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Photographing Small Objects

People sell objects of all sizes on eBay, but much of what’s for sale is smaller than a breadbox, if not a breadstick.

Photographing small objects can be tricky. Your photos need to show detail, especially any flaws that may affect the value of a collectible. Showing detail means getting close to your subject, and it’s harder to keep items in focus when you’re shooting close-ups.

Lighting is also more complicated at close range. When you’re only a foot or so away from your subject, your camera’s built-in flash will be too bright, and the photo will appear washed out. Turning off the flash will avoid a washed-out image, but may yield a dark or blurry photo unless you add extra lighting.

Some eBay sellers invest in special gear, such as a tripod and a set of lights and stands. We’d rather not spend the money and turn part of the house into a photo studio. The fact is, it isn’t that hard to get a good-looking photo of a small object. You can get fine results by following a few simple rules. And if you sell small stuff all the time, you can turn a tabletop into a fine little photo studio.

Setting Up for Close-Ups

Although you can get good results by shooting outdoors with a hand-held camera, if you’re going to be shooting close-ups all the time, you might find it more convenient to create a tabletop photo studio like the one shown here.

Get Close

Most digital cameras have close-up, or macro, modes that enable you to get within a foot or even within inches of your subject. You can use a camera’s macro mode to get up so close that even a tiny object will fill the frame.

If your camera has a macro mode, it probably has a button with a tiny flower icon next to it. To switch to macro mode, press this button. To get as close as possible, put your camera’s zoom lens in its maximum wide-angle position. Don’t zoom in with macro mode turned on—you won’t be able to get as close, and the images won’t be as sharp.

Kill the Flash

If your camera has a built-in flash, it also has a button that lets you turn it off. The button is usually labeled with a lightning-bolt symbol. Press it until the camera’s status display or LCD screen shows the “no flash” symbol. At close range, built-in flash is too bright.

Use Bright, Diffused Light

We use a very bright light source all the time. It’s a bit far away—about 93 million miles—but it’s free and very reliable. It’s the Sun.

But you have to know how to use this light source. Avoid photographing items in direct sunlight—you’ll get a harshly lit photo with dark shadows that obscure detail.

A better approach is to shoot on a cloudy day or in the shade. Note that this can add a slightly bluish color cast to your photos. That won’t be a problem for many items, but if color accuracy is important for your item, switch your camera’s white-balance setting to “cloudy.” See your camera’s manual for specific instructions.

If you don’t want to futz with your camera’s white-balance settings, just take the photo. If its color is way off, you can always adjust it later (see page 75).

The EZcube light tents mentioned on page 65 are ideal for small objects. The salt and pepper shakers above were photographed in the smallest EZcube model, the 12-inch square Micro. To avoid a bright white background, we put a sheet of colored paper beneath the items (left).

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