Taking the Best Photo
If you have a reasonably good digital or 35mm film camera, you are equipped for taking photographs of your auction items. What will matter more than the camera is how well you handle the focus, lighting, and background for each picture.
Many digital cameras are equipped with auto-focus. You aim, give the camera time to focus on the object, and shoot. If you use a 35mm film camera, a single-lens reflex (SLR) is best. This is the kind where you look directly through the lens rather than through a rangefinder that is offset slightly from the lens's perspective.
Rangefinder cameras are difficult to use in close-up photography, because what you see through the rangefinder is not what the lens sees. You can have your item centered in the viewfinder, but in the resulting picture, the top or bottom may be out of the frame. Also, some rangefinder cameras do not focus as closely as a 35mm SLR camera does.
Disposable cameras are better than no camera, but not by much. You cannot adjust the focus on a disposable camera. If you get closer than three or four feet from an object, the picture may not be in focus at all.
Color photographs from film or digital cameras can be copied on a desktop scanner and saved as graphics files. The files can be pulled into image-editing software and then cropped and uploaded to an auction site. Amazon.com recommends setting the scanner to a resolution of seventy-two dots per inch (72 dpi). If higher resolution is used, the sizes of the graphics file will grow, too, and they will take longer to download. You may lose some potential bidders if they are impatient and get tired of waiting for a file to load.
Lighting is the downfall of many online auction photographs. Some sellers simply plunk an object onto a table and pop it with a flash camera. The results are often garish, with deep, unappealing shadows and spots of harsh glare where the flash has bounced straight back into the camera.
For best results with a film camera, use diffused sunlight. If you can't get enough light near a window, take your pictures outdoors. Areas of shadow can be filled in with light reflected from a white cloth or piece of white poster board. You may need an assistant to help manage the reflected lighting. Do not take outdoor pictures before 10 A.M. or after 4 P.M. When the sun gets low in the sky, its light travels through more of the atmosphere. The light takes on a reddish tint that will appear more visible in your photographs than you will notice while shooting the pictures. Overcast days are often excellent for outdoor photography of auction items because the light is soft and diffuse and doesn't cast any strong shadows or glare.
Daylight color-film pictures take on a reddish-yellowish glow if taken under tungsten lights. They tend to turn green if taken under fluorescent lights. Filters are available to make daylight film work correctly with tungsten or fluorescent lighting. But you may have to go to a camera store to find the right filter and mounting adapter for your camera.
With a digital camera, try setting up two or three shaded lamps several feet away from the item you are photographing. Move the lamps around to minimize glare and shadows. Use a white reflecting board or white cloth to help cast extra light into troublesome dark areas.
Use a neutral backdrop, such as a piece of off-white or light gray smooth cloth, to create an uncluttered background for your pictures. You may also want to cover the table If you are photographing an item that is off-white or light gray, pick another color that will provide some contrast but not detract from what you are photographing. The idea is to remove all background clutter and anything else that might distract the potential bidder from looking at your auction item. Try to keep the item at least a foot, and preferably more, in front of the backdrop.
More Tips for Good Pictures
The more pictures you can take, the better — but only to a point. Professional photographers often shoot several rolls of film just to get one or two special pictures. Similarly, some items can be shown with one picture, but for others, such as an antique juice pitcher, you may need to show the sides, the top, and the bottom, as well as some of the interior, if possible. If an auction item is very expensive, bidders may expect to see up to a dozen pictures or so. A standard eBay listing can accept up to twelve photographs (only the first one is free), or more if additional fees are paid.
The tips that follow can also help ensure that you will get the photographs you need.
Keep the item in the center of the camera's viewfinder, but also leave a little bit of space around it to create a visual border. If the border is too wide or if background objects creep into part of the shot, use photo-editing software to crop the picture.
Use straightforward camera angles. Merchandise photography is not art; it's a selling tool. Bidders want to see an object's condition, color, and any distinctive markings, such as brand name, serial number, or a symbol that verifies its description and vintage.
With digital cameras, use the highest image resolution. Some digital cameras will default to 90 percent resolution, but you can often increase it to 100 percent just by pressing a button or choosing an option in the editing software. Just remember, the higher image resolution will increase the size of your picture file.
Along with bad lighting and bad focus, many auction pictures suffer from camera shake. Brace your camera against a sturdy object, such as a table or chair, when taking merchandise pictures. Better yet, get a tripod. It is very difficult to hold a camera steady, especially when you are trying to shoot close-ups.
Don't be afraid to show your item's damage or rust spots or areas of faded color. Buyers will need to know what they are getting. Also, shoot close-ups of logos, labels, model numbers, certificates of authenticity — anything that can prove your item is desirable to collectors.
If you absolutely have no skills at photography and no patience to learn, try to get help from a friend or relative. High school or college photography students also can be hired to take the pictures you need.
You may be good at editing digital photographs, but avoid trying to edit out the flaws and blemishes in what you are selling. There should be truth in advertising, especially in online auctions where buyers must rely on pictures, descriptions, sellers' reputations, and little else when making bidding decisions. If you make an old vase look pristine, and the buyer gets a vase with several chips, she likely will complain and post negative feedback.