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How To Take Good Photos for eBay Listings

eBay Photo Basics – Part Three

By: Skip McGrath ©2009

1. Use a tripod. Unless you are shooting outdoors or using a flash, digital cameras tend to use a very slow shutter speed. With a slow shutter speed, typically under 1/125th of a second, most people cannot hold a camera steady enough to prevent blur. Using a sturdy tripod will prevent blur and allow you to shoot all the way down to 1/25th of a second with good results. Make sure your tripod is sturdy and has an adjustable head that will rotate the camera both horizontally and vertically. A sturdy tripod can cost as much as $100, but I have found that most large photo stores often have good –even professional quality, tripods second-hand for as little as $20-$30.

2. Focus carefully and correctly. I see out of focus pictures on eBay every day. This is usually attributed to one of two things. Autofocus malfunction or lack of depth of field. Most digital cameras project a laser or infrared beam onto the object being photographed and measure the reflection to determine the focus. This beam can often be fooled by large objects that allow the beam to spread out or something reflective on the object that fools the beam.

The other issue is depth of field. Have you ever looked at a photograph where the subject is in focus and the background is all fuzzy? Depth of field is the focal distance from near to far the camera will cover where everything is in focus. The aperture, or lens opening, on a camera adjusts to allow more of less light into the camera. When the lens opening is large, the camera has a very narrow range of focus. When the opening is small, the focal length is longer. This effect is magnified when you are shooting very close up as you do when taking photos of small objects.

Here is an image that is partially out of focus due to depth of field

The aperture can be set manually on most of the digital cameras we listed above and many others. Lens openings are marked as a series of numbers that range from 3.5 to 16. The higher the number the more depth of field you will have. This is critical when shooting up close with the macro function as the macro function also limits the depth of field (for technical reasons I won’t get into here). If I am shooting an object close up, I typically use a aperture of 8 or higher. With automatic digital cameras when you set the aperture at a high number, the camera compensates for less light by slowing down the shutter speed. This is why you need a tripod. If you try and hand hold a camera at a slow shutter speed you will almost always get a blurry photo.

The other advantage of setting your camera to Aperture Priority is the autofocus will not be fooled as easily if you use it.

3. Use soft lighting. Sunlight or direct light from a bulb or a flash can create hot spots and reflections in your photos. If you are shooting outside, you want to shoot in bright shade or on a cloudy day. If you have a north facing window, this can often produce very nice diffuse light. If you are using lights, you can either purchase white plastic light covers to diffuse the light or use a light tent such as the EZcube.

The EZcube is probably the most widely used system by eBay sellers. It makes taking great photos easy. You simply place an object inside the light tent, shine the lights on the outside and you get very nice diffused light. This eliminates glare and reflection from shiny objects. Also it has a seamless background and you can place different colored paper or cloth in the background to get different effects. You can purchase the EZcube light tents at a discount at www.EZAuctionTools.com.

4. Avoid clutter. Try and photograph only the object you are shooting. Placing an object on a table with other stuff in the background will distract from your subject. If you use something like the EZcube this is easy, but sometimes you have to photograph large objects that would not fit. In this case, but sure to clean up the background as much as possible. If you are shooting a computer for example, remove everything from the desk it’s on and hide the wires or any other distracting objects. If you are shooting a car, drive the car to a park where you can shoot it will lawn and trees in the background, instead of your garage or driveway.

If you are shooting apparel, you should invest in a dress form or mannequin. Then place the mannequin against a wall draped with cloth to contrast the color and diffuse any shadows.

5. Avoid Underexposure. If you are shooting objects on a white or bright background or shooting outside in bright light, you camera’s automatic light meter can often be fooled by trying to adjust to the surrounding bright light rather than the object. Most good digital cameras have an over/under exposure compensation adjustment. If you are shooting on a white background such as in an EZcube, try setting your camera’s exposure setting to +1. This will allow more light onto the subject. One way you can tell you are underexposing is if a white background appears grey in the photo. If this happens or if your objects are just too dark, they try adjusting the exposure compensation until the white looks truly white.

6. Use the correct white balance. Different types of light have different wavelengths. Without getting into a discussion of optical physics, this means you have to set up camera for the type of light you are using. If your camera is set on Daylight and you shoot with an ordinary household light bulb, you photos will appear yellow. If you shoot with a fluorescent light, your photos will appear blue-grey. You can purchase Daylight bulbs. These are ordinary light bulbs that have the same wave length as daylight. The people who sell the EZcube also sell a variety of Daylight bulbs. You can also find them at most large camera stores. All of the digital cameras mentioned above have a white balance setting. If you are using indoor light bulbs or fluorescent lights, just set your camera for the correct type of light you are using.

7. Get close. Getting close to your subject will produce a better photo. It is easier to focus accurately when you are close and it will show more of the object without the distracting clutter.

The best way to learn to take good photos is to practice. Read your camera’s instruction manual completely and experiment with all of the controls and functions until you are comfortable with them.

Digital Photography Pro Tip
When you are shooting colorful objects, place a piece of colored cloth or craft paper behind the object. Pick a color that matches one of the minor colors –not the main color. For example if you were shooting a blue teapot that had other colors in the trim such as red or yellow, you would pick a red or yellow background paper. This is a trick used by professional photographers that will give your photo an image of more depth and help the main color pop (stand out) in the image.

So just practice to get all of this right and it will pay off in higher eBay sales.

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