How to photograph your stock for ebay sales

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A picture is worth a thousand words. And usually considerably more than that. Your customers just don't have time to read & digest one thousand words. A picture of your product is essential to ebay selling.

In this brief guide, I'll cover equipment, technique, and implementation.

Let me start by saying "You DO NOT NEED a professional camera". What you do need, however, is a digital camera with the following features:

Minimum 640x480 resolution.

MUST have manual flash control i.e. can turn the flash 'off'

Macro focussing (ideally at the long end of the zoom)

A zoom lens - doesn't need to be anything over 3x.

Manual white balance control.

A colour LCD monitor (bigger the better) built-in.

A socket for an ac (mains) power adapter.

A tripod socket.

& that's about it. Plenty of other bells & whistles available - 'Monitor Out' also known as 'Video Out' would be my only choice from these - lets you connect the camera to a TV monitor - far easier than peering at a tiny 1.5" screen.

You'll need a tripod - the size of this to a great extent depends on what you want to photograph, and where.

If, for example, the majority of your stock sits comfortably on a tabletop, then something extending to 5 feet would be adequate.

Why do I need an old-fashioned tripod? What about image stabilisation?

Trust me, I'm a photographer! All in seriousness, a tripod will improve your composition and allow you the freedom to crack on with other jobs, returning later to exactly the same set-up. More importantly, you can photograph your stock in relatively poor light and still end up with pin sharp images.

Buy yourself an AC adapter. Yes, I know you can get multiple sets of rechargeables, but they are a hassle to change, and quite often you'll find that you have to remove the camera from the tripod just to change the batteries. Another thing to think about when selecting a camera.

Two other items to consider: lighting, and background.

I'll cover background first simply because so few people appear to realise the importance of backgrounds. They serve to concentrate the viewers' attention on the subject. They should complement the subject, without being distracting. Again. YOU DO NOT NEED a professional background cloth or drape. Personally I use a 2'x2' square piece of natural wood slatwall (shopfitting). Whatever you use, ensure that it is clean, and any textures will be represented out-of-focus in your pictures.

Never include items which are not for sale in the picture. It confuses buyers & you end up having to answer questions like "is the baby and changing mat included?" :-) I guess we've all seen the kettle picture.......I'll cover reflective items a little further down the page.

Lighting. The single biggest issue that most people come up against.

Now some lucky folks live in quite picturesque locations, and make a regular feature of the latest goodies against a background of a loch & distant mountains. Nice work if you can get it! But what happens when it's raining? You get in at 8pm and need to photograph your latest goodies. The warmth and comfort of your own home beckons. Sadly it's a far from ideal location for product shots. But read on & you'll see just how easy it can be.

Again. You do not need to spend hundreds of pounds on a tabletop studio. 

Daylight is by far the most preferable option; not direct sunshine, but slightly cloudy or overcast. Why? The light is very diffuse, meaning soft. This is why professional photographers/artists will pay over the odds for a studio with north-facing windows. However daylight is rather variable, both in intensity & colour temperature. By this I mean the colour represented in your photos, according to (literally) the colour of the light. Think about a sunset. The sunlight is yellowy orange - what we call 'warm'. However the same scene under heavy cloud would have a bluish tint by comparison - 'cold'. With digital we do have an advantage in that we can muck about with the colours in PhotoShop or similar; far better to get it right in the first place - which saves a lot of time.

Digital cameras will have a 'white balance' setting. This effectively means that the camera does not know what 'white' looks like, under a certain lighting coloration, until you give it that information. It then uses that info as a reference point for every other colour. If you have a digicam handy try this now: turn the flash off, take a snap. Check the image. Forget the fact that it's blurry & possibly out of focus. Look at the colour of the image. My guess is if you're sat in a 'net cafe, it'll look a bit greenish? In your home office - a bit yellowy/orangey? This is because the type of lighting used varies in colour temperature. Flourescents tend to the green; incandescent tungsten/halogen to the yellow & warmer.

So we don't want any of these dodgy colours in our pics. We are going to set up a 'picture factory'. Rather like a production line. Just keep all the basic elements the same, then bish bash bosh (no, I promise you I am not a builder). If we can regulate the colour of the lighting, the intensity, then our job will be a LOT easier.

Back to white balance: don't worry too much if your light source produces basically orange light. You can sort it out with manual white balance. Here's how: Set up your camera and product, lighting & background. Just as though you were going to shoot some pack shots (impressive-sounding name for product shots). Set your camera to manual white balance. Turn on the lighting that you'll be using for the shots. Get a white sheet, or t-shirt, or sheet of A4 paper. Hold it just in front of the subject, making sure through the viewfinder of the camera that it fills the frame completely. Then activate the white balance memory in the camera. Now remove your white reference point. All done. Now, for this lighting setup, the camera knows exactly what is white and scales other colours accordingly.  No more dodgy colours.

I should point out that most cameras only hold this value in memory while they are switched on. Another good reason to use an ac adapter. I can't remember the last time I switched my camera off! Also, if you change the lighting setup at all, it's best to repeat the sequence above.




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