Outfitting Your Photo Studio
We’re big believers in doing things on the cheap, but we’re also big believers in having the right tools for the job. To equip your auctions with the pictures they deserve, you’re going to need some gear.
The good news is, digital imaging hardware and software have never been less expensive. And because eBay pictures need to be small in order to download quickly, you don’t need to buy the latest, super-resolution, Hubble Space Telescope camera to take your shots. An older digital camera and scanner will do a fine job, and we know of a fabulous online auction site where you can find plenty of these devices.
And what about film? eBay’s own photo tutorials list a third option for imaging: using a conventional camera and having your film processed by a lab that also scans and delivers your photos through the Internet or on a CD. This is an option in the same way that Morse code is an option for communicating: it works, but it’s slow and antiquated. When you want to get an auction going, you probably don’t want to wait several days—or even an hour or two—to get your photos developed. Although this option works, we recommend that you forgo film and go digital instead.
That said, let’s go shopping.
As we noted on the previous pages, whether you use a digital camera or a scanner will depend on what you’re selling. Flat items—such as baseball cards and comics—are ideal subjects for a scanner, but for everything else, you’ll need a camera.
The key specification to look at is resolution: how many pixels (dots) the camera uses to represent images. Resolution is measured in millions of pixels, or megapixels. A 2-megapixel camera will do a fine job for eBay work. Of course, it’s easy to become addicted to digital photography and to start wanting to use your camera to produce large prints, too. In that case, look for a camera with a resolution of 4 megapixels or higher.
If you’ll be taking close-ups of small items, you’ll want to know how close you can get to an object while still being able to take a sharp photo. Look into the camera’s minimum focus distance—it’s often in the two-foot ballpark. Ideally, you want a camera with a macro mode—this lets you get much closer, typically within six inches or less, to your subject. Many cameras accept add-on macro lens attachments that let you get closer than the cameras’ lenses normally permit.
Again, resolution is the watchword, and with scanners, resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi). And again, because Web photos have to be small, a cheap scanner will do a fine job for eBay work. Companies such as Epson and Canon now offer 1200-dpi scanners for under $50.
Optional: Lights and Tripod
If you plan to photograph items indoors, you may want to invest in some lights and a tripod. A tripod gives you a sturdy, stable place to mount your camera, and lights—well, you know what they do. For more advice on setting up a tabletop studio, see pages 66 and 71.
We mean no disrespect to your skills as a photographer, but your photos will probably need some work. You may need to crop out unwanted portions of an image, such as the corner of the dining room table. You may want to fine-tune the color balance of an image taken indoors using room lighting. At the very least, you may need to downsize your images so that they transfer over the Internet quickly.
For these tasks, you’ll need software. If you’re running Microsoft Windows, a great choice is Adobe Photoshop Album. You can use it to import photos from a camera or scanner, store and manage a photo library, perform cropping, and downsize images for the Web. You can download a free “starter edition” of Photoshop Album from Adobe’s Web site (www.adobe.com/photoshopalbum). The starter edition does the job but has several features removed. The full version of Photoshop Album costs less than $50.
For the Apple Macintosh, we’re huge fans of Apple’s iPhoto, included with new Macs and available as part of Apple’s iLife suite (www.apple.com/ilife). Like Photoshop Album, iPhoto handles everything from transferring photos, to managing them, to performing basic image editing. Note that iPhoto runs only on Apple’s Mac OS X operating system. If you’re running the older Mac OS 9.x, check out iView Multimedia’s iView Media (www.iview-multimedia.com). It’s inexpensive and has many of the same features found in iPhoto.
For more advanced image-editing tasks, we recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements. It costs less than $100 and is included with many digital cameras and scanners.
We show many of these programs in action later in this chapter.