As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words. When it comes to selling something on eBay, that’s worth bearing in mind, since few potential bidders want to read a long, detailed description about an item — they want a selection of clear photos, instead.
The better your eBay photos are, the more chance you have of attracting bidders, too. So spending some time taking the best photos you can before beginning an auction can pay dividends.
The problem is that rather than a studio and a high-quality camera, most of us are stuck with a kitchen table and a smartphone. Such a set-up doesn’t need to be detrimental to your photos, though — you just need to know how to get the best from what you’ve got.
Tip 1: Keep it simple
Photographing an expensive watch on the living room carpet with the dog’s back end in the frame probably won’t impress many potential bidders, but it’s amazing just how many eBay photos look just like that.
A better option is to photograph your item on a plain background. A sheet of thick white paper (so you can’t see through it) curved against a wall is enough for small items, while a white sheet draped in a similar way will do for larger ones. The aim is for the background not to distract from the item — and white will also help bounce light into any nooks and crannies for a clearer shot.
Tip 2: Get the right light
Inadequate lighting is a major cause of poor-quality photos. If your item isn’t well lit, three potential problems can occur.
The photo will be too dark. There just isn’t enough light entering the camera for it to be anything else.
The photo will be blurred. Cameras compensate for low light levels by keeping the shutter open longer, which risks camera shake when you hold the camera.
The photo will be bleached out. A camera will activate its flash when there isn’t enough light but smartphone and compact camera flashes are too small to properly illuminate a large item at a distance — not that it stops people at stadium concerts from trying. Use a flash close-up to a small item, on the other hand, and it can appear washed-out with glare.
So try to take your photos in a bright room with lots of natural and diffuse daylight or, better still, outside when the sun is shining.
Tip 3: Stay out of the shadows
Too much light can also create problems. Just as you should never take a photo facing into the sun, you should never take one with it behind you — you risk obscuring the item with your own shadow. So take the time to find the best position for you and the subject so your photo is enhanced by the available light, rather than ruined by it.
Tip 4: Watch out for reflections
Shiny objects can be difficult to photograph without capturing yourself in the reflection — and watch out for mirrors or windows in the background of wide shots. If this is unavoidable, make sure you’re not revealing anything untoward in the photo — search the web for embarrassing eBay photos for some examples of how not to do it. Better still, use the camera’s self-timer so you get out of the way before the photo is actually taken.
Tip 5: Don’t crop — fill the frame
If you can’t get enough distance between you and your item to fit the whole thing in the frame, you need to find somewhere else to take the photo. At least one clear and complete photo is a must for any auction. Photos that crop out part of what you’re selling look like you’re trying to hide something.
Tip 6: One photo is never enough
Digital photos cost nothing to take and you can include several in an eBay auction at no extra cost. So include photos from all angles and take some close-up detail shots, too (which you can obviously crop). Also be sure to show any unusual features or flaws.
Tip 7: Use a tripod
If you have a tripod, use it — you’ll get much clearer photo, particularly if there’s less light than you’d like. Simply not holding your camera in your hand can be enough to keep a photo sharp, too, so stand a camera on something solid or lean your smartphone against something.
If that makes framing the shot tricky because you can’t see the smartphone screen, try switching to the front camera so you can see what you’re shooting — most take high quality photos, too. Using the self-timer to take the shot will also prevent any camera wobble when you prod the screen or press the shutter release button.
Tip 8: Use your camera’s highest resolution
Modern smartphone cameras can take truly excellent photos, so make sure yours is set to its highest resolution to capture as much detail as possible. Higher resolutions also mean you can crop photos so that the item (or a detail) fills the frame without affecting the overall quality. Hi-res photos will take longer to upload to eBay, but the results will be worth it.
Tip 9: Include something for scale
Everyone knows the rough size of a car or pair of shoes, but what about a piece of jewellery? Including an easily identifiable coin or a ruler in the shot can help here, as can wearing the item in question, if appropriate (but include standalone shots, too).
Tip 10: Show the total package
Products with their original packaging can fetch more money than those without, so be sure to include a shot showing the item in its box. Just make it clear in your description that your selling actual item and not just its packaging to avoid looking like an eBay scammer. Photos of any included accessories are also a good idea, as are shots of clothing labels.
Tip 11: Take the time to get it right
A set of well-taken photos is sign that you care about what you’re selling. A couple of slapdash shots — or, worse, photos stolen from other web sites — suggest the opposite.
You can take as many photos as you like with a digital camera and just delete the ones you don’t like, so take the time to make sure the photos you’re using are the best you can manage and don’t be afraid to give them a final tweak in a photo editor. The ‘auto levels’ option is usually all you need to undesirable tints, for example. Try the web-based Pixlr if you don’t have a photo editor of your own — it’s free and web-based.