They say a picture’s worth a thousand words…and when it comes to selling things on the Internet, that might actually be an understatement. High-quality, professional-looking photos can absolutely be the difference between an auction that is a total failure, and one that is a runaway success.
For the next entry in our Online Auction How To series, we’ll be taking a look at some of the best practices for photographing your items, and what equipment might be necessary to do so. While there will be some small initial investment when you first start out, we promise it will be worth every penny.
When it comes to auction photography, the appearance of professionalism goes a long way. People can tell when you just snapped a photo with your smartphone in a regularly lit room, and this can subconsciously turn them away from your business. The now hugely successful house-sharing marketplace service Airbnb initially floundered when they were first getting started. The reason, they discovered, was that the amateur photography their hosts were posting of their properties were turning away potential renters in droves. When Airbnb decided to start requiring professional photography of places for rent on their website, these same properties suddenly started selling out, and the company doubled their monthly income immediately. That’s what a bit of framing and good lighting can do for your business. The same concept applies to photographing items to be sold at auction.
Luckily, you don’t have to hire a professional photographer to make a difference. You can vastly improve your picture quality yourself with little expense, and even less effort.
Now, let’s take a look at what you need to do to get those bid-enticing photos…
1.) Buy a lighting kit.
If you only take one thing from this article, let it be this. A lighting kit is the one piece of equipment that can really transform the quality of your pictures. Most newer smartphones have decent built-in cameras that can take pretty great photos if you give them proper lighting. These lighting kits might be all you really need.
Luckily, you can get them for very reasonable prices. The exact amount you pay will depend on what size you need, and what all you want included in the kit.
A smaller kit such as this one typically goes for anywhere from $15 to $25. For $21.66, the above kit provides you with an enclosed, well-lit (LED lights included) space with which to photograph smaller items. If you’re only dealing with things like jewelry, toys, and small collectibles, a lighting kit similar to this one should be sufficient for your purposes.
There are also slightly larger (but still totally portable) options like this kit by Limo Studio, that comes complete with the box, a camera tripod, LED lights, and different colored backgrounds for only $42.50.
Of course, you might need to go for the heavy-duty stuff if you’re dealing with larger items. In that case, there are full equipment sets like this Neewer that come with the full range of gear. For a relatively low (considering all you get) $164.99, the set comes with a large backdrop, support stand, standing lights, umbrella reflectors, and more.
2.) Consider getting a new camera.
As mentioned above, this one might not be strictly necessary. It really depends on a) What kind of camera you already have in your phone, and b) How much of a perfectionist you are. Most newer smartphones will have a camera that can probably give you a perfectly serviceable photograph when provided with the lighting conditions outlined above.
A good rule of thumb is any smartphone built in the last 2 years is probably adequate. Of course, it varies between brands and models. Give it a test, maybe show the pictures to a few people, and have them give you an honest opinion on the quality.
The most commonly cited current generation phones with the best cameras are the Iphone 7 Plus, the Samsung Galaxy S8, and the Google Pixel. If you have one of those you’re definitely set, but any of the last 2 or 3 iterations of the iPhone should be fine, as well as many other relatively new Android-based phones. Again, it’s ultimately a judgment call.
If you do decide to spring for a better option, there are plenty of great, affordable DSLR cameras out there that will always be worth the investment.
3.) Take the right pictures.
You’re trying to entice your visitors to bid, and to do that you need to make sure you’re presenting your various lots in all their glory. This of course includes the lighting and framing outlined above, but it goes a little beyond that.
One important thing to be aware of is what you’re taking a photo of. This might sound like a strange or obvious thing to point out, but plenty of people who are new to the world of eCommerce simply don’t take the right photos at all, so it bears elaboration.
It is important to take pictures of each and every item individually. Too often we see photos posted in online auctions of a cardboard box filled with various, mostly obscured items. All the lighting in the world won’t fix that set up.
Unless the items are truly a complete afterthought that you don’t expect to bring much (if any) money, you should make an effort to display it in full detail inside your lighting box, preferably from more than one angle, if called for. The only things that should be lumped into a single photo are items sold in a set, and even then, each piece would ideally be distinct and visible.
Another thing to give consideration to after taking your photos is the addition of a watermark. This is a simple, non-intrusive, usually transparent text that credits the image to you. This can possibly prevent people from stealing your image and using it elsewhere, or at least provide publicity for you in the event that someone does so anyway. There is plenty of free software available on the web for you to do this.
Vastly improving your photography game can be cheap and easy. Doing so can have a profound impact on your bidders’ perception of your auctions, and thus encourage bidding. Every cent you spend on getting great photographs will pay dividends. Can you afford to put it off?
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