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Photographing Big Items

Looking to unload that walk-in humidor or those old poodle skirts? First things first: please don’t tell our spouses. They’ll bid.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the special considerations behind photographing big and unusually shaped items.

For large items, your primary challenges are background and lighting. You may not be able to set up a plain backdrop behind a big item, so you’ll need to take steps to avoid a cluttered background that detracts from your item.

As for lighting, those clamp-on work lights that we recommended on page 66 may not be enough to illuminate a large item. You may have to shoot outdoors or resort to using your camera’s built-in flash. If your eBay selling career will lean toward the large, you may want to invest in some larger lights.

Then there’s “oddly shaped” items, the biggest category of which is clothing. Unless you can figure out a way to prop a pair of pants against a wall for a photo shoot, you’ll have to take some special steps to make clothing look its best. We’ve provided some tips on page 71.

Background Check

A cluttered background draws attention away from a subject. If your item is light enough to move, consider positioning it against a plain wall or fence. As an alternative, try to drape a sheet or some photographer’s background paper behind and beneath the item.

For very large or heavy items, these techniques may not be practical. In that case, compose your photo to avoid the worst of the clutter, as shown in these shots of a 400-pound ceramic mosaic bench by artist Jan Hinson. We weren’t about to move the bench, but by simply changing our camera position, we were able to omit the worst parts of the background and get a better shot.

This illustrates a key tip that applies to all your photographic endeavors: study the background before you shoot. Our minds are great editors—we subconsciously ignore background clutter. But a camera sees all, so before you snap that shutter, look at the entire frame and adjust your position to get rid of that telephone pole, neighbor’s house, or other visual noisemaker.

Shoot at An Angle

While we’re talking composition, here’s a related tip that applies to items of all sizes: don’t shoot straight-on. That’s a sure-fire way to give an item a flat, two-dimensional appearance.

Instead, shoot items at an angle. This lets people see the side of the item and yields a more attractive photo.

In this example, we’ve also draped a sheet behind and beneath the rocking chair to avoid a cluttered background.

If all sides of your item are interesting, take multiple shots and consider buying the Picture Show slide show upgrade (page 45).

Shed Some Light

Until the folks at EZcube come out with a room-sized cube, you’ll need to work a little harder to light large items. One option is to shoot them outdoors, preferably in the shade or on a cloudy day. If that isn’t an option, you have a few alternatives.

Shoot near a window. Get as much natural light as you can.

Add lights. Four-foot fluorescent work lights are bright and inexpensive. To avoid ugly green color casts, be sure to change your camera’s white-balance mode to fluorescent (see page 72).

Boost your ISO speed. Many digital cameras have controls that let you increase their ISO speed, essentially improving their light sensitivity. Without getting into technical details, changing your ISO speed to 200 or 400 can often help you get better shots in low light.

Use the flash (cringe). We’ve made no secret of our dislike for built-in flash. But if it’s all you have, use it. Just be sure to photograph your item at an angle so you don’t get bright glare spots.

Don’t Forget the Close-Ups

Big items often have small details that are important to potential buyers. Maybe they’re flaws, such as scratches or stains. Or maybe they’re desirable details, such as an obscure manufacturer’s nameplate. In either case, take sharp close-ups to give your bidders the details they need.

If you need to get extremely close, use your camera’s macro feature, as described on page 66.

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