How To

Shooting for eBay
How to photograph items to sell fast.

By Harv Laser

If you sell on eBay or want to try it, there are two things so important to help you sell, to maximize your success, drill them into your head: 1) a well-written description, and 2) compelling photographs of your items.

Iāve sold a wildly eclectic number of things over the years: rare books and comics and records, die cast models, computers, vintage toys, coins, posters, clothing, buttons and badges, postcards, furniture, and hundreds of others. Iāve taken thousands of pictures of my items. Peppered around this article are a few Iām proud of.

Shooting some items is a piece of cake, while others are damn difficult. It depends on what it is youāre selling, but there are some basics that any seller needs to know to take pictures that will give your auction page maximum impact.

The whole idea, your ultimate goal, is to use appealing pictures on a computer screen to give your potential bidders as close an experience as possible to holding the item in their hands. Aim for that goal. Any successful seller will tell you: good pictures get you higher bids and more bids. Make those bidders drool. ćI gotta have that!ä

Here are some tips culled from years of experience that should be useful to you, make you a better seller, give you that good feedback to boost your reputation, and most of all, get you more money for your items than if you just sleazed your way through it.

You can buy digital cameras for next to nothing these days. You donāt have to spend thousands of dollars, but avoid, I mean run away from cheap, crap cameras. A couple hundred bucks or less will get you a decent lens, a few mega pixels of resolution, macro, zoom, full auto or manual tweaking, and let you preview the results in the camera, while youāre in front of your item, so you donāt have to load the shots into your computer and then moan ćdamn, I didnāt see that shadow, Iāll have to re-shoot.ä Donāt buy a camera in which you canāt see what youāve shot. Youāll regret it.

I use a Sony Mavica FD-91. Sure, itās a few years old, and itās only 1024x768 (XVGA) at its max res, but thatās more than enough for eBay purposes and it has an absolutely killer lens with auto-focus and Sonyās patented SteadiShot. I can handhold that big bruiser and get crystal clear pictures, whether Iām shooting a car outside, or a tiny die cast model of one indoors. Just stay away from junk cameras. Youāll know them when you see them. Donāt cheap out.

You donāt need or want mega pixel sized pictures on an eBay auction page anyway. Remember, youāre shooting for 72dpi screens, not high resolution printing. Some folks are still on modem dial-up, and they donāt and wonāt wait all day for your auction page to load if itās filled with enormous pictures. 640x480 is really the maximum sized picture you should use on an auction page, as it will fit in the eBay page window on an 800x600 screen without side to side scrolling. You can shoot in higher resolution and scale down in an image processor, but donāt try to shoot smaller and scale up. You canāt make something out of nothing.


Most of my auction items are shot in natural light, indoors, near an open window. I use flash for fill or spot metering if I donāt like the initial results. Beware of hot spots or glare from flash, avoid flash entirely if you can, or shoot at an angle. Since I can preview my shots in the camera, I can change camera settings or pop the flash open, fire away, and then when Iām ready to edit the images in the computer, I have many to choose from and can see whatās most appealing and attractive, and throw the others away.

Yes, I said edit. Image processing. 99% of the pictures you take are going to need to be tweaked in one or more ways.

The beauty of digital is that you donāt have to wait for even ćone hour photoä to hand you back prints. You get instant results. So shoot away. Catch your item at different angles, in different lighting. Experiment. If it looks good to you on the computer, itāll look good to others.

Digital can be brutally honest. The camera can see dust on a shiny item that you may not even notice. A can of compressed air or soft brush or cloth to dust your item off first is handy.

Youāre selling a toy, or a coin, or a chair. Your bidders donāt want to see a roomful of other stuff. Get in tight on your item and fill the frame with it. If you live in clutter, tack up a bed sheet, or even drape one over a chair and put your item on it, for a neutral, non-distracting background.

If thereās one thing I canāt emphasize enough, itās to crop those pictures. No bidder is going to throw big money at your beautiful item if your picture makes it look like a pea sitting on a sofa a mile away. Crop that baby down so that your item fills the frame. Thatās where your computerās image processing program comes in. You probably got one bundled with your camera, computer, or both, and maybe youāve never even used it. There are literally hundreds of them out there, from free to mucho dinero. Donāt think you have to go into hock and buy Photoshop. Itās way too elaborate for this task.

A astonishing image processor thatās absolutely free, intuitive, simple to use, packed with features, and can import and export just about any image format you can think of (although .JPG and .GIF are the two best to use for eBay purposes) is Irfanview. or are two places to get it. You canāt beat the price.

Itāll take you mere minutes to learn it. Load in your picture, drag a rectangle around it, and then crop out the excess. Looks better without all that superfluous stuff around it, doesnāt it?

Many digital cameras produce soft images. Razor sharp images give your pictures more impact, so sharpen a bit. Boost gamma correction, play with contrast and brightness a bit. After youāve worked with a few pictures, youāll get the hang of it.

Good question. Glad you asked. The more expensive an item is, the more pictures a bidder wants to see. If the item has flaws, donāt try to hide them. Shoot them clearly and explain them in your description. You donāt want returns. And you really donāt want negative feedback for hiding an itemās flaws.

Coin collectors spending hundreds or thousands on a coin want absolutely crystal clear, well-lit pictures. You might want a copy stand and side lighting. Car buyers want to see a vehicle from every angle, inside and out. Record buyers want to see if that vinyl still has original sheen. If the jacket has seam splits or ring wear. Learn what your target bidders want to see and shoot your pictures so they donāt have to ask you questions. More information, written and visual, is better than not enough.

Your image processor should let you type some text and slap it on your picture as a copyright notice. This prevents lazy, sleazy sellers from stealing your pictures for their auctions if youāre selling a generic item, or even a rare one. Protect your pictures with a watermark or an opaque copyright notice near the border but partly over the item. No one will steal them because if you do it right, itās nearly impossible to edit out a watermark.

And look at other auctions. Look at a lot of them for items like yours. See how their sellers photographed them. Ask questions. Many sellers are proud of their photographs and are happy to give you more tips. Learn how to be successful by studying othersā success. This isnāt stealing, itās education.



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