If you've been listing items for sale or bid online for a while, you probably already know the importance of including good images. For your prospective customers, seeing is believing when they compare your item descriptions to the photos you provide. And though the camera is definitely your ally in helping customers feel confident in the items they might buy from you, the nagging truth is that sometimes, the camera does lie (but not intentionally).
Whether you need to crop, color correct or just sharpen fuzzy edges, here are some important tips to help you decide when and how to conjure up a bit of image enhancement magic—not for the sake of illusion but as a point of honest representation.
Why tinker with your images?
Try as you might, the pictures you take of your goods sometimes need just some minor tweaking to accurately represent what you're selling. However, these are merely "adjustments," minor modifications to let your customers see what it is you see as you look at your goods. If you compare the item in front of you with the picture you just took and now believe it requires some major reworking, you should probably just reshoot it. But if you just need to "nudge" the sharpness setting here or the color saturation dial there, proceed.
But beware: If your image editing results in the concealment of actual blemishes or defects in the item, stop immediately. You'll want to steer clear of those fabled "touched up" photos that mask an item's true appearance and mislead your customers into believing they'll receive something significantly better than what you really have to offer.
Always compare your final image to the actual piece and ask yourself if the image looks better than the item itself
This is not to say altering item images is an exercise in deception. However, many sellers have unintentionally misrepresented their items in an otherwise honest effort to provide customers with a clearer and more colorful picture. To avoid this accidental occurrence, always compare your final image to the actual piece and ask yourself if the image looks better than the item itself.
Photo editing software comes in a wide variety of prices and features. If you want the Cadillac of applications, look no further than Adobe's Photoshop. It's the application the pros use, and not surprisingly, it can command a professional's price of several hundred dollars or more. If a more economically priced application will suit you, look at Jasc Software's Paint Shop Pro Photo, Microsoft's Picture-It! or Roxio's PhotoSuite. Each is generally available for less than $100 and can deliver the fundamental photo-editing features you'll need.
The truly frugal among us have found many shareware and freeware versions of some photo-editing applications ready to be downloaded from the Internet right to your computer. Though these free products might have a limited use period, or limited capabilities, free downloads are a great way to test drive applications.
And don't overlook that you may already have a decent image editor that came pre-loaded on your computer, or within a CD-ROM accompanying the digital camera you bought.
Take care not to increase contrast so much that you over-saturate the actual colors
Fine-tuning the fine details
So what exactly can you hope to adjust and correct if your image doesn't exactly represent your item for sale? Using one of the image editors previously mentioned, here are the most common image enhancements you can make with just a few clicks and drags of your computer's mouse:
- Brightness and Contrast: If your image is too dark, washed out, or rather murky, work with the brightness and contrast controls to draw out details and brighten the color tones. Take care not to increase contrast so much that you over-saturate the actual colors, though.
- Color Saturation/Hue: If the lighting you used cast an odd tint on your item's natural coloring, the hue control will allow you to independently adjust the red, green and blue levels (or all at the same time). With only minor adjustment, you can deliver the actual coloring of your item that was otherwise misrepresented in your un-retouched photo. And if the color's bleeding and blooming, dial back the saturation a bit.
- Sharpen/Edge Enhance/Smooth: After making other adjustments, you might find the need to add crispness to your image or, conversely, soften what might have emerged as harsh edges. Using these controls, you can bring out blurred detail or smooth out jagged edges. Be careful, though, as this adjustment can often result in giving your image that unmistakable "touched up" look (evidenced by the pesky blocking effect).
Few shoppers are inclined to wait around while a 'fat' image creeps onto their computer display
Naturally, the different image editors use different terminology, and manage their features uniquely from product to product. If you're looking to become a real expert with the editor you've selected, hit the Internet and search for Web sites that offer free help. A search on the name of your image editor will typically reveal multiple sites that offer simple tips and even some impressively thorough tutorials. And, again, these are usually free sites, so what are you waiting for? (As a precaution: Take heed if your browser's security settings indicate a site might harbor content harmful to your computer; it happens).
Yes, size matters
Finally, don't overlook the importance of being equally attentive to the size of your photos. Online shoppers can be an impatient lot, and few are inclined to wait around while a "fat" image creeps onto their computer display.
Rather than risk losing a sale, be sure your images load quickly, by keeping the image file sizes at or below the 100 KB mark, and definitely below 72 pixels per inch—the maximum image resolution browsers can render. Start with your camera: Work image adjustments down from ultra-fine to medium quality (which still renders a nice photo). You can also use image-editing applications to resize larger images, but watch out for image degradation. And, eBay image hosting services at eBay and Auctiva can help manage the size situation so you don't have to.
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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.