How to Take Photographs That Sell

If you're selling online, it's essential to show good photographs of your products.

Photos influence the decision to buy more than anything else - good pictures sell!

Compose close, crop hard, enhance the contrast, and reduce image size for a fast download.

The Camera
Almost all digital cameras can produce good images for the web. Most focus close, recording sharp images with high contrast. However, the connoisseur looking for the best tool should favor a digital SLR, where extra manual features make life a little easier. When choosing a camera, make sure it will focus close enough to fill its screen with your product.

It's possible to use almost any type of lighting, although bright even light is important for the best results. Sometimes you can use your camera's flash, but this usually produces a flat image with nasty distracting shadows. It's best to switch your flash off and use softer daylight.

Close to a large window will give lots of soft light, but illustrate your item un-evenly. To reduce this problem, cut a piece of white card and prop it up facing the window - so as to reflect the light and fill in the shadows.

Balance the light
Alternatively use a small mirror or a folding reflector - be sure not to get it in the picture. Your camera's flash may fill-in the shadows similarly, but you need to experiment to prevent the flash being overpowering and making a shadow. Photographing outside will give you a more-even light, except early or late in the day. However, you may have a problem not being bright enough, or wind or rain.

Artificial lighting
If you're selling a lot online, consider using tungsten, fluorescent, or external flash lighting to give a more consistent image. After daylight, most people favor either tungsten or fluorescent - because their camera can't use external flash, or to save money.

Tungsten lighting is simple and cheap, but gets hot in summer. You just need a reflector dish with a bulb socket which can be purchase from camera accessory stores. The brighter the bulb: the sharper the image. However, avoid a dark shadow by illuminating your item unevenly. If you can't soften the shadow with a white card, try pointing your reflector to the ceiling and bouncing the light down.

More-even lighting is given with two reflectors and bulbs, but can produce a double shadow which looks terrible. A fluorescent tube will give you a softer light, although green in color. You can correct this later using an image editor on your computer - same with the reddish color of tungsten light (unless you use expensive daylight bulbs).

Flash lighting
Studio flash is the best, but you need a camera that can synchronize - most small cameras can't. More-advanced cameras may have a hot-shoe (the worst position for a flash), where an adapter can be fitted to allow an external unit to be plugged in. SLR digital cameras usually have a normal socket for a flash plug and are the easiest to synchronize external flash.

Flash light also has the advantage of being daylight color temperature, so you need less color balancing later. Set the camera to manual exposure at around 1/60 second. More-even lighting is given with two or more external flashes, you can trigger extra units with a slave. If you're using a studio flash unit, diffuse the light with a soft box, which is better than an umbrella which gives a harder light.

Plain white does for most, but some items look better on a dark background, like a dark-brown. Purchase matt card from an art shop, and curve between a wall and a table. Avoid shiny backgrounds as they create hot spots (white spots on the image caused by reflection from your light). Usually light-colored products are best on a light background, although there's no hard rule. Except, keep it simple - the background shouldn't distract. A light-tent, easily purchased on eBay, limits hot spots.

Taking the Photo

Get in close
Compose the product to fill around 90% of your camera's screen. If you can't focus close enough, then shoot from further away and crop the image later. Auto focus should work OK, but if your camera allows, manual is best.

Auto exposure will also work fine, but use a shutter speed of at least 1/60 second to prevent camera shake - unless using flash, where you'll need full manual exposure. If your camera tells you the exposure setting, use the highest f number (smallest aperture). This will give you the sharpest possible image.

Experiment to get the correct exposure - there's not a lot of room for error, but veer on the side of over (darker), rather than under exposure.

How to make your jewelry look good
To make your jewelry appear important, photograph it from the same level. With the item on a table, it's easily to bring the camera down to the same height. Take a few pictures of each piece, re-focusing (if using manual) in between. Check the first pictures are sharp and correctly exposed before photographing many items.

Afterwards - Improving the Photo on your Computer

Getting the picture into your computer
To transfer your image from the camera to your computer, you can either plug the memory-card into a USB socket using a card-reader adapter, some newer computers have one built in. Or you can run a lead from the camera to a USB socket - all cameras come with one.

Image software
However good the image, chances are it'll still need enriching on an image editing program. This will crop, enhance the contrast, adjust brightness, and reduce the image's size so it downloads fast online. Those with a slow connection won't wait for big images.

One of the fastest and easiest image editors to use is ACDSee - not as sophisticated as Photoshop, but much cheaper and simpler to use.

Image size
I find the best size for auctions and websites is around 450 pixels wide for a large landscape-shape picture. Your camera will record the picture as a JPEG, and it's best to leave it in this format. The other common format, GIF, is for simple line images like logos or cartoons.

How MrBead Photographs
I use two studio flash units. One flash arranged at 45 degrees, and level to the product with a large soft-box attached - and another opposite, with a simple reflector to give a little modeling. When photographing beads and small items, I place them inside a light tent to prevent hot spots.

I use a digital SLR with a wide-angle zoom macro lens, usually set at between f28 and f32. The shutter is 1/60 sec, but this isn't important with flash. I focus manually, but on very-small items I pre-focus then move the camera back and forth to get the sharpest image in the viewfinder.

The camera's screen is only viewed as a quick check after the photograph is taken. ACDSee is used to balance the color, enhance contrast, crop, and reduce the size of the image. I then save to a hard-drive and upload a copy to the host server.



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