How to Take Professional Quality eBay Photos Without Spending Money

Jez Browning

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The saying “the camera never lies” is a core principle of eBay and other online marketplaces. Because consumers can’t physically get their hands on your products, they have to rely on the information you choose to give them.

Pictures are a fantastic way to show the quality, style and condition of your product and build trust between yourself and your customers. Listings with accurate and appealing pictures usually sell much better than those with low quality images (*PDF), so this is something that you shouldn't overlook.

How do you get high quality images to help your listing sell better?

Although many manufacturers will provide professionally-shot catalogue images to people selling their products, this isn’t always an option. Nor is forking out for a professional photographer to come and shoot each of your products to display them in the best possible light.

What do you do if you need to take your own professional quality product photos for your eBay listings without spending a lot of money?

ListSmart has analysed close to 1 billion listings, meaning we’ve seen loads of great and not so great product pictures and have a pretty strong idea of what helps or hinders a listing’s ability to sell. We also have a few keen amateur photographers in the team, so we set one of them the task of taking professional-looking pictures as cheaply as possible of one of our favourite products. Using just a smartphone and a few items we had lying around the office, we were able to go from this:

Before Crunchie Product Shot

To this:

After Crunchie Product Shot

Here's how we did it...

Understanding eBay image best practice

eBay allows sellers to include up to 12 images with each of their listings for free.

There are also paid features, such as Picture Pack and Gallery Plus, which can help you achieve an even bigger impact with your images.

eBay offers the following rules for your images:

  1. Every listing now needs at least one picture.
  2. Maximum size for uploading from your hard drive is 7MB and 12MB if you are linking to a picture hosted online i.e. on your website.
  3. Photos should be at least 1600 pixels on the longest side (to allow for zooming in).
  4. Images should be in these file formats only:
    • JPEG (.jpg file extension)
    • PNG (.png file extension)
    • TIFF (.tif file extension)
    • BMP (.bmp file extension)
    • GIF (.gif file extension)
  5. If your photo is in JPEG format, it should have a quality of 90 or higher on the 0-99 JPEG quality scale. Photos can't have borders or text on them, with the exception of a watermark showing that the photo belongs to you.
  6. Stock photos should only be used for new, unused items. For all other items, upload a photo that shows its actual condition.

Common eBay image mistakes

So back to chocolate bars!

Our studies show that a bad picture creates the impression of a bad seller. A consumer will assume that if you don’t bother taking a decent picture, then the rest of the service is going to be just as bad. It will make you seem unprofessional and potentially look like someone that cannot be trusted!

The image below demonstrates many of the issues we see time and again in product photos that fail to sell:

Bad eBay Product Shot

Common mistakes we’ve highlighted with this picture are:

Put your product front and centre

What are we selling here? Is it a laptop, cable, bottle, Crunchie, or even an office desk? At the very least your pictures need to make it absolutely clear what it is that you are selling by putting your product in the front and centre of the photo so it is the focus of the image.

Crunchie front and centre in the product shot

Getting it right is all about light

Professional photographers shape light. They either wait for ideal natural lighting conditions, i.e. the golden hours around early and late sunlight or they use equipment to “bounce” light around and electrical systems to ‘fire’ light at their subject creating artificially created ideal lighting conditions. Most product shoots typically take place in studios and are full of expensive kit to control and shape light. Like most eBay merchants, we didn’t have access to a full photography studio so we made do with an archive box, 3 sheets of white A3 paper, a smartphone and some free natural daylight.

How to make a DIY lightbox.

Cardboard Archive Box

1. Get yourself an archive box.

Deconstructed Archive Box making a backdrop

2. Deconstruct the box so that you end up with a solid back and adjustable sides.

Archive Box with white A3 paper as a background sweep

3. Stick on your “white sweep” using some clear tape at the top and bottom of the A3 centre sheet. This will help bounce the natural light around to create a more professional looking image. The white card or paper needs to be stuck so that you have a nice smooth curve running down the middle of the box from the back to the front. The sides were slipped in and adjusted as we shot the product.

Setting up your camera

The camera was a Sony z5 phone set on manual as follows:

Getting your white balance just right

A camera’s auto white balance makes the light as white as human eyes do instinctively. It’s good practice to override this and lock your white balance to the light you’re shooting under. For example, Tungsten, a typical electric light bulb emits an orangey light. So whites will appear yellowish. This is why city lights, from a distance appear amber.

Yellow tungsten light on building at night

Some test shots where the white balance wasn’t quite right:

Crunchie shot with white balance too dark Crunchie shot with white balance too yellow

And finally, exposure and white balance close to perfect:

Crunchie shot with white balance almost perfect

Make your products look sexy

eBay gives you 12 images for free. Our studies have shown that 8-10 are the ideal in most categories. But how do you take 8-10 shots of a Crunchie bar that show customers what they need to know while also making it look “sexy”?

1. Main shot

Crunchie product shot at arty angle

2. Side shot

Crunchie product shot from the side

3. Details - here we display the ingredients and nutritional information

Close-up of nutrition information on Crunchie Close-up of nutrition traffic light information on Crunchie

4. Offers can really set your product ahead of the competition. If you have some offers, conveying them visually can also really help your product stand out.

Crunchie 4-pack product shot

Buy Crunchie, get a Mars bar half price

Crunchie and Mars Bar bundled product shot

5. Depth of field and placement. Getting the product shot at different angles. Here’s our Crunchie flirting with the camera.

2 Crunchies flirting with the camera 2 unspoiled Crunchies with 1 unwrapped

6. The product in use. This really helps the consumer make a connection with the product. They start to envisage it in their lives. A great example is the use of models to show off clothes. Here’s our model Tom, with his Crunchie. He often has a snack whilst casually waiting for the bus.

Showing the product in use - Tom munches a Crunchie while waiting for the bus Showing the product in use - close up of Tom biting into the Crunchie

7. Condition. Anything that’s not sealed or brand new needs to have it’s condition truthfully and fairly reported to the consumer. This will help reduce returns and boost your Seller Score. Our Crunchie is nearly new. Barely used and still in original packaging.

Crunchie partially unwrapped with the end bitten off

8. Damaged. There can still be a lot of value in damaged goods. Some nearly new items will have the odd surface blemish. Consumers hate unwanted surprises. Don’t hide the blemishes or damage, show them clearly as we’ve done here.

Crunchie bent at right-angles, still in its wrapper

9. Details of damage. Being open about the true condition of the products you’re selling will bring much better results. You’d be surprised at how much extra value honesty and fairness brings (€7,405 annually apparently). Our Crunchie is being sold as Faulty or for Parts. It’s still edible, just a little crushed.

Open Crunchie packet showing pulverised contents - mmmmmm Crunchie dust

10. Scale of damage. Using everyday items that your customers are familiar with can give a true idea of the scale of the problem. Some use rulers, we’ve used a 50 pence coin.

Open Crunchie packet with destroyed contents and a 50p coin for scale

Don’t overlook editing

The images above have been run through editing software. We’ve used Lightroom which is great for batch changes, however there's lots of free photo editing software you can use to great effect. Most phones and computers will have a basic editing suite and eBay have a very basic editing tool in their Photogallery too.

Although professional photographers might use complicated editing techniques and fancy (and expensive) software like Photoshop, the above images were all created using simple adjustments that any basic photo editing software should have.

These were:

If you want to make more advanced changes to your images, a quick search on the internet will find some great, free photo editing programmes. The most powerful is an open source program known as GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). This is basically a free (if clunky) alternative to Photoshop offering much of the same functionality but without the price-tag. There are tons of tutorials on how to use it on Youtube and on the GIMP website.

Hopefully, you have got more from this guide than just a craving for Crunchies and are now ready to start taking your own professional-quality eBay product photos. For more great ideas on improving your eBay listings, sign-up to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with all the latest tips and tricks from ListSmart.

Updated: 22nd September 2016

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