How to Make Your eBay Auction Pictures Standout

Photographs so good you could eat them. Pictures that make you heady with consumerist lust. Mmmmm … the advertising industry spends billions each year on product photography which show off an item not just to perfection, but desirable perfection.

Now, you’d think that was a lesson was well learnt. Until, that is, you visit online auctions like eBay, WeBidz, BidAlot or uBid!

What are some people thinking when they load up fuzzy, distorted, over-exposed, heavily tinted images of their items for sale? Of course they know that if they could post sharp, beautifully lit images they’d stand a much better chance of selling and are more likely to get better prices.

Okay, so not everyone has the skills to make great product shots. Well, this is where we come in. Here are some simple techniques that aren’t difficult and plenty of hints of how to improve your photography for online auctions so you get more interest and push up those final bids.

Great backgrounds foreground your items

Let’s suppose my wife decides to thin down her collection of shoes. The lazy way to do it does have the advantage of taking no time or effort: place them on the bed (they’ve never been worn).

Not great, is it? The background’s distracting and doesn’t help show off the shoes.

Shoes on bed

It takes hardly enough effort to locate a sheet of board. Or use paper if resting on a hard surface. The result…

Shoes on bed cropped

is much cleaner and clearer. Suddenly you can see the shape, the tone of the leather lining. (Hmm, we can see what it was bought in the first place …)

Shoes and bag

but why not show the shoe bag as well? It is part of the offering and has the advantage of bringing a bright patch of colour into shot. Trouble is, the arrangement of the shoes now looks a bit boring.

Tell and sell

Think about the arrangement which tells and sells at the same time. Show what you need to show so you don’t have too many questions to answer, but make the image instantly appealing.

Shoes and bag lacking depth of field

so let’s put the shoes at a snazzier angle to each other. This helps, but this shot is lacking in depth of field: the bag is sharp but not the shoes. Does it matter? It will if you post a large picture – which is always inviting for the bidder: if someone is interested enough to view your item close-up, you want to reward them with luscious detail – – not reveal unsharpness.

Light well, sell well

You could photograph everything using just window light or go under a porch or onto your balcony and shoot there. But bring another, separate source of light to supplement and you immediately separate yourself from a thousand other sellers. Needless to say, do not use the on-camera flash – unless you want to rejoin the crowd, of course.

Shoes on bag lit

at the same time, maybe we could spice up the lighting a little. So far, the shoes had been shot from window light alone. A little extra light also allows us the opportunity to use a smaller aperture for greater depth of field.

Lighting shoes

and here’s the lighting set-up for the shot. Taken out of shot is a white board which reflected some fill light from the table lamp back to the shoes. Not exactly a fully-equipped studio. But you notice the deliberate mistake? Yes, I wasn’t using a tripod. And I shot on a bed (reason being that an amazing number of eBay shots seem to be made on the bed). Even if you only propped yourself on a pile of books, it’s preferable to free-style hand-holding shown here.

Bouncy ideas

For the majority of products, direct lighting causes two problems: hard shadows and hard reflections. For these golden shoes, direct lighting of the short that worked for the black textile shoes is too harsh.

Gold shoes not great light

The hard shadows distract and disrupt the outline of the black shoe bag. At the same time, the reflections on the shoes are way too hard and unpleasant: a case of lighting that conceals detail rather than revealing it.

Good eBay lighting

That’s not a bad piece of lighting: it’s directional enough to mould the shapes of the shoe but has enough gloss to make the gold surfaces shine and look really attractive. Makes you want to reach for your wallet!

Good ebay lighting setup

and this is the high-tech lighting set-up I used. That, plus the window light. The lamp is turned up so that a bit of light spills directly onto the shoes but most goes to the white board and reflects off. The result is a warm light that suits the shoes, but not too warm because the window light is cool daylight – the combination gives some nice bluish tints in the highlights – you can just see inside the upper shoe.

Card magic

As you can see, piece of white card – the whiter the better – is your best auction photography friend. Here are three shots of a ‘coin’ (memorabilium from my days tramping around Uzbekistan visiting government officials).

Collectible coin 1
Collectible coin 2
Collectible coin 3

There are different styles of lighting here: what you use depends on personal preferences and those of market – whether pen, coin collectors etc. The point is that it’s all in waving the card.

Good ebay lighting setup

This was my set-up (using tripod at last!). The three shots were obtained simply by holding the white card in different positions. 1: the card was close to the lens, above the coin, then, 2: about 45º to the coin, finally the third shot comes from holding the card as shown here, reflecting little light to the coin.

Some other examples

Here are a couple of other points.

Pretty but uninformative photo

This is a stunning burst of colour but what IS it? Hint: don’t get too arty or clever; eBay etc. are not photo-sharing sites.

More informative photo

This is just as attractive but tells you a whole lot more!

Bracelet too busy

This is a lovely shot, but what are we selling – the chenille or the bracelet and earrings? So: don’t overdo the background.

Bracelet with ruler

People like to know the size of what they’re buying and the easiest way to indicate that is to include a rule in shot.

Tips and Settings

  • clean and dust your items before photography
  • use the longer focal length (equivalent to 100mm or so) and avoid using the widest zoom setting
  • use smallest aperture for greatest depth of field (unless you are using an interchangeable lens, in that case avoid the very smallest aperture)
  • use a tripod so you can use a small aperture
  • if you know how, set custom white balance: use the white card as a reference to save work later
  • for highly reflective objects it’s worth building a little light-tent. You can try draping a white sheet over a chair or tripod. Place the object in the tent and shine light onto the ‘tent’. Stick the camera in the gap between the sheets and away you go
  • photograph at the highest resolution available, then resize as needed for best quality

The accolade you want is for bidders to write to you asking for a photo of the ACTUAL item for sale, thinking you’ve used a product shot. You can pat yourself on the back then, and watch the bidders work themselves into a frenzy when you tell them it’s the real thing.

Happy selling!

Inspirational sites

Want inspiration? Some of the finest small-scale product photography is being done by fountain pen collectors and top of the tree must be Bill Riepl’s work. Check out

One of my all-time favourite food photographers (I know, eBay is not the place you go to purchase sushi, but you can learn about lighting the same) is Reinhart Wolf. Check out
and bear in mind that his “Japan’s Food” series was shot almost entirely with one handheld flash in his hotel room.

Busy gear

If you have a lot of items to sell you may one to equip yourself with a little set-up to give you more professional results. There are many manufacturers, one being Sharpics at

Sharpics Portable photo studio

This tabletop studio with vinyl background, two lamps with daylight fluorescent tubes and a table monopod suitable for small objects retails for around $240.

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March 14, 2008 @ 1:15 am

Very helpful advice. Probably well worth the time to set up a mini-studio instead of what I’ve been doing – spending lots of time in Photoshop retouching virtually everything I shoot to sell. Removing the bed from the background (or more often the dining room table) from one shot can take considerable time! The final picture usually looks pretty good, but why not get better results in LESS time. . .



December 6, 2008 @ 7:48 pm

You can pick up a bunch of foam boards, white or black, for next to nothing to use as backgrounds and backdrops. I had tons of them in the closet till I moved recently.


albert brown

November 27, 2009 @ 12:28 pm

How can i get my pictures out of files and onto my ebay description page?



October 18, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

Do you have any suggestions for taking photos of stained glass pieces that will be hung in a window? The size of the items are approx. 12″x12″. I’ve tried different backgrounds, a photo light box, but they just don’t seem to turn out that well. Any suggestions would be appreciated! thanks!

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