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Photographing Your Stuff for eBay

By Tom Kirkman

Do you have a number of perfectly saleable items relegated to that limbo called "I'm gonna put it on eBay?" Well, if you can write your name in the fine patina of dust accumulating on this hibernating source of income, then it's been too long, and in many cases, the reason is usually, "I just have to take some pictures of it."

Like most things, it's a process, and the toughest part is getting over the hump and simply beginning. Like going to the gym, the resistance factor is initially high, but once you're there you wonder why you made such a fuss. What we need to do is to "codify" the process, creating a checklist of sorts that automates you into the middle of it, and before you know it, wraps up quickly.

A word of advice about selling, from a 35-year veteran (B&H): When you sell something on eBay, envision many customers walking into your own "virtual" store. Keep in mind your own needs when shopping, and how you would like to be treated as a customer. Just because you are selling something that you don't use does not mean that you should be offhand or shoddy in representing it. Doing so is self-sabotage, detracting from the item's value and resulting in a smaller net profit.

Fuji Z100fd Olympus FE340

We're going to keep the materials and equipment list to a minimum because I'm sure you're thinking, "Hey, I want to make money, not spend money," so we'll limit our needs to household items, low-priced "expendables," and a few small-ticket tools for those who want to do this regularly. We'll assume that you own a digital camera. Needless to say, if you're in the market for one, B&H has the largest inventory and the best prices anywhere. In fact, cameras like the Fuji Z100fd and the Olympus FE340 feature Auction or Blog Modes that resize images in-camera, and facilitate uploading of multiple views to the auction site of your choice.

Auction Mode stitches multiple photos into a single image for easy uploading to your favorite auction site

While it's a great idea to know your camera's functions completely, let's face it—few people do. However, it would be helpful to read the sections on: a) flash and how to adjust its power (if possible); b) changing the ISO to obtain an adequate shutter speed to avoid blur; c) exposure compensation to correct too light or too dark photos; d) White Balance.

1) Lighting: Choose your source

Outdoors. Provided it's not raining, this is always an option. A bright, overcast day provides light that will eliminate shadows. Turn your camera's flash on to add some life to the flat contrast.

On a sunny day, try to choose an area of open shade. Your photos may take on a slightly blue tint when photographing this way. Check your camera's white balance settings. There may be an "overcast" or similar setting to solve this. Or, turn on the flash, adjusting its power if possible, for a proper exposure balance.


Household fixtures. Those with halogen track lights or high-hat fixtures are at an advantage here. Just crank the dimmers up as high as they can go, and fill in the shadows with flash. Adjust the flash power if you can, or you can re-task table lamps to fill in the shadows. If your result is too orange with Auto White Balance, select the light bulb, or whichever icon your camera uses for tungsten light.

Window light. Strong indirect window light is, many times, an ideal source if the size of your window and item permit. Once again, the result may be a bit blue, and is easily remedied by setting white balance to "overcast" or similar setting. Shooting tents and domes that mimic this soft, shadowless light with virtually any light source are available at low cost.

Impact Digital Light Shed
Shooting Tent

2) Accessories and Enhancements

Background Material. Rugs, bed sheets, kitchen tables, and the living room floor are all familiar as backgrounds to anyone who has browsed eBay. While overly slick is unnecessary, a clean presentation is always a positive sign, and conveys the idea that the sale item has been well cared-for. A small roll of Savage seamless paper or a Background Panel is a very modest investment and can be reused many times.

Seamless Paper Background Panel
Seamless Paper Background Panel

Reflectors and bounce cards. For about $5.00, any of the above lighting setups can be improved by propping up a piece white matte board or reflect-o-board, to bounce light into the shadows. Even a piece of aluminum foil fashioned into a reflective A-frame can help, for smaller objects.

White Matte Board Reflect-O-Board
White Matte Board Reflect-O-Board

Fun-Tak. This is a removable, reusable, non-toxic blue adhesive which molds like putty and is always helpful for propping, positioning, and holding small objects in place for photos.

3) Views of Your Sale Item

Front, back, side, bottom, top. Depict the inner workings if possible. Think of the details you might want to see if you were the buyer. That includes serial numbers, tags, bar codes, and anything else that lends authenticity to the item. Anticipating questions and answering them with your photos will minimize time spent responding to e-mail queries from prospective buyers.

4) Scale:

Manufacturers and advertisers use a variety of familiar objects to indicate the relative size of an object, especially a small one. We're all used to seeing packs of playing cards and gum, quarters, or dimes used for this purpose. Not everyone envisions specifications as accurately as we might hope, so nothing is as simple and informative as the inclusion of a ruler in the photo, next to the item.

5) Details

Condition and damage. Probably not for publication, but a photo record of the pre-shipped condition of the item, especially detailing any damage or cosmetic imperfections, will facilitate rapid settlement of insurance claims for shipping damage, while minimizing buyer disputes.

Hopefully, the above will take some of the pain and uncertainty out of the process. And when you're rolling in those PayPal dollars and positive ratings, remember your friends at B&H.

Basic Equipment List

Cameras with Auction Mode

Fujifilm FinePix Z100fd Digital Camera

Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd

Olympus FE-340 Digital Camera

Olympus FE350

Olympus SP-560 UZ

Olympus SP-570 UZ

Savage Seamless paper

Savage Widetone Seamless Paper Background - 26"

Savage Widetone Seamless Paper Background - 53"

Savage Widetone Seamless Paper Background - 107"

(many colors available)

Impact Digital Light Sheds

Digital Light Shed - Small 10.5 x 10.5 x 13.5"

Digital Light Shed - Large 18 x 18 x 27.5"

Digital Light Shed – X-Large 24x24x36"

Savage Background Panels

Savage Muslin Styled, Paper Background Panels - 40x60"

(many colors available)

Savage Matte Board

Savage ProCore Mat and Mount Board - Black Antique/White - 8 x 10"

Savage ProCore Mat and Mount Board - Black Antique/White - 11 x 14"

Savage ProCore Mat and Mount Board - Black Antique/White - 16 x 20"

Savage Reflect-o-Board

Savage Reflect-o-Board - Bright Silver - 32 x 40"

Savage Reflect-o-Board - Bright Gold Smooth - 32 x 40"

For a list of all products highlighted in this article, click here

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