How to Take Photographs for eBay

A good photograph of an item is the most powerful selling tool on eBay and can have a large impact on the final selling price. Photos are the only way the buyer can “see” the item: they can’t pick it up, touch and feel it or examine the item for flaws. A detailed photo can make or break the sale.

1. Build a Photo Studio

By setting up a permanent photo studio in your workspace, you’ll always be ready to add photos to your listing and optimize the opportunity for selling. Inexpensive photo studio materials are available on eBay or Craigslist . See How to Set Up a Photo Studio.

2. Understand the basics of photos on eBay

Depending on what you’re selling, one photo is probably not enough. In most cases, several photos will show off your item much better. It is your job to show potential buyers what they want and need to see. Photos detail the condition of the item and help clear up any doubts the buyer may have as well as saving you the time of answering email inquiries about the item’s condition.

The following are some guidelines for your taking your item photos.

  • Get close up. Buyers want to see detail, so really make your item take up the whole frame.
  • Take a close-up of a section of the item in addition to the entire item. This will give buyers a better idea of the item’s condition. You may also want to show it from two angles.
  • Take a close-up photo of any signatures or markings.
  • Take a close-up photo of any imperfections, like chips or stains (be sure to disclose these in the descriptions as well).

3.  Understand the importance of photo image size

The size of your digital image (defined in terms of “K” or “kilobytes”) is very important because it determines how fast your image will load on your buyers’ computers when they are trying to view it on eBay. The shorter the download time, the faster the buyers will see and examine all the images.

To make sure your images load quickly, save your image files in JPEG (with .jpg extension) format because that format uses very few kilobytes for each picture. We encourage you to keep your images to less than 50K.

4. Set up an efficient photo taking system

If you have to take photos of several different things, you will be much more efficient if you plan a little before you begin and organize your photo shoot.

  • First, make sure the camera has enough battery charge and memory for all the pictures you want to take.
  • If you are going to take pictures of more than one subject, plan the best order to reduce individual setup time.
  • Plan the settings to be used for all of your subjects. Try to take the “front shots” of all of the items first -- before moving the camera or lighting for the “detail” shots. This will save you a lot of time compared to changing the setup over and over again for each item.

5. Master photo lighting

Lighting is the key to good photography. It is worth taking a little extra time to adjust the lights to get a clear picture.

  • Experiment with moving the lights a bit toward the front of your subject. You don’t have to have the lights exactly on either side of your subject. Shadows are best reduced by raising the lights so they are higher than the subject.
  • Turn off most of the “room” lighting because it may have an undesirable effect on the image color accuracy. But leave enough light on to view the subject in the camera viewer, until you are ready to actually shoot.
  • Don’t use your camera flash. Direct flash from a camera is almost the worst way to light anything. It heats up the areas closest to the camera, washes out the color and creates highlights that distract your viewer.
  • You can try different angels, setup, etc with your lighting placement. The point is to make your item look its best.

6. Think of how to optimize composition

Before you start shooting, think about how you’re going to set up your shot so that your item looks its best.

  • Clean up your item before you take its picture.
  • Arrange your item in a manner that shows it off to its best advantage.
  • Eliminate any distractions from the background.
Photo Example 1Photo Example 2

Example: These two pictures were taken of the same items using the same camera. Notice how the picture on the right shows off the detail better to potential buyers. Which one would you bid on?

7. Checklist: Take Your Photos

  • Place your item on a table or the floor in the center of a backdrop. Place it as close to the front of the backdrop as possible.
  • View your item through the LCD viewfinder of your digital camera to see if any obvious shadows are present. Adjust your lighting to compensate. If you need less light, you can move the lights farther away from your subject.
  • Focus in on your item. Get close up. Buyers want to see detail, so make your item take up the whole frame. Do not use the zoom. Instead, move the camera closer to the item.
  • Take your picture (without the flash).
  • Once you have taken all the shots, transfer the images to your computer and take a look. You don’t have to check every image but you want to make sure the images look good before you move on. Take a few practice shots to make sure your setup is correct, and then take all the shots for each camera position and lighting.


  • Don’t use the camera flash -- it heats up the areas closest to the camera, washes out the color and creates high-lights that distract your viewer.
  • Make the investment in a photo lighting kit with full spectrum lights that illuminate detail and color with better accuracy than a flash. Photo lights simulate the crisp, full color and ultraviolet spectrum of natural outdoor light.
  • A tripod enables you to position the item and the camera just right and adjust the lighting as well
  • Practice taking a picture of the same item at different distances, and you’ll get an idea of how to frame the object in your camera’s view finder.
  • Watch out for distracting backgrounds – If the item is something that won’t fit on a table, try to make the background of the photo as simple as possible.

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