How to Shoot Pictures For eBay

How to Shoot Pictures For eBay


ebayshot2 Everyone likes to get as much money as they can when they list items on eBay.  It has been shown that clear, accurate photographs of your item for sale will help increase the winning bid over the same auction with a bad photograph or worse, none at all.  For most auctions a photograph is essential.  With that in mind, let’s explore how to get the best pictures to bring in top dollar from your auctions!

Chances are you don’t want to spend a lot of money to make money on eBay.  Yet, you’d like something other than a picture of your classic Scooby-Doo Lunchbox on the coffee table.  I think we’ve all seen enough pictures like that.  And while they work, a little effort up front can get a few more dollars.  First you’ll be best served building a light tent.  What’s a light tent?  You’re in luck!  DPS has a wonderful article titled How to Build An Inexpensive Light Tent.  While Jeffrey Bail, the author of that article, uses a DSLR, any camera will do in a pinch.  A white background will work best for most objects. Once you have built your light tent it’ll serve you well for many, many auctions.  It’s pretty easy to recoup your initial investment in only two or three auctions.

Next, take at least three shots of your item from different angles to see what works best.  Head on shots are pretty boring and don’t catch many eyes.  I know, we aren’t talking about fine art, we’re talking about eBay.  But adding a little angle to your object will help get it noticed.

When developing the images in your favorite photo editing software, be sure to set the background color accurately, but don’t be afraid to play around a bit to bring some pop to the image.  If you use the light tent described above, it may be helpful to set the white balance in your camera when you first begin.  That will save time down the road in the editing process.

As you are processing these images for the web exclusively and will likely delete them when done, shoot in JPG mode with a sRGB color space (if available).  Also, to save space and time later, don’t shoot in the highest pixel size your camera can muster.  A size around 1200×1200 or 1.4MP will be sufficient.

Speaking of the editing process, there shouldn’t be a whole lot.  What you’re looking for here is quick turn around and minimal time touching the images.  Once you get things dialed in with the first few photos, it should be pretty easy to crank through 10 to 30 to 100 auctions worth of photos.  It seems daunting at first, but with a light tent, camera and tripod, you’ll be a pro eBay photographer in no time.

Some other random tips:

  • If the item is new or nearly new, take it out of the packaging and shoot the item in front of the packaging.
  • Angle reflective objects so you are not taking a picture of yourself by accident.
  • Write directly to your computer.  Most camera manufacturers package a program that lets you control your camera from your computer and bypass the memory card.  This will also save time.
  • Set your f-stop in the middle to high end of its range to get an increased depth of field, keeping most of the object in focus.
  • Clean your sensor beforehand.  You’ll be amazed how much dust shows up at f11 on a white background.
  • Using a 50mm lens will work well for most shots.  No need for fancy lenses here.
  • Take 360 degree pictures of your item if it really helps to see it all.  Otherwise, a front shot is good enough.

Peter is an avid photographer who enjoys travel, portraiture and wildlife photography. A travel related blog of his past and current shenanigans can be found at The Carey Adventures.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Abigail Clark May 7, 2010 11:59 am

    My alternative income stream is selling stuffs on Ebay and i can say that i earn a lot from selling on Ebay";`

  • Internet March 13, 2009 06:12 am

    Every time i come here I am not dissapointed, nice post

  • nice! March 1, 2009 01:19 pm

    There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in your article.

  • easyphoto January 5, 2009 04:44 am

    Ha Ha! Ya'all take way way too much time for ebay photo's. Here is what i do and my pics turn out fine. I have a Kodak easy share cheapy camera. Find a nice tall dresser with off white wall or use off white poster board. Point and shoot. If flash is too reflective on item use lamp on side. Quit trying to be so perfect. My pictures are wonderful and have you seen the horrible pictures and the stuff still sells! So you can stand and shoot. If you spend so much time with pics you will not get it back in what you sell. Unless you have pricy jewelry or something - it's not worth your time. Look at my pics - they are fine. Celestial630 on ebay.

  • Anna October 3, 2008 03:12 am

    I've done some ebay photography for some of my clients. Mostly apparel photography on a mannequin, accessory and jewelry photography. To save time on editing I shoot apparel, bags and shoes against a gray background rather than white. I use a large softbox and 2 other lights rather than a light tent, but the gear I have is overkill for ebay.

    With jewelry I use a bent coat hanger, fishing wire suspended between and a white background. Gives me a pure white background very easily. The earrings look suspended in air...also good for pendants. For clip ons I use a clear piece of plastic from Office Depot - I think its a small sign holder I broke in half costs $2. I drilled small holes in another piece for studs.

    I've looked into more expensive solutions over the years, but my homemade set up seems to work best. I sometimes wrap a piece of colored card around the jewelry to make a tent if I want a background other than white. Editing jewelry is a pain in the butt! so I try to do as much as I can in-camera.

    When I shoot for ebay my clients don't want me to take the same time I would with an e-commerce shoot. Usually you only sell the item once...

    Style Campaign

  • екскурзии September 29, 2008 12:11 pm

    An article I wrote on how to get more from your pictures used on eBay.

  • CLS September 28, 2008 03:15 am

    Nikki - You have a point - However, think of it from eBay's perspective, how did they know you were the original photographer if there was no watermark? It's your word against that bad seller. So, yes I agree if you are concerned about another seller borrowing photos – do watermark them. I watermark any I take and post and then hope other sellers will use them so I can get some advertising and marketing out of it.
    I know everyone feels very close to their photos, but if using one photo to represent a bread maker is fraudulent - why are there stock photos that manufactures and advertisers use to represent products?
    I apologize for my remarks. I feel very protective about eBay because I make my living selling online. I get really tired of the eBay bashing that goes on all over the Internet. Your point is a very valid one – bottom line, if you are using & posting photos anywhere on the Internet be sure and watermark them if you don’t want your hard work to be used by someone else.

  • Nikki September 27, 2008 10:15 am

    CLS, sorry but I have to rebut your comments. First of all, to post photos which claim to be of the item one is selling is fraudulent (misrepresentation and false advertising). Furthermore, my post never blamed ebay for misuse of the photos -- it merely said this was my experience in posting my photos on ebay and was meant as a cautionary tale to others who might post their photos on ebay, so please don't flame me with accusations of something I never said. Lastly, I contacted the seller (the first one who stole my photos) and asked that they remove my photos from their ad and they refused. I then contacted eBay and asked for their intervention and ebay said, basically, that they would do nothing more than what I did, i.e., to contact the other seller and ask that they stop using my photos and claiming the photos were of the item THEY were selling, which did nothing to remedy the problem or to fairly warn potential bidders that the items pictured in this seller's auction were not that of the actual item up for bid. So, in this respect, I think I am wholly justified to fault ebay for not taking stronger action in the matter, even thought that is not at all what I said in my original post.

  • Rosh September 27, 2008 08:04 am

    Do not use your on camera flash. That is the worst lighting in the world. It will make your products look unflattering. Yes, absolutely create or use a lighting tent or at least bounce light of white card.

    Also good comments on using a macro lens. I use a 100mm Macro from canon. I love it.


  • rdobes September 27, 2008 06:42 am

    the problem is white balance. The light in your lightbox is confusing the camera and the result is white balance is off.
    I take pictures of jewelry for my client using lightbox and it took me a while to get it right. I used to edit the white balance in lightroom but over time I was able to tweak the camera setting to a point where I am getting perfect white balance on every picture.
    Basically you want to shoot full manual.
    The setting that works for me and my lightbox best is AROUND iso160, f11, 1/80 (of course the settings depend on your lightbox).
    The most important thing is using custom white balance.
    Custom white balance makes all the difference.

  • Photography Forums September 26, 2008 08:57 pm

    Some useful tips there - I always cringe when I see badly taken photos on ebay... worst of all when it's a reflective object and you get either a big white flash or a reflection of the photographer.

  • Starry Nebula September 26, 2008 08:51 pm

    Thank you! I'll keep this in mind in my future dealings with ebay!

  • Robert September 26, 2008 09:51 am

    I've seen some similar projects before in the net (I tried it myself, but the box is not as portable as I would like it to be).

    One hardcore thing about the setup from picture:

    The connection of L series lens attached to Canon XXD [gripped one], and the 'ultra cheap light tent + school lamp lighting' looks very funny to me.

    Best Regards,

  • Dusty September 26, 2008 08:06 am

    Thanks everyone I really appreciate you advise and I will certainly use it. Have shot in RAW but even in editing it didn't make any difference when it came to editing the backround. Going to give the braceting a shot today.

  • CLS September 26, 2008 06:54 am

    Reznor - Oh, so right! I love shooting in RAW. Life is so much easier when it comes to editing!


  • CLS September 26, 2008 06:52 am

    Dusty - If you use a filter try a polarizer. It should help reduce reflections. Use either a black eTent or black pieces of paper to act as 'blinds' - in otherwords, put your camera on a tripod, place the jewelry on the table, watch to see what is being reflected. Then grab that black paper or cloth and move it between the light source and the jewelry where the reflection is happening.
    Nikki - How is it eBay's fault that someone else used your photos? Instead of grumping about people using your images, why not turn it into a positive? If your photos of breadmakers were that good, put them up on iStock and sell them. There's a big market for pictures of things in the microstock world.

  • Reznor September 26, 2008 06:49 am


    Just shoot in RAW and correct brightness and white balance in post-processing. Shooting RAW is almost idiot-proof.

  • brook September 26, 2008 04:53 am

    your tips for using and handling camera gives me valuable suggestion about camera operations.


    Shreevysh Corp

  • Elena September 26, 2008 03:43 am

    Clean your sensor? Really? Is it safe to do that?

  • Dusty September 26, 2008 03:41 am

    Thank you CLS I'm going to try and do what you suggest. Jewelry is one of the hardest things to photograph I have been told, especially since I am a silversmith and silver is so reflective even on a black backround. I have a 18-55mm lens and a 100mm macro ef lens, do you recommend filters? I also have a 10x high definition macro lense58mm, and a set of high resoltion filters 58mm - UV,FD,and PL. So you can see I probably have a lot of overkill here and not to sure what will work best with the photos I have to take. Sorry I know I am asking a lot but at 67 yrs I am very frustrated with all of this.

    Nikki, I know what you are talking about! But in my case I am photographing Jewelry and they are one of a kind so not much chance of that happening.

    Thanks everyone,
    Dusty, US Navy (retired)

  • Nikki September 26, 2008 03:14 am

    Ah, ebay...a few years ago I put a number of items on ebay - spent a lot of time photographing my items for maximum effect. I guess I did a good job because after I had posted my never-been-used breadmaker on ebay, shot from several angles including a shot of all the documentation, recipe books, etc., I started seeing my pics on other people's ads for their breadmakers, and continued to see these same plagiarized photos for months thereafter. So be prepared to have your photos ripped off. Gotta love ebay!

  • CLS September 26, 2008 02:41 am

    Dusty - try bracketing the exposures. One stop under, one normal and one over (or a series of over exposures in 1/3 1/2 and 1 stop). You might find the over exposed photos look better, if it's an all white background. Your camera's meter is reading all the background and choosing an exposure based on that. To calibrate that exposure and render it correctly the camera is trying to make everything a netural gray color. It's how the engineers set the cameras to work correctly when there are lots of differnt tones in a picture - which is not what you have in an all white background.

    Diffusing the light is a must - either with an eTent or sheet.


  • Zack Jones September 26, 2008 02:33 am

    This is also a great time to use remote capturing software such as EOS Utility for Canon cameras. This way you can take the shot and see immediately if it's a keeper or not.

  • Dusty September 26, 2008 02:12 am

    I use and have used many different kind of light boxes and still I come up with green backrounds, brown backrounds, and the like and I am using a canon eos rebelxt. I just can't seem to get the white backround I need so bad.

    I use Corel Photoshop x2 and can't seem to get a white backround by editing.

    Am getting Desprate!

  • Anonymous September 26, 2008 01:09 am

    I use a somewhat simpler approach.

    A large (A2) sheet of thick white paper is used as
    the presentation surface for the item. When one bends
    the paper slightly upwards behind the item, it becomes
    a seamless background.

    Then I fire one flash tough a large softbox or a white
    umbrella from above camera in a 45 degree angle at the

    This eliminates harsh shadows (the paper also bounces
    light from below on the item) and eluminates the item
    very evenly.

    This method can easily be scaled for larger objetcs.

  • Embassy Pro Books September 26, 2008 12:52 am

    I agree with the light tent. the light tent in the Ebay game is a must. I started using one and it made an incredible difference in sales.