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Shoot to Sell: Taking Better Photos for eBay, Etsy & Instructables
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eBay: Last bastion of the truly awful product shot.

The fuzzy focus, the baleful tinge of the fluorescent lights, the blinding glare of the flash. It’s almost depressing.

(Except for that one listing where you could see the naked photographer in the reflection of the mirror he was trying to sell. That was hilarious.)

If you sell stuff online, you know that you need attractive pictures to sell your wares. If you’ve ever done a tutorial for sites like Instructables, you’ve run into the same issues.

Don’t sweat it. It’s not really too difficult, you just have to put a little thought into it.

Remember, if you can make somebody want to buy Aunt Tilly’s ceramic owl collection, you can conquer the world.

How to Take Better Photos for eBay, Etsy & Instructables

p.s. On Twitter? Follow photojojo for more cool photo stuff. Including members-only Photojojo store discounts.

p.p.s. We’ve got new episodes of “You Suck at Photoshop” and they’re gooood. But don’t forget some folks might be offended. We’re just saying is all.


If you read our food photography tips a little while back, this may sound eerily familiar. The fact is, the principles are similar. It’s all about making something look more appealing, whether it’s a bracelet or a baguette.

Lighting

Elvis decanter

  • If you can find a way to use natural light, do it. Set up your shot near a window (or near a white wall if it reflects enough window light).
  • If you have a yard and the weather’s nice enough to shoot outside, drag a card table out back and set up an impromptu studio. Early morning and late afternoon light will be easier to shoot in than harsh, direct, noontime sun.
  • If you can’t use natural light, be sure to use the white balance function on your camera. You can also use image editing software like Photoshop to clean up your photos after the fact. Play with the color balance to take out any color casts you may have picked up from artificial lighting, and lighten the photos if they’re too dim. This is particularly important if you’re trying to show the color of your item.
  • Using a flash may work for tutorials and larger items, but won’t work for small items like jewelry. You can try our film canister flash diffuser or tape a little piece of white tissue paper over your flash to avoid glare.
  • If you have a cardboard box lying around, you can make your own softbox. You’ll be amazed how playing with lighting can improve your photos.

Background

gemmafactrix rings

  • Keep your backgrounds as simple as possible.
  • If your worktable is ugly but it’s the only place you can set up, cover the surface with some nice paper from the art supply store. Tablecloths work fine if they’re well-ironed; wrinkles will distract the eye.
  • For tutorials, light backgrounds tend to work best. Color can work if it’s not too distracting and doesn’t clash with what you’re photographing.
  • For small items such as jewelry, you can use more interesting backgrounds. Gemmafactrix uses vintage books and industrial surfaces to show off her jewelry on Etsy, and it works great. Wood, paper, cloth and metal can all add a little something to your images.
  • For tutorials and larger items like clothing, you’ll have to pull back to get everything in the shot. Make sure the rest of your studio/ apartment/ mobile command unit isn’t visible in the shot. Set up by a blank wall and use it as a backdrop.
  • Be aware that if you have windows or mirrored surfaces in your shot, your reflection will show up as well. Don’t forget to put some pants on unless you want to become an internet phenomenon.

How to Shoot

tutorial

  • Use a tripod even if you think you have enough light. When you’re taking photos of small objects, a little camera shake can end up blurring major details.
  • For small items, get in as close as you can. Make the viewer feel like they could reach out and touch it. Use the macro setting on your camera.
  • If you have an SLR, you can pick up a couple of close-up filters- they’re a cheaper alternative to fancy zoom lenses.
  • More importantly, don’t get in so close that your camera can’t focus. Good sharp focus is more important than filling the frame.
  • Since you’re going to use these photos on the web, you can always take the photo at a higher resolution and use Photoshop to crop in tight. You’ll probably still have resolution to spare when you’re done.
  • If you’re taking pictures of a tutorial and need to show your hands performing a step, get a friend to help you out. It’s just too hard to get a good photo of your own hands, unless you make yourself an amazing headcam.

What to Shoot

pretty raccoon shirt

  • Take pictures from every angle you can think of, and shoot way more than you think you need to.
  • If you’re doing a tutorial, document every step of the process- you may not think you need that shot, but you might want it later on. Take a picture of all the ingredients together before you start, and take a few nice feature shots of the final product.
  • If you’re photographing clothing or jewelry, get a picture of someone wearing it. Ask one of your cute friends to model for you.
  • If you don’t want to model something on a person (like one-of-a-kind earrings you don’t want to sell after they’ve been in somebody’s ears) put a familiar object in the shot for size comparison.
  • If you’re trying to sell something, include a variety of pictures. A close-up detail, a shot of the whole thing, and a couple of different angles will help people see what they’re getting.

More Resources

  • Photo.net has a great guide to macro photography, complete with technical stuff about lenses!
  • CameraJim has put together some helpful guides to shooting for eBay.
  • Check out Etsy’s how-to video for more awesome photo tips and cute hipsters!

Photo Credits: rings: Gemmafactrix, deer shirt: Pretty Raccoon, others: Kelly Jensen. Featured necklace by Lusterbunny.

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