How To Take Great Photos for eBay Auctions

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How To Take Great Photos For Your eBay Auctions
bt: Skip McGrath

The ability to take good photos is an very important skill for the eBay seller. Better photos will increase the number and amount of bids and put more money in your pocket.

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.  (See my other guide on Digital Camera Features for eBay).

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.

Rather than try and give you a complete course on digital photography which would be the subject of a 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.

1. 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. I often see good tripods at garage sales and thrift shops.  This is one of those products where buying second hand is not a problem as long as it's not broken.

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. 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).

When 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 light tent 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.

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.  You can find daylight bulbs at most large camera stores.  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. The neat thing about digital photography is that you don't have to spend any money on film or developing so you can practice as much as your want for free.
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