Take Product Pics that Sell

Simple steps to create listing photos that catch buyers' eyes

by Cindy Shebley
- Feb 08, 2010

How do you turn your snapshots into good-looking, professional photos? Your challenge as an online seller is to keep your photos professional enough to compete with the big-box sellers, while reminding your customers you are even more special. You are a mom-and-pop outfit who treasures their business, and will treat them with respect and care.

To make it even more difficult to compete for attention, buyers are not very patient. They expect their ideal product to jump off the page and into their shopping carts in seconds!

A few weeks ago, I checked Alexa (the site that ranks Internet sites' popularity and provides all kinds of statistics) and found the average eBay visit is 13.5 minutes. The number of pages people visit is approximately 30.

If you do the math—30 pages into 13.5 minutes—you start to get a clearer idea of just how much time you have to grab a buyer's attention: The average user spends about 27 seconds on a page.

This means they spend about 27 seconds to make it all the way down a page of products before moving onto the next page or into a listing. That's not much time.

People skim down the page looking for something to jump out at them. Your job as an eBay seller and product photographer is to get them to notice your photo, stop and be compelled to enter your listing.

So how do you do this? And how do you do it quickly?

Before you take the first photo, realize that, as a photographer and seller, there are three things you need to manage. They are:

  1. Your camera
  2. Time
  3. Light and background

Your camera

To get the best product photos, buy the best camera your budget will allow. Don't cheap out—splurge for a name brand and get at least 7 or 8 megapixels. Then learn how to use it. Go to a camera class and take a photo-editing class as well. And use your camera and practice, practice, practice.


This brings us to the next thing you must manage as an eBay seller and product photographer: time. You must consider each item and the amount of time it will take to set up the shot. Is the value of the item worth the amount of time you'll put into it?

Let me show you what I mean. Here's a photo of some used green garden shoes. They're not worth more than a few dollars; they're even an unpopular color.

green garden shoes This photo is probably good enough, right? I agree. For a few bucks, how much time are they worth? Not much.

But, let's say for the sake of argument that these are the very fashionable "crocks" in the hot fashion color this year—lime green. (OK, that's not really this year's hot color, but bear with me). You scored a pallet load of them from Costco, and you plan to double your profit by selling them on eBay.

Now, it's time to start thinking like an art director, and less like a camera person or gofer. You want to create a professional-looking shot that you can use for all your "crock" listings. You want the shot to be so good that buyers have no doubt that these are the new trendy crocks of the season—not just some old knock-offs you found at the second-hand store.

So, if you could create these photos, which would you try for? The all-white "hero shot" on the left, or the one on the old, worn garden bench, on the right, referred to by photographers as a "stylized shot"?

green crocksgreen shoes

Chances are that if you've spent much time on eBay or the Internet, you may think the best shot would be the all-white hero shot. That's because we see so many of them. Designers love them because they're so easy to work with in layouts and Web pages. But are they really the best shot for your listing?

It turns out the all-white hero shots don't capture the attention of a viewer nearly as much as the colorful stylized shot.

heatmap This is a heatmap, a software-generated image that illustrates eye movement during the first few seconds someone looks at a Web page. The algorithm is based on clinical studies of peoples' eye movement through pages.

What this heatmap shows is that the photo peoples' eyes first go to is the stylized shot. I won't overwhelm you with instances, but I tested these shoes in several eBay searches, including the gallery display, inside my store, mixed in with other shoes on a full page of results, etc., and found that viewers' eyes focused in on the stylized shot first, the all-white background second and the unplanned shot last.

Why? Peoples' eyes respond to contrast and density (or in simple terms, dark against light). It might be because that's how we tracked food when we were cave dwellers, or it might be just too much white on the page. I don't really know. But what I do know is if you have a few seconds to grab someone's eye, you need to add more color and punch to your photos.

A stylized shot can romance your buyer into purchasing

Light and background

This brings us to the last thing a photographer must manage: light and background.

You may not always have control of the background or have the time to create a stylized shot. If you have a place where you can set up a mini-studio with a few props and some color backdrops, you can make an impact on your viewer. A stylized shot can romance your buyer into purchasing.

Let's start with the basics. If you sell a wide variety of products, a simple, neutral color background will work. Go for something tan, silver, gold or gray. That way your products will never really clash with the background.

The background color can be combined to create a mood within your store to complement the type of items you're selling. For delicate items use a soft color palette—white, pastel yellow and pinks. Warm colors are known to raise a person's heart rate and thus, create excitement. If you want people to really lose their minds and start a bidding frenzy, use colors like yellow, red and orange.

To create a stylized shot for your collectibles, keep the look and feel of the era the item came from. Do you know what colors were popular then? Use them. For example, the 1970s brought us avocado green, brown and mustard yellow.

If you want people to think your products are all-natural, green, organic or even garden-related, use earth tones: blues, greens and gray are all colors found in nature.

The few simple steps outlined in this article can go a long way to turning your ordinary pictures into professional-looking product shots. A few simple steps and introducing a little color in the background will help buyers focus in on your products. And that's a good thing!

About the Author

Cindy Shebley is an eBay Certified Business Consultant, Education Specialist, Store Designer and author who teaches throughout the Northwest. The recently released eBay Marketing Bible is available in bookstores everywhere. Cindy’s Web Sellers Circle program helps sellers grow their businesses and stay competitive in today's marketplace.

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

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