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Official Blog of the Tophatter Auction House

  1. Part 2: Taking Great Product Photos That Help Your Items Sell!

    1. Mistakes

    They happen to the best of photographers, and usually occur when you have a deadline. A misplaced thumb here, a shadow you didn’t notice in the photo and many other glitches can wreck perfectly good product photos.  But do they?  Now, in the digital age, anything can be changed, erased and perfected using photo editing software.  Sure, you say, how many hundreds of dollars will that cost me for the latest version of PhotoShop? My answer - none.

    If you have photo editing software already on your computer, great!  You’ll usually just need the basics to tweak a photo, and a second mortgage to be able to afford Adobe CS5 isn’t necessary to do only that.  If you don’t have software available, there are a couple of programs that you can download for free online: Photoscape is an absolutely free basic photo editing software program that you can download here.

    Looking for more of a challenge?  Then there’s GIMP 2.6.10, a free, open source editing program that behaves like PhotoShop and has a lot of similar tools and features. You can download GIMP here.

    2. Editing Tools You’ll Want to Make Your Friend

    • Unsharp Mask: to use a quote from imagener.com, “Unsharp Mask recreates an image using the original, filtered through this mask like water through a water filter - the ghost or filter image defines edges more sharply than the original when mixed again. This resharpening or Unsharp Mask procedure always improves images to some degree and often results in an amazing, three dimensional look that visually grabs and absorbs you much more than the original.”
    • Brightness/ Contrast: does what it says - artificially brightens a darker photo (a lot, so use sparingly as features can be washed right out), and increases the contrast (or shadow portion) of a photo to highlight the brighter areas.
    • Resizing: not the same as cropping.  Resizing an image only changes the overall size of the file (for example, to fit Tophatter’s criteria of uploaded photo files no larger than 4MB).
    • Cropping: selecting an area of a photo using a box you drag to a specific area, then digitally cutting what is not inside the box away (the undo option is very handy here, as you can do this over and over again until you like your selection).
    • Aspect Ratio: a very important box to keep checked when resizing a photo.  This keeps the photo looking like the original, and doesn’t let the height or width get distorted, or stretched.
    • White Balance: white balance is a camera setting that adjusts for lighting in order to make white objects appear white in photos. Remember that yellow light from regular lightbulbs I mentioned before?  If your camera has this option, be sure to use it.  Hopefully it has a set white balance box to check, which will tell the camera to adjust the light to ‘true white’ (or as close as it’s able to) when it auto focuses.  If you don’t have this setting, you can adjust it using the editing tools in the photo software I mentioned above.

    Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Aggressively crop the size or area of your photo, crank up the brightness and/or the contrast, flip it, add a decorative virtual frame, experiment! 

    Don’t like the last change (or changes) made?  That little ‘undo’ option will be your best friend while you learn by doing.

    By Bobbie Wykes

    PS. Missed Part 1? Brush up on some general tips for product shots here

  2. Part 1: Taking Great Product Photos That Help Your Items Sell!

    Tophatter is a live online auction house, and most days items move through very quickly, so you only have a few moments to make a connection with a potential buyer, especially when they’re thinking about placing a bid!

    The most important thing you can do to increase your sales, aside from having great products, is have a fantastic photograph (or three) - and you don’t need an expensive camera with all the bells and whistles to do it!  Most of my product shots are done quickly now using the 8 megapixel camera on my smart phone!

    I have been selling online since 2002 and am also a former professional photographer, however I also had to learn about product photography using the trial and error method, since that wasn’t my area of specialty. 

    This is what I’ve learned over the years:

    1.  Closeup is Best

    If you have a macro setting on your camera, great!  Use that to get a clear, close up shot of your item - make sure to accentuate it’s most unique features as well.  Since most cameras are digital nowadays, feel free to take a few extra photos and experiment with angles and positions - I prefer to have my camera at the same level as the item, whether by kneeling down or raising the item up on a table.  It gives better perspective and makes it easier for a buyer to see details at ‘eye level’.

    2. Use Natural Light

    Regular house light bulbs or fluorescent light can change an item’s color immensely, giving it either a yellowish cast (especially harsh on white items) or wash the color right out of a photo.  Try photographing your item near a window when the sun is not on that side of the building - early morning works best for me - or outside on an overcast day.
    Avoid harsh direct sunlight or heavy shadow over part or all of your item.

    3. Backgrounds

    Be conscious of not only the item in your photo, but what’s behind it as well.  Try to find a neutral, solid color area, or if necessary, drape a piece of solid color fabric or even a closely woven towel behind the item.  This is to avoid having a ‘busy’ background that draws the eye of the buyer away from what you want them to focus on.

    4. Props and Models

    The term ‘think like a buyer would’ is always important when choosing your best photos.  If you have a jewelry item, don’t you want to see what it would look like on an arm, an ear or a neck?  If it’s home decor, how it would look on a bookshelf, table or hardwood floor?  You get the idea.  Try to place your item in or on something that will show it to best advantage.  Enlist a friend or family member to model, or set your camera’s self timer and model yourself.  No bookshelves?  Shop at the local flea market for a smaller version just for staging.  Think creatively and you’ll be surprised what you come up with.

    5. Focus

    Without going to deeply into topics like depth of field and f-stops, be sure that your item is sharp and in focus.  Use the auto focus setting on your camera so that you can concentrate on the staging and setup of your photo.  If you have a group of items in a photo, be sure the center or front item is in focus, particularly if you have a short depth of field, like the photo below:

    Having part of a photo unfocused can actually help a buyer’s eye zero in on an item’s details, and can make it look ‘artistic’.

    This second photo is an example of a well focused photo and longer depth of field.

    Final bits of advice?  Trust your eye: if you are drawn to a photo, chances are your buyers will be too. 

    Stuck and have a technical question? You can always contact me at bobbie@kidshandknits.ca.

    Have fun with it and I hope to see your fabulous photos on Tophatter soon!

    by Bobbie Wykes

    PS. Part 2 is now available here. Read up on how to fix your mistakes and why editing tools are your new best friends.

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