Don’t Sell Yourself Short with Bad Photos

Writing a lot of camera books means I am often buying equipment that I don’t intend to keep for very long. Sometimes I can sell back to the camera store but most times, I end up posting my gear on sites like ebay and CraigsList. I also do a lot of browsing on these sites to compare prices on used equipment and to shop for goodies that catch my eye. After years of doing this, I can tell you one certainty and that is that PICTURES MATTER. First, let’s talk about the bad because this is what I see most often when browsing online shopping/trading sites.


This is a fact. Just think about the times that you have maybe shopped on ebay. You type in a search for something that you are interested and start browsing through the search results. The chances are that the first thing that gets your attention is the photos. If they are out of focus, poorly lit, low resolution, small in size, and too few, you probably skip right over the item and move on to the next one. I won’t even get in to the listings that don’t even have a photo. I mean really? In this day and age, how can you at least not snap a camera phone shot.

Check out this not-so-great shot of a 20mm lens that someone is selling. This lighting isn’t awful but it looks like they shot it with a 20mm. I clicked to see the zoomed in version and that was it. It’s really hard to see any detail from a mile away.

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Or how about this shot of a Paul Reed Smith (PRS) Standard 22 guitar. I’m sure this is a beautiful guitar, as most PRS guitars are, but why would I be inspired to investigate further based on the ridiculously bad photo posted in the ad.

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Now consider that search again and think about the listings that you check out first. Sure, they have good prices but good quality, informative photos are what seals the deal. It’s not that hard to get good images either. Check out the next couple of shots that I recently took to sell a guitar on CraigsList.

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These look like stock photos but the reality is that I shot them in my basement with a couple of lights, some white seamless, and a white table. The key is to use soft lighting that will give you even illumination with few shadows. You can use soft boxes, umbrellas, or even a couple of diffusion panels. The one thing you don’t want to do is use the flash on top of the camera. On-camera flash usually results in really annoying flares reflective surfaces and very uneven lighting. If you have to use an on-camera flash, try aiming the flash head at a reflective panel off to the side. This will create a larger light source that will give you softer lighting.

The second thing to consider is that you are using the correct white balance. I know it sounds like a no-brainer but you wouldn’t believe the number of images that are shot with bad white balance, resulting in real funky colors that don’t do anything to help show off the true colors of the item you are photographing.

Finally, take enough photos to show off the details of the items that you are selling. Don’t be afraid to get close and think about the features that you would want to see in detail and make sure you get nice sharp images of them. It is said that the Devil is in the details but so is the sale.

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Remember that when you decide to sell something online that you are competing in a pretty big marketplace. You might have the nicest widget out there but if you don’t have the photos to show it, it doesn’t really matter. And the reality is that taking good photos doesn’t take that much work or special equipment, and the benefits will show up in your wallet.