Ebay Photos That Sell: Taking Great Product Shots for Ebay and Beyond


"I've been an admirer of Dan Gookin since he wrote DOS For Dummies and spawned the For Dummies phenomenon. He takes things to a new level with this amazing and much needed book on practical product photography. Use his advice and you'll simply make more money. Highly recommended."

—John C. Dvorak, columnist, PC Magazine

Anyone can sell their stuff online. The challenge is to do it better than the competition and get the best possible results, ...

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"I've been an admirer of Dan Gookin since he wrote DOS For Dummies and spawned the For Dummies phenomenon. He takes things to a new level with this amazing and much needed book on practical product photography. Use his advice and you'll simply make more money. Highly recommended."

—John C. Dvorak, columnist, PC Magazine

Anyone can sell their stuff online. The challenge is to do it better than the competition and get the best possible results, every time. If you're attempting to sell your guitar on eBay, a photo of Aunt Pearl June strumming it in the backyard isn't likely to cut it. Does that mean you need to hire a professional photographer or invest in expensive equipment? Not if you follow the ingenious advice in this book!

eBay Photos That Sell teaches home-spun entrepreneurs how to create professional-quality product photos using a standard digital camera and a few handy tricks and inexpensive techniques. With page after page of inspiring examples and expert insights, you'll figure out how to capture everything from hats to wineglasses to MP3 players. You'll understand what makes one photo better than another and discover how to create images that viewers connect with—ones that evoke the "I must have this" feeling. Ultimately, it will help you attract customers and make sales, without investing a lot of time or money.

Inside, you'll learn how to:

  • Follow the basic rules for taking crisp, well-lit shots that outshine the competition
  • Set up shots quickly in your home or office
  • Create props and accessories from inexpensive items found at home or the local hardware store
  • Know how and when to use your camera's features, bells, and whistles to your advantage
  • Take the time to set up your photograph properly so you don't have to fix things later
  • Use photo-editing software to make final adjustments
  • Learn to size and format your photos effectively for the Web
  • Know when a simple black background is the best way to make your image pop
  • Build a safe and organized place to store your pictures so you can easily find them
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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
If you sell on eBay (or anywhere else), you need every possible competitive advantage. Here’s one of the best: great pictures. Pictures that make an emotional connection with your customer. Pictures that show what really matters. Pictures that sell. Most eBay photos are lousy. You can do way better. This book shows how. It could pay for itself on your very next sale.

Dan Gookin and Robert Birnbach reveal product photography secrets any seller can use: where to shoot, how to light, what to leave in, what to crop out, what to use photo editing software for. Along the way, they offer tips for shooting everything from old magazines and baseball cards to jewelry and clothes. Oh, and since the idea is to make money, they show how to do it all “on the cheap,” without fancy equipment. Bill Camarda, from the February 2005 Read Only

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780782143812
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/28/2005
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 8.04 (w) x 10.18 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Gookin is the author of numerous consumer technology titles, including DOS for Dummies, PCs for Dummies, and Digital Scanning and Photography. Robert Birnbach is a professional product photographer whose clients include Pottery Barn, Target, Apple, and Williams Sonoma.

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Read an Excerpt

eBay Photos That Sell

By Dan Gookin

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7821-4381-4

Chapter One

Selling Your Image

In This Chapter

Professional and amateur photography The emotion involved with sales Good and bad picture examples Rules for taking the best photograph The results you want

It's you versus the other guy, and the competition is stiff. Whether you're selling off great grandma's china, some extra stamps from your collection, or knickknacks from your own homegrown antique store, you want to take a picture that helps sell your stuff, a photograph that connects with the viewer and makes your item look better than the competition's.

Taking a photograph of an item you want to sell is vastly different from taking pictures at a birthday party. Yes, you can use the same camera. But creating an image that sells involves a deeper understanding of photography-and that's more than just knowing about all the knobs on your camera. It involves making a connection between the photograph and the buyer. That's the secret this chapter uncovers.

Say "Cheese"

There is a whopping difference between taking a picture for your photo album and taking a picture of something you want to sell. If that's news to you, great! (It should be news to most folks, given the clumsy "for sale" photographs you can easily find on eBay.) If it's not news to you, at least you can recognize the professional edge, especially when you compare a good image with a bad one. Yet despite the obvious difference, few people can put their finger on exactly what makes one photo better than another.

Don't mull it over! Here's the answer: In a nutshell, the difference between the professionally taken photograph and the bazillions of pictures amateurs take every day is that the professional knows how to make a connection between the photograph and the person looking at the photograph. Everything else-the lighting, the technique, the approach-is all working toward the same thing: making the connection.

Aunt Flo versus the Professional

Photography has been around for more than 100 years. It's neither a dark nor a mysterious art. There are professional photographers, but amateurs do most of the picture taking. That's possible because taking a picture is one-click simple. But that miracle didn't happen overnight.

Millions of research dollars have been spent over the years to find ways to make picture taking easier. Camera and film companies have invested in quick and idiot-proof ways to stick film in a camera. Research has been done on various methods of automatically focusing, automatic no-red-eye flash, and adjusting the exposure.

And I'm certain that psychologists have studied ways to help dear Aunt Flo know which end of the camera to look through. Such an investment made sense because people just love to take pictures. Amateurs are crazy about photography-quality be damned!

After all, a picture is a picture; the rough edges can be overlooked simply because photography in itself is just so darn amazing. Sure, James's head is off the frame, but you can see Kelly just fine. Jean and Joan look a bit fuzzy in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, but see how Bob got in the shot as well (see Figure 1.1)? And God bless Grandma Eunice for believing that you had to take every picture before you could turn in a roll of film; otherwise, we wouldn't have scrapbooked the "Grandpa Frank Reading the Paper in His Underwear" series.

The same applies to taking photos of bicycles, dinnerware, or clothing that you want to sell on eBay. Figure 1.2 is typical in this regard. Yes, that must be a beautiful Fabergé-like egg in the picture, but is it that one silver egg that's really what's for sale? What about all the other junk in the picture? And then look in the background: isn't that the photographer reflected in the glass?

Contrast Figure 1.2 with Figure 1.3. It's the same egg, but it's a better shot. The focus is completely on the egg itself. You can see the detail. You notice the little golden legs in Figure 1.3, which are easy to overlook in Figure 1.2. The image in Figure 1.3 helps to sell the object with just a few simple tricks-time, thought, and care-nothing that this book cannot teach you.

Note: No one knows for certain where the phrase "Say 'cheese'" originated, though it's easy to assume that by saying that word, the mouth opens into a semi-smiling position. But what's odd is that the phrase transcends cultures. In other lands, folks will pose for a picture and say "cheese" in their own native tongue-even when their word for cheese might not cause the mouth to open at all!

Admit it: there are some bad shots out there, taken by perfectly fine cameras, but imperfect photographers. What's missing is the connection. The professional knows how to connect with the person who's viewing the photograph. You may need more than 1000 words to describe something, but if you take the time to set up your photograph, the connection will be there. Even an amateur photographer recognizes it.

All Sales Are Emotional

When it comes time to take a photograph of something you want to sell, you need to pitch away all your amateur notions of photography. Even if you understand the mechanics-the focal length, shutter speed, aperture, and other technical camera terms-there is something more that needs to be put in the photograph.

When a photograph becomes a sales tool, you depart from the realm of photography and enter the high-pressured world of sales. Face it, you're not trying to sell anything (or anyone) when you show a picture of your family sitting on a blanket having a picnic. But when you have something to sell-anything from a baseball card, to a rare coin, to an antique clock or an MP3 player-the photograph becomes a means to help you sell, to make money.

In sales, you have competition, especially in the expanding world of online sales. On eBay, 100 other auctions can be going on at the same time, selling much the same thing. Immediately you know that your photograph must look better than the other seller's picture. Whether you're hawking the same thing as your competition or your stuff is miles better, your photograph must outshine that of the other person or you'll lose the sale-and the money. But there's even more to it than that.

All sales are emotional-on the part of the seller, but more important, on the part of the buyer. Emotion is present no matter what is being sold; even a basic necessity has emotion attached to its sale.

The person who buys a new car is after the emotion-the look and feel and excitement of the new car. Collectors may seem cold and calculating in their decisions, but they want to own and hold things they deem precious. New clothes make you look and feel good. Name a kid who doesn't get thrilled over a new toy. No matter the item, emotion is ever present in the buyer, who can be swayed to make a purchase by your ability to take the photo that makes the connection.

The best photographs make the emotional connection, bringing out the proper moods in the buyer. They think, "Wow! I could have that fantastic-looking lamp in my own house!" or "That train set is in mint condition and would be an asset to my collection." Or, "Wow, that coffee cup sure would sate my caffeine binge!" (See Figure 1.4.)

With the proper photograph conveying a feeling, the sales happen. But you must know how to take photographs that make the emotional connection or that evoke the kind of "I must have this" feeling in the buyer.

Rules for Taking the Best Picture

The photograph is such an important part of selling things that it's curious (and often laughable) why so many people who try to sell things take such horrid pictures. Maybe they're in a hurry. Maybe they really think that having neighbor Agnes's hands holding up the flowerpot against the velvet wallpaper is the best way to sell such a thing. Or perhaps they don't understand the emotional connection and the simple things this book describes to help make that connection and sell the product.

The rest of this book is devoted to helping you take the best possible pictures and sell your stuff. Before rushing off, creating your own photo studio, and snapping pictures, however, it's best that you learn and understand a few basic rules.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

You've doubtless heard this rule before, and that's because it's a good rule that is too quickly forgotten: Keep it simple, stupid.

It's too easy to overthink things. It's too easy to become distracted with minutiae and get sidetracked. Don't be afraid to try the easy way. Take a step back and consider easy alternatives when things become complex.

Consider Figure 1.5, in which someone is trying to sell a set of salt-and-pepper shakers. The shakers are set on a table, as they would be used in real life, but the shot is distracting. There are objects in the background, but not only that, the shot is taken with a wide-angle lens that distorts things. Although it is a true image of the shakers, it's not the best image.

To improve things, you don't need much. Remember: keep it simple. In this case, a better shot in Figure 1.6 simply has the camera moved to a different angle, which still shows the same table as in Figure 1.5, but shows only the salt-and-pepper shakers.

Another improvement was made in Figure 1.6 as well: a sheet of white cardboard was set off to one side to help "bounce" light back onto the salt-and-pepper shakers. This cardboard wasn't any expensive material found only in a photography store. It was just a sheet of white cardboard, ideal for reflecting enough light to balance the sunlight coming in naturally from the window. No extra expense was involved, yet the shot looks like a million bucks over the original.

This book is packed with such examples of keeping it simple; they'll save you time, and they'll make you money.

Less Is More

In addition to keeping things simple, consider limiting the number of objects in each photograph. Think: less is more.

Remember the egg in Figure 1.2 with all the objects in the background? Yet Figure 1.3 showed all that's necessary in the shot.

In Figure 1.7, you see a set of wineglasses. Four of them are for sale, and four are shown. But do you really need to show all four? After all, the text description on eBay will say, "Set of wineglasses, quantity four" (or something like that). So the buyer knows the quantity and can probably assume that they're all the same glass. Why not just show one and show it best? Less is more!

In Figure 1.8, you see a wineglass for sale. It's probably one of a set, yet only the single glass is shown. In keeping with the previous rule, the setting is simple. An out-of-focus wine bottle in the background helps create the setting (covered in the next section). The camera is at a high angle, which helps you discern the true shape of the glass. And the glass is partially filled with wine, evoking a context for the buyer-literally inviting them to try a drink from this glass.

Compare how Figure 1.7 makes you feel versus Figure 1.8. Keep in mind that all sales are emotional, so note which image works better on that level. Which one says to you, that could be me sitting there sipping wine from that fine glass?

You don't need to show a whole group of identical items you're selling. Instead, use one. Less is more. Just show one of the dozen lawn chairs, one place setting, one shot glass, one jewelry box.

Choose Your Approach

This book illustrates two different approaches to taking photographs of things you want to sell:

The subjective approach

The objective approach

The subjective approach places an object in an environment, showing the object in context. Some objects come across better this way, as opposed to being pictured alone For example, the salt-and-pepper shakers of Figure 1.6 or the wineglass shown in Figure 1.8. Those items are placed in an environment. This helps create a better emotional connection with the buyer as opposed to showing the object alone against a solid background or otherwise out of context. In the subjective approach, it's easier for the viewer to imagine how they will use the object; you're setting up an example and selling your potential buyer a fantasy.

The objective approach shows an object placed in an artificial environment or out of context. A solid background or a minimal background is used that doesn't distract or pull the focus away from the object. This type of approach works best for objects that the buyer is familiar with, things they know about. So the context aspect of the subjective approach isn't really needed.

As an example, the egg shown in Figure 1.3 illustrates an objective approach. The background is present, but out of focus. That helps bring the egg forward and let the buyer examine the detail.

The objective approach is used with the Leica camera shown in Figure 1.9. This approach minimizes distractions and permits a potential buyer to concentrate on the object itself: it can be scrutinized, its details examined, and its worthiness judged. The objective approach appeals to people who know what they want and don't need the extra push that showing an object in context offers. It's more coolly logical than the subjective approach.

Common to both approaches is the emotional connection with the buyer. Remember that emotion is involved with selling, and you're using the photograph to help push that emotion. With the subjective approach, the emotion is a fantasy image, selling the item in an imaginary context that the viewer can project themselves into. The emotions might be subtler with the objective approach, but they're still there; a collector needs to be sold the next item in their collection to satisfy whatever needs the collection gives them.

Choosing the right approach depends on many things, yet it's possible to use either approach in many circumstances. The same vase is shown objectively in Figure 1.10 and subjectively in Figure 1.11. Deciding which image is best to use depends on the subject matter, who you're trying to sell to, and your gut instinct. This book helps you decide which approach works best, how to set up and use those approaches, and how to take your photographs.

The images in Figures 1.10 and 1.11 were taken in the same location. Setting the vase on a sheet of white paper, which was bent upward, created the "infinite horizon" effect in Figure 1.11. Otherwise, it's the same vase in the same location. Remember: keep it simple, stupid.

Thoughtful Setup

Great care must be taken in creating the type of photograph you need, subjective or objective. Setup is involved, which is a must! The camera must be properly positioned, never handheld. Attention must be paid to the lighting. Technical issues must be dealt with. (Don't fret; it's all carefully explained in this book.)

Why bother? Because you want more than yet another amateur photograph! Compare the quick rush of the table photographed shown in Figure 1.12 with that in Figure 1.13. It's the same table in both figures.

In Figure 1.12, the camera angle is bad because the tabletop directly reflects the sunlight. Also the floor color tends to blend in with the table, detracting from the table's appearance. Sure, that may be the exact spot where the table sits in the seller's house, but because no attention was paid to the setup, the photograph is less than what it could be.

In Figure 1.13, it's the same table. In fact, the camera is even at the same angle. But the table was moved away from the window so that the bad reflection is gone. The table was also cleaned-which is an amazing thing to try and something many people often forget. Clean up the stuff you plan to sell!

In Figure 1.13, the new floor helps warm up the image, balancing the industrial gray of the table. A magazine placed beneath the table's glass top helps the buyer to connect with the image, showing a possible way of using the table. And finally, the door is open and objects are placed inside, again showing not only that there is a glass door in the table (which isn't obvious in Figure 1.12) but that the inside of the table can be used for storage.

The main difference between Figures 1.12 and 1.13 is simple: setup.

Figure 1.14 shows a popular MP3 player, the Apple iPod. The owner probably keeps his iPod in such a position and such a place, but without careful setup, you have an awful picture. When the iPod is lying flat, all dimension is lost. The wide camera angle makes the thing look distorted. And what the hell is the screwdriver doing in the shot?

Figure 1.15 shows a more improved version of the iPod with just a modicum of setup and a few fancy camera tricks that this book later discloses. The difference between the images is not only in the setup; you can bet dollars to donuts that the iPod shown in Figure 1.15 sells before the one in Figure 1.14.


Excerpted from eBay Photos That Sell by Dan Gookin Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Selling your image 1
Ch. 2 Your own photo studio 19
Ch. 3 Basic photography 37
Ch. 4 Photo editing 69
Ch. 5 Creating images with the subjective approach 99
Ch. 6 Creating images with the objective approach 127
Ch. 7 Storing images 143
App. A Getting the image to eBay 159
App. B Graphics file formats 163
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2005

    Jim S. from Georgia

    When I purchased this book I wanted to meet two goals. First I wanted useful information to help me select a digital camera. Second I wanted helpful, easy to understand info on taking professional looking photo's that can be used on eBay.This book met both goals very well. It has some technical features of a digital camera explained, but it is well written in a style even a novice can understand.The photo's and illustrations compliment well the author's subject matter. If you want to improve your eBay photo results. And you want to know what features are important when using a digital camera for this purpose, this book is well worth the price.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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