The Essential Guide for Better Product Photography

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A crash course on product photography and the use of simple studio equipment. As eBay Traders, we all know how good looking photographs can make or break a listing. We also know how dark, blurry and out of focus photos can make our listings look unprofessional and tacky. Hopefully this guide will help you make your listings look better.

Here's a quick checklist of equipment that I use and would recommend if you're serious about getting the best out of your images

- A Camera (it doesn't have to be a top end Digital SLR with a Macro Lens but you will need settings like "exposure compensation", "white balance" and if possible a good "macro" mode and "manual exposure"

- A Tripod and Cable Release (camera shake is the cause of blurred photos - a tripod will allow you to take sharp photos each and every time. The cable release prevents any shake from pressing the shutter button. The self-timer function will also work)

- A Light Tent/Softbox (these diffuse light and provide a clean background to photograph against, most people haven't seen them before but they are a staple of product photographs. They are  available on eBay )

- Lights (we recommend using Daylight Corrected lighting to avoid orange/green/blue colour casts - they are  available on eBay )

If your camera has a aperture priority (Av) mode - shoot in that and aim for a high f/number in order to ensure the entire product is in focus. f/8 or higher is considered ideal however you will need a tripod to ensure sharp photos. The trademark white background will never happen in an automatic mode with a camera – the ‘perfect photo’ for a camera is something that is 18% Grey. If you take a photo of a white piece of paper, the camera will compensate and turn it into Grey. If you take a photo of a black piece of paper, the camera will compensate to turn it into Grey. Obviously we want White…not grey. You can shine down all the lights in the world onto a white background and your images will still come out with a grey/yellow background. The idea behind digital photography is to “burn” out the white to a pure nothing highlight. In order to do this we

- Shoot with Manual Exposure and find the right exposure to “burn” the highlights to pure white or

- Shoot in Aperture Priority and then dial in “exposure compensation” to +1.5 to +2 EV Stops.

Now, another problem many people have with their product photos is the yellow icky looking background instead of the nice crisp white background. This has to do with white balance. Colour has a light – the flash off your camera is slightly blue, most light bulbs are yellow. We need to compensate and tell the camera what is white – we do this through using “custom white balance”. Take a photo of your white background with a normal exposure (so it is grey) and then go through your camera menu and set that as the custom white balance. Select that every time you are doing your eBay photos and you are set. Don’t have a custom white balance option? Select the "light bulb" as the white balance – this should be close enough and match the yellow indoor lighting.

Other rules of thumb – don’t use flash, it just gives reflections which we don’t want. Also don’t get too close to the item – every camera has a minimum focusing distance, once you exceed this, SLR cameras will simply not fire, point and shoot cameras will just give you a blurred image. Sure we want our photos to fill the frame – do that later by cropping out the edges. Depending on what you’re photographing and what software you have, look into sharpening your photos by Googling for “Unsharp Mask” to learn how to add some zing and clarity to your photos. Adding borders is a good idea too; usually 3-4px of Black or Grey is nice.

There are many types of light tent/softboxes offered - try and locate one that is large enough for your needs - they come as small as 35x35cm to 120x120cm. The larger the better, you can always fold them down but you can never make them bigger. Pay attention to the fabric used in the light tent, ones offered with a soft inner lining are known to diffuse light better and create a more pleasing end photograph. Different coloured backgrounds are also worthwhile, try and find a light tent that offers at least a Black and White background; some even come with Blue, Red and Green backdrops. The cost is well worth it.

A few example photos of what can be done with a tripod to ensure good composition and sharp photos. Black or White works well...


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