How to take better photos for eBay and other online auctions
Product images are the most important part of eBay listings. This article describes how to take better photos for eBay auctions with Breeze Systems PSRemote software, a Canon PowerShot camera and a tripod.
What you need
Preparing for blast off
Photos of shiny objects
Isolating subjects from the background
What you need
- A Canon PowerShot camera which works with PSRemote. See full list of supported cameras.
- PSRemote software enabling you to see large previews of your shots on a PC screen and have much easier control of camera settings
- A USB cable to connect your camera to your PC (there should be a USB cable in the box when you bought your camera).
- A tripod. This makes it much easier to setup your shot and then take a few test pictures to get the settings right.
- Optional: A copy of Ulead's PhotoImpact 11 image editing software if you wish to use the high dynamic range technique for taking pictures of shiny objects which is described at the end of this article.
A first attempt
OK, we have everything ready, the camera is on a tripod and connected to our PC. Let's run PSRemote, set everything to automatic and take the photo (see right).
"Could do better!"
What went wrong? It is out of focus, the lighting is so bright we can't see the item properly and it is horribly distorted.
Let's fix these problems one by one...
Getting the item in focus
Most digital cameras have a normal focus setting which is fine for taking pictures of people and things that are far away and a macro or close-up setting for taking pictures of things that are closer. Our first attempt is out of focus because the item is too close for the camera to focus on it using the normal setting. So let's set the auto-focus distance to "Close-up" and try again.
OK, this appears to have fixed the focus problem but the camera still looks distorted and that flash is too bright.
Zooming the lens to reduce distortion
The first two shots were taken with the camera's zoom lens set at its widest setting. The wide angle setting is great for fitting everything into a picture but it produces a lot of distortion when things are close to the camera. For a bit of fun try setting your camera's zoom to its widest setting a take a picture of someone's face from really close. Not very flattering is it! The person's nose looks much too big. You will get much better results if you step back a bit and use the tele setting on the camera. The same is true with our eBay photo so let's set the zoom to its telephoto setting and move the camera back a bit (see right). Much better!
Tip: use the live viewfinder option in PSRemote to display the camera's viewfinder on your PC to help line it up.
Improving the lighting
So far we have used flash to illuminate our picture, which resulted in very harsh light with some areas which are too bright. We can get much softer, more even lighting by turning the flash off and using the natural light from a window. So let's turn off the flash and move the item in front of a north facing window. Light is softer from a north facing window and we avoid problems with harsh light from direct sunlight.
Tip: If you don't have a north facing window close to your PC just avoid direct sunlight.
The picture is much better but there are still some areas which are a bit too bright. We can try adjusting the exposure settings to get better results. A well exposed picture has a full range of brightnesses from black through to white. The easiest way to check the exposure is to look at the histogram display in the PSRemote window (the blue graph in the bottom left corner of the window). First set the exposure mode to manual to give full control over the exposure. Next set the aperture to f/8 (Av: 8) for maximum depth of field to ensure the item is in focus. The set the shutter speed to something like 1/125 sec (Tv: 1/125) and take a preview shot and check the histogram. The histogram shows the distrubution of bright and dark areas in the picture. Dark areas are represented on left of the histogram and light areas on the right.
First attempt: aperture set to f/8 and shutter speed set to 1/125 sec.
This is too dark because the histogram is all scrunched up to the left (the dark end) and nothing is on the right. We need to make the picture lighter by using a longer shutter speed.
Second attempt: aperture set to f/8 and shutter speed set to 1/8 sec to make the picture brighter.
This is too bright because now the histogram is scrunched up to the left (the bright end). What we need is something between the two e.g. a shutter speed of 1/30 sec.
Third attempt: aperture still set to f/8 for maximum depth of field and shutter speed set to 1/30 sec (half way between the values we used for our first two attempts).
This is about right because the histogram shows a good distribution of brightnesses from black on the left through to white on the right. There is a bit of a peak on the left which corresponds to the areas in our photo which are too bright, but this is probably the best we can do from a single exposure.
These are the settings in PSRemote we used to take the final picture:
Taking photos of shiny objects
Our final photo is reasonably good, but because the item is shiny it is very difficult to take a picture which shows all the detail in the brightest areas without making the picture too dark and losing detail in the shadow areas. We can avoid this problem by taking a series of pictures using different exposure settings and then blending them together to form a single high dydnamic range image (HDR). This may sound complicated but in fact it is very easy to do. You will need some additional software to combine the images and one of the most effective and easiest to use is Ulead's PhotoImpact 11.
The first step is to take a series of pictures using different exposure settings and this easy to do using PSRemote's "Auto-bracket" feature. To do this first click on the "Auto-bracket" checkbox in the PSRemote window and then click on the "Settings..." button to display the dialog below:
Use the settings shown above to take a series of seven shots each one stop apart by varying the shutter speed and leaving the aperture the same. (We want to keep the aperture the same to keep the depth of field constant to avoid problems blending the images). These settings will take a series of pictures ranging from very light (to capture the shadow detail) to very dark (to capture the highlight detail).
Click on the OK button to accept the settings and then click on the "Release" button in the main PSRemote window to take the sequence of images. Make a note of the filenames for these images (displayed at the bottom of the PSRemote window) and load them into your image editor (PhotoImpact in this example).
Now select "High Dynamic Range..." from the Photo menu:
After a short pause the window below will be displayed. Click on the button to create a High Dynamic Range image:
After a delay of several seconds the blended image will be displayed:
Simply click on the OK button and then save the final blended image.
Preparing your image for uploading to your auction listing
Images straight from your digital camera are probably too large to display on a web page for an auction listing and usually need resizing and sharpening before they can be used. You can do this using an image editor like Photoshop or use PSRemote's built-in post processing options to do it for you automatically. To do thi simply select "Post Processing" from PSRemote's File menu to display the Post Procesing dialog below:
Then select "Enable post processing of JPEG images" and press the "Defaults" button. The next time an image is taken it will be automatically resized to 450 pixels wide, have auto levels applied (which enhances the contrast of the image) and then sharpened (resizing digital images tends to make them look softer and so they need to be sharpened).
Isolating the subject from the background
Isolating the subject from its background can really make your photo stand out and look professional. This used to be a painstaking task using a photo editor like Photoshop but an innovative solution called D-Flector from Sharpics can simplify the whole process.
The D-Flector is a Tabletop Photo Studio that contains a unique reflective material that's virtually invisible when photographed with flash. Previously, this effect took hours of photo editing to achieve but now can be done in minutes. This is the same effect that is widely used in catalogs, publications, advertising materials and web pages. The D-Flector and PSRemote software is perfect for this application.
Read how D-Flector can improve your product and eBay photos.