Hack 55 How to Keep Your Item from Looking Pathetic


A simple approach to taking great photos of your items.

Simply put, good photos will get you more bids and more money. An attractive, clear, well-composed photo will excite customers and inspire trust in your bidders that you're selling what you say you're selling.

On the other hand, if your photos are blurry, poorly lit, too small, or too cluttered with junk, your bidders will not be nearly as impressed. Not surprisingly, bad photos will make your item look pathetic, and as a result your auction will get fewer bids and less money (if it sells at all).

5.2.1 Composition

Start with a neutral background, like an empty table or section of the floor. A little texture (like wood or fabric) can be nice, but don't overdo it. Avoid carpet, which can make your item look dirty and shabby. And nobody is going to want something that is seen sitting in the dirt.

A shiny, reflective base, like a mirror or the top of a silver file cabinet, will make smaller items look like they're in a professional showroom. A close-up shot with only a little depth of field, as explained in [Hack #56], will throw any unwanted background reflections out of focus.

Your item will be lost in the photo if it's in front of a busy pattern or other high-contrast background. Remove all unnecessary clutter from the photo; it should be crystal-clear to your customers exactly what they're bidding on.

Shoot from an angle to illustrate that you're selling a three-dimensional object. An object photographed slightly askew will look much better than if it's perfectly centered and aligned with the edges of the photo. Figure 5-1 shows the same object shot at two different angles, one of which looks much better than the other.

Figure 5-1. Photograph your items from an angle to make them look more attractive

Make sure the photo is in focus. Most digital cameras let you zoom in to inspect the detail of your shots using the built-in LCD screen. If you're shooting with film, you'll want to take a few insurance shots to ensure at least one good one. (Instant feedback is one of the best reasons to shoot digital.)

Show the entire item ? fully assembled ? in at least one photo, preferably the first. Don't take it apart unless you feel it's important to show an internal feature or to illustrate the way the item goes together.

Case in point: Not too long ago, I purchased a toy car on eBay from a seller who included only a single, rather small photo of the item. To illustrate that one of the wheel bolts was missing, the seller physically removed one of the wheels and placed it underneath the vehicle to prop it up. The photo made it look more like a pile of junk than a car, and as a result, I got it for less than half the price the model typically fetched. When the car arrived, I simply attached the wheels and reveled at the great deal I had gotten. Although the seller was probably just trying to set a reasonable expectation, as detailed in [Hack #39], he went too far, and his car looked simply pathetic.

5.2.2 Photographing Collections

If you're selling a collection of items, or if there are included accessories, include at least one photo showing the entire collection together. Figure 5-2 shows a handheld computer (PDA), together with a bunch of included accessories. The group shot makes your bidders feel like they're getting a lot for their money, and it clearly illustrates exactly what is included with the auction.

Figure 5-2. A carefully aligned group shot shows bidders exactly what they're getting

5.2.3 Lighting

Don't rely entirely on your camera's flash to sufficiently illuminate your object, or half your item will appear in shadow. You don't need professional-quality studio lighting, only a desk lamp or overhead light to serve as a second light source. But if there's too much light, any detail in the item might get washed out. Figure 5-3 shows the same item photographed with different amounts of light.

Figure 5-3. You can see the most detail if the object is lit from at least two sources

Finally, if you're taking multiple photos, shoot each one as if it will be the only thing your bidders see. Given how unreliable Internet connections can be, any single photo might indeed be the only thing a bidder sees!