Digital Focus: Shoot Products for EBay

Feature: Taking Pictures for EBay

It may be a little late for spring cleaning, but I'm emptying my home office anyway. For the last few weeks, I've been busily selling stuff on EBay--old software, unwanted CD players, unused camera gear, and never-opened Christmas gifts from years gone by.

I've learned a few tricks along the way. For instance, items sell better if you post clear, bright, and attractive pictures. This week, let me share my advice for good, EBay-friendly product photography.

Stage the Scene

Your technique will vary depending upon what you're photographing. Let's assume we're taking a picture of a box. Suppose an aunt sent you a copy of Starlancer for your birthday last year, but you don't like spacefaring simulations. It has sat unopened ever since, and now it's time to turn this box into cold, hard cash. (If you're reading this, Aunt Mary, let me say that I loved your copy of Starlancer, and this one is... er... one that someone else gave me.)

In general, you'll get the best results by shooting against a white background. Done right, it will look like the product is suspended in a white universe, with nothing else in the frame except perhaps a small shadow.

Stop at your local hobby or craft store and buy a big sheet of white foam board or poster board. Lay it on a table that gets plenty of sunlight--but don't put it right in front of a window that has direct light streaming in. Instead, try to take your photos near a north- or south-facing window, where you get indirect lighting.

Next, position your item in the middle of the white board. Turn on your digital camera's flash, stand back, and take the photo from an angle. Why not take it from directly overhead, you ask? Because the flash reflects right back into the lens, creating an ugly flare and obliterating the image on the box. Taking the shot at an angle deflects the light away from the lens. Your shot will look something like this.

Photo Fix Up

Now open the picture in an image editor, such as Jasc Paint Shop Pro 8. The first thing I usually do is run One Step Photo Fix. This one-click photo correction tool adjusts things like the color balance, saturation, contrast, and sharpness. It almost always improves hastily taken photos. So click the Enhance Photo button in the toolbar atop the screen, and select One Step Photo Fix. After a few moments, you'll see improvement.

There's still a problem, though: We photographed the box at an angle, and that just doesn't look right. I'll use the Perspective Correction tool to make the box look like we took the photo from directly overhead.

On the toolbar on the left side of the screen, select the Perspective Correction tool by clicking the second tool icon from the top. In version 8 of Paint Shop Pro, Jasc clusters related tools together--hence the need to choose the tool from the drop-down arrow. Once the tool is selected, you should see a big square on the screen. Drag the four corners of the Perspective Correction square to the four corners of the box. When you're done, double-click inside the square. A moment later, it will look like you're peering down on the box from above.

So far, so good. We need to crop the image, though; the Perspective Correction tool warped the edges of the photo. Click the Crop tool (third down from the top) and drag a crop box around the product box, leaving just a narrow border. Double-click inside the crop marks, save the file, and it's ready to upload to EBay.

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