially when using a lighting tent, you need a camera that can adjust for this exposure.

Optical zoom: Digital cameras come with both optical zoom and digital zoom. Digital zoom is very restrictive and difficult to work with. Make sure your camera has a basic optical zoom feature. You can tell if it does by pushing the zoom button and seeing if the lens actually moves in and out. If not, they the camera is using digital zoom.

Aperture priority setting: The ability to select a small lens opening (aperture) allows you to achieve what is called depth of field. This means that objects close to you and far away are both in focus.

I have several cameras reviewed in my Amazon Camera Store that fit all of these criteria. 

Whichever camera you buy. take the time to read the manual and learn how to use all of the features. Taking Good Photos

Rather than try and give you a complete course on digital photography which would be the subject of another book, I have organized the most important information as a series of tips. If you want to read more about digital photography there are several books on the market that span the gamut from beginner to advanced. If you would like a good basic book aimed at the auction photographer, you can purchase a copy of my eBay Online Auction Photo Secrets at www.skipmcgrath.com.

1. Always use a tripod. Unless you are shooting outdoors or using a flash, digital cameras tend to use a very slow shutter speed. With a slow shutter speed, typically under 1/125th of a second, most people cannot hold a camera steady enough to prevent blur. Using a sturdy tripod will prevent blur and allow you to shoot all the way down to 1/25th of a second with good results. Make sure your tripod is sturdy and has an adjustable head that will rotate the camera both horizontally and vertically. A sturdy tripod can cost as much as $100, but I have found that most large photo stores often have good –even professional quality, tripods second-hand for as little as $20-$30.

2. Focus carefully and correctly. I see out of focus pictures on eBay every day. This is usually attributed to one of two things. Autofocus malfunction or lack of depth of field. Most digital cameras project a laser or infrared beam onto the object being photographed and measure the reflection to determine the focus. This beam can often be fooled by large objects that allow the beam to spread out or something reflective on the object that fools the beam.

The other issue is depth of field. Have you ever looked at a photograph where the subject is in focus and the background is all fuzzy? Depth of field is the focal distance from near to far the camera will cover where everything is in focus. The aperture, or lens opening, on a camera adjusts to allow more of less light into the camera. When the lens opening is large, the camera has a very narrow range of focus. When the opening is small, the focal length is longer. This effect is magnified when you are shooting very close up as you do when taking photos of small objects.

The aperture can be set manually on most of the digital cameras we listed above and many others. Lens openings are marked as a series of numbers that range from 3.5 to 16. The higher the number the more depth of field you will have. This is critical when shooting up close with the macro function as the macro function also limits the depth of field (for technical reasons I won’t get into here). If I am shooting an object close up, I typically use a aperture of 8 or higher. With automatic digital cameras when you set the aperture at a high number, the camera compensates for less light by slowing down the shutter speed. This is why you need a tripod. If you try and hand hold a camera at a slow shutter speed you will almost always get a blurry photo.

The other advantage of setting your camera to Aperture Priority is the autofocus will not be fooled as easily if you use it.

3. Use soft lighting. Sunlight or direct light from a bulb or a flash can create hot spots and reflections in your photos. If you are shooting outside, you want to shoot in bright shade or on a cloudy day. If you have a north facing window, this can often produce very nice diffuse light. If you are using lights, you can either purchase white plastic light covers to diffuse the light or use a light tent such as the EZ Cube.

The EZ Cube is probably the most widely used system by eBay sellers. It makes taking great photos easy. You simply place an object inside the light tent, shine the lights on the outside and you get very nice diffused light. This eliminates glare and reflection from shiny objects. Also it has a seamless background and you can place different colored paper or cloth in the background to get different effects. You can purchase the EZ Cube light tents at a discount at www.EZAuctionTools.com.

4. Avoid clutter. Try and photograph only the object you are shooting. Placing an object on a table with other stuff in the background will distract from your subject. If you use something like the EZ Cube this is easy, but sometimes you have to photograph large objects that would not fit. In this case, but sure to clean up the background as much as possible. If you are shooting a computer for example, remove everything from the desk it’s on and hide the wires or any other distracting objects. If you are shooting a car, drive the car to a park where you can shoot it will lawn and trees in the background, instead of your garage or driveway.

If you are shooting apparel, you should invest in a dress form or mannequin. Then place the mannequin against a wall draped with cloth to contrast the color and diffuse any shadows.

5. Avoid Underexposure. If you are shooting objects on a white or bright background or shooting outside in bright light, you camera’s automatic light meter can often be fooled by trying to adjust to the surrounding bright light rather than the object. Most good digital cameras have an over/under exposure compensation adjustment. If you are shooting on a white background such as in an EZ Cube, try setting your camera’s exposure setting to +1. This will allow more light onto the subject. One way you can tell you are underexposing is if a white background appears grey in the photo. If this happens or if your objects are just too dark, they try adjusting the exposure compensation until the white looks truly white.

6. Use the correct white balance. Different types of light have different wavelengths. Without getting into a discussion of optical physics, this means you have to set up camera for the type of light you are using. If your camera is set on Daylight and you shoot with an ordinary household light bulb, you photos will appear yellow. If you shoot with a fluorescent light, your photos will appear blue-grey. You can purchase Daylight bulbs. These are ordinary light bulbs that have the same wave length as daylight. The people who sell the EZ Cube also sell a variety of Daylight bulbs. You can also find them at most large camera stores. All of the digital cameras mentioned above have a white balance setting. If you are using indoor light bulbs or fluorescent lights, just set your camera for the correct type of light you are using.

7. Get close. Getting close to your subject will produce a better photo. It is easier to focus accurately when you are close and it will show more of the object without the distracting clutter.

The best way to learn to take good photos is to practice. Read your camera’s instruction manual completely and experiment with all of the controls and functions until you are comfortable with them.

Pro Tip

When you are shooting colorful objects, place a piece of colored cloth or craft paper behind the object. Pick a color that matches one of the minor colors –not the main color. For example if you were shooting a blue teapot that had other colors in the trim such as red or yellow, you would pick a red or yellow background paper. This is a trick used by professional photographers that will give your photo an image of more depth and help the main color pop (stand out) in the image.

Managing Your Photos

Image management is the term used by eBay sellers for editing, storing, and uploading your photos.

Most digital cameras come with photo editing software. I happen to like Nikon’s the best. You can set it so whenever you plug your camera into the computer it automatically opens and you can import your photos with one click.

There are also a number of software programs you can buy to perform this function. If you own an Apple computer you are lucky because all Macs come with i-Photo which is one of the best all around photo editing and management programs on the market. There are some very advanced (and expensive) programs available such as Adobe Photoshop, but if your digital camera doesn’t come with one, there are some good consumer-level programs available as well. If you go to www.shareware.com or www.tucows.com there are a number of free image and photo management programs you can download. One of the best is PhotoPlus. The download is free, but they make their money selling the support and training tools which cost far less than most expensive programs and are excellent.

Whichever program you use, you want to be able to easily plug your camera into your computer, import the photos and then give them filenames so you can organize them, and edit and crop them. Most of the software programs have a feature which allows you to adjust brightness and contrast also just in case you didn’t get a great photo in the first place. This is a real time saver because you don’t have to re-shoot your product.

Once you have your photos edited and named, you will want to create a folder on your hard drive called Auction Photos or something like that. Within this folder you will want sub-folders with the product categories you are selling. Simply file your photos to the appropriate folder so you can easily find them when you are ready to upload them to your auctions.

Once you have your photographs on your hard drive you now need to get them into your auctions. eBay offers two ways to manage your images. You can insert images from your computer’s hard drive one at a time as you launch auctions and eBay will charge you for each photo. The first photo is free and each additional photo costs $0.15. So, if you used four photos in a auction it would cost you $0.45 for every auction whether the item sold or not. This is obviously too expensive if you are running dozens of auctions a week. eBay also offers a subscription hosting program based on the number of photos you host. It starts at 9.95 for 50 MB, and goes to $19.95 for 125 MB and $39.95 for 300 MB. This is also very expensive although eBay does give you free editing software when you subscribe to this service. A better solution is available from Auction TNT.  They also offer a video hosting program for the same fee.

Another way to host your photos is on a web site. If you already have a web site you can simply upload your photos to a web page and just insert the web URL of the specific photo into each auction. Unfortunately this is very time consuming and you have to pay for the web space.

You can also host your photos with an Auction Management Service. My favorite is Vendio.com Other popular services are Auctiva and Marketworks.

The images are stored on the web site of the auction management service. When you create an auction, you get to the page to select the images you want to attach and simply double click or select a check mark next to the photo. The service inserts the URL of the particular image into your auction. When the auction launches, eBay just looks for those images at the named URL and they are displayed in your auction every time someone clicks on it. If you select a gallery image, that URL is fed constantly to eBay’s web site so it is always visible when members are searching, browsing or perusing the gallery.

Once you start using an auction management service you will appreciate both the speed, and therefore timesaving aspects of hosting your photos this way, but you will get the whole host of additional services such as templates, automated customer emails, shipping calculators, and inventory management tools that come with the service –usually for what you would be paying eBay to host photos individually.

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