Photo Tip Tuesday

Photo Tip Tuesday – Product Photography

It’s no secret that photographs play a huge part in whether or not you are going to be successful selling online through sites such as eBay and Etsy; they can literally make or break a sale. A perfectly good item with terrible pictures will sit with no sale while the exact same item offered by another seller will fly off the shelf. Some buyers never even look at the description when they make a purchase, they only look at the pictures. Here are some easy tips that you can quickly implement to help improve your listing pictures and get those items moving out of your online store!

Lighting
If you can find a way to use natural light, do it. The best way is to set up your shot near a window or a white wall if it reflects enough window light. If you can’t use natural light, be sure to use the white balance function on your camera. White balance is the process of removing unrealistic color casts so objects that appear white in person are rendered white in photographs. By using the proper white balance, you can make the background of your photos much brighter without altering the color of the actual item. All cameras have different settings and you will need to refer to your camera’s manual to find out how to use the white balance settings. You may see AWB or “automatic white balance” which means the camera will try to automatically shoot with the correct white balance. Some cameras also have a setting for “manual white balance” where you can use a + or – sign to increase or decrease the white balance. This is especially nice to adjust each picture individually for what looks best. If you do not see any settings for white balance, you may have different “scene” settings on your camera, like daylight, cloudy, shady, beach, etc. You can learn more about setting the scene here.

Background
Keep your backgrounds as simple as possible. If your worktable is cluttered, 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). Color can work if it’s not too distracting and doesn’t clash with what you’re photographing. If you have a different background color in mind for your images, make sure the item is further away from the background as some of the light reflecting from it could tint the object. If you do plan to use a plain white background and are photographing an item straight on, you can “blow the background out” by using another light pointed at the area behind the object. A flash is preferable for this, as it will deliver a high strength burst of light.

For small items such as jewelry, you can use more interesting backgrounds. Some Etsy sellers use vintage books and industrial surfaces to show off their goods and it works (wood, paper, cloth and metal can all add a little something to your images). For larger items like clothing, you’ll have to pull back to get everything in the shot. Make sure the rest of your area 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. For smaller items, it’s important to provide clear photos without distraction. A backdrop that is busy with a print or shows the background of the room takes away from the item. You want the item to be the star of the photos, not what’s in the background.

A cheap and easy way to take clean photos is by purchasing poster board from a dollar store. For less than $10, you can have a photo studio for small items. Be sure to purchase two white pieces and two black pieces so that dark objects can be photographed on a light background and vice versa. One sheet can be placed on the floor or table and the second sheet can be propped against a wall for the background. Sometimes you won’t need a background piece propped up against a wall. One sheet on top of a table works very well for taking pictures of books and other flat items. The white sheets of poster board will eventually get scuffed and dirty, but the nice thing is all you need to do is buy another sheet. Try to store them flat, not rolled up or bent, so that they will lay flat for pictures and last longer.

How to Shoot
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 (this is when it helps to use the macro setting on your camera). If you have a DSLR, you can purchase a few close-up filters – they’re a cheaper alternative to some 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 online, you can always take the photo at a higher resolution and use image editing software to crop in tight.

What to Shoot
Take pictures from every angle you can think of and shoot more than you think you need to. If you’re photographing clothing or jewelry, get a picture of someone wearing it. If you don’t want to model something on a person, 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 product, and a couple of different angles will help people see what they’re getting. You’ll want to show as much detail on the item and the best way to do that is fill the camera frame with the item as you are taking the picture. Keep the item centered in the frame and allow a small area of background around the edges. Another benefit to filling the camera frame when you take the pictures is that you can eliminate the amount of time it takes to crop. If you carefully take the pictures while filling the camera frame when you take each photo, you’ll find that you can save a lot of time when you get to cropping.

Photographing Reflective Items
Photographing reflective objects can be tricky, even for experienced photographers. Using the camera’s built-in flash should be avoided for reflective surfaces. The primary challenge with photographing reflective or shiny surfaces is that they don’t absorb light. As a result, reflective areas can show up in photographs too dark, too bright, or with reflections of the environment. There are three primary ways to address these issues:

Photograph in a room with white walls: You’ll want to avoid having the color of the walls or wallpaper being reflected and appearing in the product photograph.

Use a continuous light source: Continuous lighting allows you to see your adjustments and their impact on reflections.

Utilize a diffuser: A diffuser takes a single light source and spreads it across a surface, effectively creating a much larger light. This will help fill the space around the object with more light, “softening” the lighting and making the shadows in the resulting image less harsh.

Instead of using a soft box, you could use a sheet of diffusion material like nylon or translucent papers and place them in front of the light. Soft boxes are much easier to set up, but the advantage of using a sheet of material is that with the right set-up, you can position the sheet nearer or further away from the light source to create different degrees of diffusion. To reduce reflections of the environment on the object you are photographing, you’ll need to replace them with reflections from the light source. To do this, place the light at the same angle and position as the camera but on the ‘opposite side’, like a mirror image.

If you are photographing straight on at a 0 degree angle, your diffuser would need to be as close to the front of the item as possible. This is because the surface will be acting like a mirror and anything in front of the item will show up. It can also be beneficial to have two lights with diffusion on either side with a small gap for the camera. Setting up above the camera can also work, but remember the aim is to block all the reflections from the surroundings. Whichever method you choose, make sure to get the diffusion panels nice and close.

I would recommend the use of a tripod for your camera to get the sharpest possible images. If you are using continuous light for reflective objects, you will have to make a longer exposure. Set your camera to aperture priority mode and choose a setting for the aperture. It’s generally a good idea to get as much of the item in focus as possible, so an aperture of around f/8, f/11, or f/16 will work to get good depth of field. If you want the shallow depth of field look for a product, then use f/2.8 or wider, then set the ISO to around 100 – 400 for the best image quality. Once set, the camera will select an appropriate shutter speed for the exposure (this will depend on the power of your light source).

Clean All Items First for the Best Impression
The last thing you want to do is have your buyer mistake dust or dirt for a flaw or blemish in the item. By taking a few steps to clean and prepare each item before taking pictures, you will give the best first impression to your buyers. It’s important to pay attention to detail because you can be sure that your buyer will be looking at those details before they decide to buy. On plastic items, the easiest way to remove scuffs and smudges is to use a little rubbing alcohol. Take a cotton ball, dab the alcohol on the area, let the alcohol sit for a few minutes and then rub it off. You may need to do this a few times, but it works most of the time. However, you shouldn’t use this method on wood or paper surfaces. You can also use Mary Kay Oil-Free Eye Makeup Remover as it works well for cleaning plastic scuffs.

Take a Color Swatch Picture
Sometimes, it can be difficult to capture the correct color of items, especially clothing. If you are not using the white balance function correctly on your camera, the color can sometimes come out differently. A technique that helps is including an up-close shot of the the material. Not only does this allow the buyer to see the color, but also the pattern and texture of the material. There is a trick to getting the color swatch to come out correctly; you will need to have some of the background showing so that the lighting will stay consistent.

Photograph Every Angle and Detail
Since its so important to capture every detail of the item you are selling, you’ll want to take a photo from every angle possible. Pictures are worth a thousand words… and sometimes a thousand dollars! The buyers want to see everything possible about the item they are wanting to purchase. Especially think about what the buyer would want to see. Don’t forget to photograph model numbers, serial numbers, item specifications, etc.; any thing that has moving parts should be photographed as well. If you are selling clothing, show the zippers and buttons. It’s also really important to show all the flaws and blemishes; you’ll want buyers to know exactly what they are getting. It’s not worth getting negative feedback because the buyer wasn’t expecting a flaw. A few quick pictures can save a lot of hassle and headache. It can also be hard to determine the size of an item by just pictures. One way to help with this issue is to use a recognizable object, like a coin or a can of soda, in one of your pictures; this will help the buyer get a feel for how big the item is. You could also use a ruler or tape measure in the picture; simply place this recognizable object next to the item you are selling and take a picture. However, be sure to state in the listing description that the object was only for sizing reference and is not included in the sale.

Don’t Use Stock Photos
Stock photos make listing quicker and easier, however it’s better to show the buyer exactly what they will receive when buying your item. If you show a stock photo and the buyer ends up receiving an item that has a tear in the box or a marking they weren’t expecting, it gives them the opportunity to leave negative feedback. It’s better to disclose exactly what they will be receiving. People who drop ship their items (move goods from the manufacturer directly to the retailer without going through the usual distribution channels) typically use stock photos. If you are not a drop shipper and you have the actual item in your possession, take the extra step to take pictures of it. Many sellers also use a 3rd party company to upload (or host) their eBay listing photos which allows them to put their pictures in the listing description and only upload the gallery pic on eBay. With many buyers making purchases on their mobile devices, having pictures in the description is not effective.

Review Your Pictures Before Putting All Your Equipment Away
Many people sell on Etsy or eBay from their homes and don’t have the space to leave a full photo studio up all the time. They have to set up their tripod, camera, background, etc. and put it all away when they are done. No one wants to go through all those steps to later realize that the lighting or positioning was amiss in the image. Make sure to review all the pictures your took before you put away all your gear in order to save time. If you do not have a tripod for taking pictures, it is definitely a worthy investment. You can purchase different sizes depending on the items you sell. If you sell a lot of clothing or large items, an expandable tripod will work great; if you sell small items, you can purchase a table top tripod. Almost all cameras come with a small hole on the bottom where any tripod attachment can screw into and there attachments for mobile phones that allow you to attach them to tripods as well. Using a tripod will help you hold the camera steady, eliminating blurry photos.

eBay’s Picture Requirements
Every listing must have at least one photo: Listings without accompanying photos are no longer allowed. If your item isn’t something you can photograph yourself, browse the internet for copyright-free images you can use with your listing.

Minimum photo size: eBay requires a minimum length of 500 pixels for the longest side; setting your camera’s default to High or Medium photo quality will ensure your photos are large enough.

Don’t use borders on your photos: Borders aren’t allowed on any of your photos. The only exception is if you have a “natural” border created by photographing your square or rectangular item against a neutral-colored backdrop.

No text or artwork on photos: No text or artwork (such as “free shipping” or seller logos) may be added to photos. Text that is essential to your listing should be placed in the title, subtitle or item description.

Stock photos can only be used for brand-new items: Stock photos may no longer be used as the primary photo for a used item listing. Catalog images are acceptable, but not as the primary photo for used items; exceptions are the Books, Movies, Music, and Video Game categories. Catalog images for video game consoles must adhere to the new requirement.

Enabling the zoom/enlarge feature: Your listing photos will be automatically enabled with a free zoom/enlarge feature on the view item page if they are high enough resolution. They recommend photos be between 800-1600 pixels on the longest side (height or width). This will give the buyer an even better idea of what to expect when they purchase your item. Images less than 800 pixels on the longest side will not have this feature enabled.

Etsy’s Picture Requirements
Image size: They recommend using an image that is at least 1000 pixels wide. This allows buyers use the zoom button to see the larger image. To keep your listing images consistent in size, make sure all of your photos have the same dimensions before uploading them. Images with varying sizes will be centered within a light gray box.

Image orientation: The first photo in a listing should be horizontal (landscape) or square. This ensures that the center focal point of the image appears in the cropped thumbnail views.

Image editing tools: If you’re simply cropping a photo, you can do so on the page where you’re editing or adding a listing. Once you’ve added photos to a listing, click the pencil icon to crop your photo. You can select one of the suggested crop sizes or drag the corners to customize the crop area. If you need to edit your images further, there are several free online photo editing services you can use. Check them out here.

Decent photography is often not enough to stand out on Etsy and eBay. When browsing through the listings, the items that we are more inclined to be clicked on will be the ones with great photos, while pictures that are grainy, blurry, too dark, too light or too complicated will get little to no attention. Can you think of a time when you have been shopping online and clicked on the lower quality image as opposed to the bright, clear photograph? Unless the price difference was drastic, you would probably click on the better picture. Product photography is something that even successful online sellers still spend time and effort getting right. Don’t feel bad if your pictures aren’t professional quality yet; it’s much better to have your products out there than it is to keep them off your listing because you are worried about the quality of your photos. Instead, get motivated and make your photography beautiful and enticing!

2 thoughts on “Photo Tip Tuesday – Product Photography”

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