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Picture Tips

Indoor Strategies

If a blizzard or a nosy neighbor prevents you from shooting outside, move indoors—to a kitchen or dining-room table, or to a card table set up in front of a bright window. (Keep that flash turned off.)

If you don’t have enough light, your camera will use a slow shutter speed (a longer exposure time). Unless you have the steady hands of a neurosurgeon, your photo will probably be blurry.

One solution is to use a tripod. A cheaper solution is to throw more light on the subject with a desk lamp or a set of hardware store work lamps clamped on to a couple of chairs. Position the lights as shown on page 66. Avoid bright light behind the item—backlighting, as it’s called, may flatter a model’s hair, but yields bad eBay pictures.

If you’re adding supplemental lighting, your photos may have a yellowish color cast. If that’s bothersome, switch your camera’s white-balance setting to “tungsten.”

Look at The LCD

On most cameras, the viewfinder doesn’t show exactly what the lens is seeing. That isn’t a problem when you’re shooting a beach scene, but when you’re shooting close-ups, you may risk cutting off part of your subject. To avoid this, compose your shot while looking at the camera’s LCD screen, which does show exactly what the lens sees. But note that holding the camera at arm’s length can increase the chances of a blurry photo; here’s where a tripod really helps.

Show the Items in a Set

If the item you’re selling is comprised of multiple pieces or components, consider taking a group shot—a picture showing the pieces that come with the item.

eBay shoppers can’t open up a box and paw through its contents, but a group shot is the next best thing. It enables shoppers to see what’s included with your item, and it proves that you have all the pieces.

If one of the items is the star of the show, consider taking a separate close-up photo of it.

Choose a Contrasting Background

Don’t just set an item on a tabletop or driveway and fire away. Create a background for it—solid-colored cloth, colored construction paper, a bed sheet, or the seamless background paper that photographers use.

Whatever background material you use, choose something with a color that contrasts with the item. Don’t photograph a silver pin against a white background—it will look bland. There’s a reason jewelers display their wares against dark velvet: the contrast makes the jewelry look brighter.

How Big Is It?

It’s hard to judge an object’s size when there’s nothing else in the photo. That isn’t a problem for small items with an obvious size—for example, a Hot Wheels car or a fountain pen.

But for jewelry and other items whose size can vary hugely, you might consider including something a bidder can use as a visual reference—a ruler or a quarter, for example.

The Low-Budget Countertop Studio

Here’s a kitchen-countertop setup that we often use for photographing small and medium-sized items.

Our background: a sheet of paper yanked from a printer and taped to the countertop. Our lighting: the kitchen lights. The tabletop tripod keeps the camera steady, enabling us to turn off the flash.

Our background (the sheet of printer paper) is too small to completely fill the frame, so we crop our photos as shown on page 74.

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