Education & Training

Before the Auction: Taking Better Photos

Have you ever bid on an auction with a washed-out, blurry photo of the product for sale? We didn't think so. Why would anybody? It likely would lead to getting burned on a product that doesn't live up to its sales pitch. With that in mind, here are some basic yet essential tips on taking better photos of your auction products. Remember, if people can't see it, it's not likely they'll want to bid on it.

Pregame Warm-Up

If you are going to be a high-volume seller, we suggest you invest in a digital camera, which will make uploading and attaching images to your auctions considerably easier. For one, you won't have to buy and process film and then scan your photos every time you want to sell a product. Your selling will be much more spontaneous and cost-effective in the long run. Consider the Sony Mavica. It's expensive, but it features an excellent auto-zoom, -focus, and -exposure system, not to mention a three-inch disk drive for saving images directly to disk. On a related note, buy a tripod to avoid taking jumbled photos by hand.

Once you are armed and ready, you have to decide how large and how high-res your images will be. Happily, there's an easy answer. Most buyers do not want to wait for large photos to load. They also don't want tiny thumbnails that make verification problematic. In other words, choose the happy medium between massive (1,280 by 1,024) and miniscule (640 by 480). Also, set your camera image quality to medium, as opposed to fine, to reduce the byte size. In addition, use a utility free online image efitor like to further compress your images without decreasing their quality.

Background Check

One of the simplest but most effective ways to improve your auction shots immediately is to use a simple backdrop behind the product you're photographing. In general, make sure the backdrop is one solid color, such as white, black, or dark blue. This way, the background color will not clash with the colors in the product. With that said, the color of your backdrop should be dictated by the color of your merchandise. If you are taking a shot of a black stereo receiver, black velvet probably isn't the best bet. Also, experiment with soft paper backdrops, which provide greater color choice and artistic freedom.

Finally, though it might sound obvious, remove clutter or people from your auction photos. They will only detract attention away from the main attraction. For instance, if you are selling an old rocking chair, don't sit your child in it for dramatic effect, no matter how cute she is.

The Right Light

If you live in a place blessed with year-round sunshine, take advantage of it. Most photographers agree that photos taken outside in natural light have better color than those taken indoors in artificial light. Just the same, remember that blinding sunlight isn't necessarily a prerequisite for good outdoor photos. Slightly overcast days create softer light, which can give your auction product photos a more evocative effect. If you think your auction product deserves a more dramatic presentation, try that approach. (Along the same lines, you can also purchase software that will help you touch up your images; but be aware that there's a fine line between merely touching up a product and misrepresenting its true condition.)

If you don't want to move your setup outdoors, put your photo table in a sunny room with a window. Open the shades so there is plenty of light. For shooting in the evening, set a lamp with a 100-watt bulb on each side of your backdrop. You may even want to remove the shades from the lamps. Do not shoot under fluorescent lights--they may give your photos a green tint. Try Halogen or "natural spectrum" bulbs that do not impede the natural color spectrum. If your shots appear washed out, adjust your light source or turn down your digital camera's exposure level, which controls the amount of light that enters the camera.

Get a Little Closer

If you have a zoom, use it. Frankly, the closer you are to the subject--without crowding or losing a portion--the better. You want people to see what you are selling, not the tree next to it. If the product is lost in the foreground, bidders may not trust your grade. Moreover, they won't see the markings or defects you may have addressed in your description. Be sure to review your camera's manual, so you understand how to focus it when taking close-range shots. Some cameras, especially disposable ones, do not focus on subjects closer than four feet.

On the subject of close-ups of specifics area of a product, use them sparingly. Excessive close-ups that do not impart new information simply slow down your auction page's load time. That could be the kiss of death in a competitive category. Your close-ups should demonstrate detail or workmanship, reinforce the product's authenticity, or show a defect. Common sense should be your guide in this area.

Finally, get close when taking close-ups. That's why they're called close-ups!