Propel Your Profits With Better Images

Tips for taking professional-looking auction photography

by Dennis L. Prince
- Mar 20, 2008

There was a time when finding a good image of an item up for auction was a real treat. These days, it’s an absolute necessity. Today there's simply too much competition, and a lousy image can lead to a lousy sale price (or no sale at all).

To attract more bidders and earn higher bids, you'll need to serve up quality images every time. Here's how.

Equip yourself wisely

    If you're an amateur shutterbug, you needn't dismay: Taking good photos is easier than ever, thanks to advances and greater affordability in digital imaging. If you're getting ready to purchase a digital camera, pay close attention to these features that will contribute to better results:

  • Image resolution: Choose a camera that delivers at least 3.2 megapixel quality (though most will certainly offer more).
  • Lenses and focus mechanics: Look for a camera that offers both auto and manual focusing, with zoom capability for reproducing tiny details with crystal clarity.
  • Tripod mount: Most cameras have these by default, but check to be certain. Mounting your camera on a tripod reduces blur caused by a shaky hand.

For digital camera ratings and extensive product descriptions, visit here.

Fantastic photo studios made cheap

Now, when it comes to photographing your items, establish a spot in your home or apartment (or wherever you'll be working) and create your own designated photo studio. It's easy.

  1. Situating a surface. Since all you really need is a few feet of dedicated working space, purchase one or two parson's tables (the inexpensive kind you find in the bed and bath stores) and situate them against a wall or in a corner. If you'll be photographing larger items, get a piece of half-inch plywood that can straddle the two tables. The structure doesn't have to be fancy to be effective—just stable and sturdy.
  2. Background check. Next, use a length of inexpensive material of a solid color (with white, black, or dark blue offering the best contrast results). Tack the material to a wall or in a corner to form a backdrop, and then drape it down and over your work surface. You now have a consistent background color that will let your items stand out in the picture.
  3. In a better light. While it's not terribly difficult to establish good lighting, it's almost certain death for an image (and the auction) if the lighting is bad. Consider these tips:
  • Go natural: Photos taken in natural sunlight usually bring the best results regarding illumination of detail and truer color. If the sun is shining, consider photographing outdoors.
  • If it must be artificial: If you'll photograph indoors, use incandescent bulbs (60W or less) for best results. Higher wattage bulbs tend to over-saturate items with light, giving them a washed out appearance. Avoid fluorescent lighting since it casts a yellow-green tint on your images.
  • While cleaning up an image, be sure not to render an image better than reality will bear.

  • Control the light: Aim the light where you need it to get the best results. If outdoors, use a reflector (something as simple as stark white poster board or a Mylar auto sunshade) to direct sunlight at your item. If indoors, purchase three automobile work lights and suspend them above and on either side of the item (again, being careful not to blast too high a wattage at your items). The center light is your "key" light. The ones that soften shadows from the side are "fill" lights; station them farther away from your object.
  • Reduce glare: Avoid flash shots and 90 percent of glare problems will disappear. If you still have a problem with or you must use a flash, tilt the item in such a way that the light (or flash) doesn't strike its surface directly.

After the shoot: Fine-tuning the fine details

If the picture you've taken doesn't properly represent your item, even after applying the previous tips, then it's time to turn to some quick and easy image editing. Using your favorite image editing program (such as Microsoft's Picture It!, Jasc Software's PaintShop Pro, or Adobe's Photoshop), adjust the hue, contrast, brightness and sharpness to pull out the details and help turn a less-than-stellar image into a stunning representation. Be careful, though, not to overdo it: While cleaning up an image, be sure not to clean it up so much that you conceal normally visible blemishes or details, rendering the image as looking better than reality will bear. Spruce up a mediocre image, but be sure not to accidentally misrepresent what the eventual buyer will receive.

Sizing it up

Bidders can be an impatient lot—they have millions of items to choose from—and few are inclined to wait by while a "fat" image creeps onto their computer displays.

Avoid losing bids by keeping the image file sizes at or near the 30 kilobytes mark. It's easy to do: Work your camera's adjustments down from ultra-fine to medium-quality photos or use image editing software to resize larger images. Oh, and mind your images' consumption of on-screen real estate. Just as you wouldn't want to offer up tiny images for bidders to squint at, you also don't want to unleash huge images that overwhelm even the largest of monitors. Aim at a display size of about 450 x 450 pixels (or slightly less).

Is the effort really worth it?

If you ever doubt the value of taking and providing good images of your auction items, consider this sentiment shared by long-time auction enthusiast, Gretchen Hakala: "I'm annoyed by sellers who post bad images—it's sloppy and shows the seller must not be too concerned with quality." Low marks, but even the good news is bad: "I might take a chance [and bid] on an item that has a poor image simply because I'm pretty certain I'll get it for a good price—I know most other bidders won't bid at all because of the lousy picture and I wind up with a better deal."

If Hakala's thinking is representative of many potential bidders', then poor images really do cost sellers in the long run.

About the Author

Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay…and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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