Lindy Donato, Gold Coast Beach
Lindy Donato, an eBay seller of about 10 years, knows a thing or two about taking good photos for her listings. But gaining that knowledge took time.
"The ins and outs of photographic lighting are, by far, the most difficult things I have ever had to learn in my life," says the owner of Gold Coast Beach, an eBay Store featuring beach gear, including sunglasses, hats and apparel. "[It was] harder than driving a manual car, harder than programing my DVD player, even harder than reversing a trailer!"
However, with more than eight years as a PowerSeller under her belt, Donato has polished her photography skills and, today, her images shine. In fact, the PowerSeller was a recent winner of Auctiva's Best Shot Photo Contest.
She believes all sellers should continually strive to perfect their photo-taking techniques.
"You are wasting your time on eBay if your photos are not stellar," she says. "Improving the quality of your photographs needs to be every seller's No.1 priority!"
I would study glossy magazines and mail order catalogues, and try to create such crisp photos myself
Developing that photographic eye
Taking photos was never of particular interest for the Australian seller, but you would never know it by looking at Donato's eBay listings. The clear images show every detail of an item and the supersized photos provide an even clearer image of the items she offers.
So what drove her to shoot for these crystal clear images? The knowledge that buyers expect them, she says. Donato continually looks to improve every aspect of her business, including the photography, which she admits, she initially struggled with.
"My photos used to be lousy. I had no equipment and no knowledge," she notes. "I knew I needed to improve so I would study glossy magazines and mail order catalogues, and try to learn how to create such crisp photos myself."
She also did regular searches on Google for "how to photograph shoes" and "how to photograph swimwear." She even looked for "how to photograph a diamond watch" to see what others were doing. The tutorials she uncovered were "brilliant," she says.
Donato adds that even today, if she comes across an impressive photographic advertisement while looking through a magazine, regardless of what the item is, she asks herself, "Wow, how on earth did they create that? The perfect shot, no gray shadow, no blur, so crystal clear you could almost touch it."
Then she strives to capture similar images.
The seller behind the camera
Donato, who lives on Australia's Gold Coast, is very proud of the business she has created: a store filled with beachwear, flip-flops, surf shorts, hats and more. "The Gold Coast is like Florida in the USA, summer all year 'round, so I have access to all the latest summer beach fashions," she says.
From time to time, Donato throws in the occasional winter apparel and home décor piece. She used to offer just swimsuits until a "fateful day" when she sold a barbecue to a Platinum PowerSeller, who picked up the item from Donato's home.
"I was in awe of her feedback score, so I invited her in for coffee and bent the poor woman's ear for two hours," Donato recalls. "I knew there were massive opportunities and possibilities for professional eBay businesses, but I didn't know a thing about how to kick one off, and had never met someone who had actually done it."
The Platinum PowerSeller quickly hopped on Donato's computer and helped her explore various listing services, including Auctiva, and explained the benefits of PayPal. "That day, I stopped treating eBay as a hobby and began running it as a professional business."
A teeny bikini
But how did Donato discover eBay? By means of "a little bikini." She bought a new $35-bathing suit for daughter from a local shop, expecting her daughter to be thrilled to have the new suit.
"She pulled it out of bag, took one look at it and stated, 'I wouldn't be seen dead in that!'" Donato recalls. The store didn't take returns, leaving Donato wondering what she would do with a size extra-small bikini.
"I photographed it, and created my very first eBay listing," she says. "The swimsuit sold for $110. I rushed back to the Surf Store sale, bought 10 more, and there began my little eBay business that has grown tremendously."
Today, Donato's store receives about 300 sales per week, and while that may sound like a lot of orders to some, it's nothing compared to the peak selling season, when that number triples.
"During the busy season, packing and shipping must involve the whole family," the seller continues. "My packing table is 6 meters long, so a number of us can work to get all the shipping out one time each day."
I use four old goose-neck lamps with strong white daylight globes, and two tall floor lamps
Capturing the right shot
According to this seller, there are two secrets to good sales: First, find quality items you can buy for low prices and, second, create great listings, complete with good templates, a good layout and good photos.
Getting the right lighting can be particularly difficult when it comes to images, she admits. This has always been a challenge for Donato—in addition to being a particularly pricey aspect of her business.
"I probably spent three times the price of any good professional package on all my wrong lighting purchases over the years," she says. "In hindsight it would have been smart to go straight to a local photographic store that offered in-house professional support, and let them guide me to the right lighting package to suit my needs."
Donato admits there are several scrim boxes, gel filters and silver umbrellas sitting in the corner of her living room, which have yet to be used.
"Pan lighting set on tripods cost me a fortune, only to discover that they do not take white globes, only yellow, which drain the color out of my photographic subjects," she continues. "Sure, I could adjust the white balance on my camera, but that involves reading a manual, and I'm too impatient for that, so I currently use four old goose-neck lamps with strong white daylight globes, and two tall floor lamps that shine down from overhead."
She places these around a 2-by-3-foot piece of white cardboard, making a shooting studio for her items.
Keeping it simple
Donato recommends sellers keep the process simple. For instance, skip the fancy lighting and invest in a good camera. "I started with a Canon 300D Kiss," the seller says.
"Two years later, I upgraded to the 400D, and today I use the Canon 500D SLR EOS Digital." She adds that turning off the flash and taking photos outdoors in natural daylight in a shaded area either during mid-morning or late afternoon will help sellers get great shots.
Investing in Adobe Photoshop has also been a great investment, she adds. Donato calls the editing software her "savior."
"I can heal with the little tool that looks like a Band-Aid, and I can whiten backgrounds so the images appear crisp," she adds.
Sharing the knowledge
Donato can't say anything bad about having her own online business. She loves being her own boss, though she admits there are things she wishes someone had told her when she started selling.
"I knew nothing when I started out," she explains. "I now know the three basic rules to being a good seller on eBay: the value of taking good photographs; the wisdom of investing your early profits back into your business from the very beginning. Make your purchases wisely—camera, template, packing materials—these things are not luxuries, they are necessities for building a professional business with steady turnover; and never argue with a customer."
Since her sales have continued to increase and show no signs of slowing down, Donato plans to hire two people to help her with this year's selling frenzy. And as her business continues to blossom, other have begun asking for her help.
"My brother began selling on eBay this year. He came to me with $200 in his pocket and said he would like to open his own eBay business," she says. "He worked with me for two days while we built it from scratch, and by the end of his first month he had turned his $200 into a $3,000 profit.
"Anyone can build this business," she adds, "if they take good photos, keep a professional attitude and offer quality items for low price."
Visit Gold Coast Beach on eBay.