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The Ultimate (Amateur's) Guide To Taking Photos For Online Selling

Because bad photos are doomed to sink into the online abyss
by Arvin Ang | Aug 9, 2018
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Online selling is everywhere, from the classic OLX to the newly Facebook-integrated Marketplace. And since the Multiply and Yahoo! Messenger renaissance, photos have been at the forefront of online selling. Whether you were selling pre-owned cars, used video games, or some exotic herbal tea your tita from Japan supplies you with, photos were a necessity—so it surprises us that in 2018, there are still photos that look straight out of a 12-year-old’s phone gallery. Great photos will help you stand out from a crowded reseller landscape and you don't even need a fancy camera. Here's our guide to shooting your goods.

Do it during the daytime

We can’t stress this enough when it comes to amateur photography. Not all of us have easy access to a well-equipped product photography setup but there’s no denying that, under the right circumstances, modern smartphones are well capable of taking decent photos. Even professional photographers attest to that!

Photo by Arvin Ang

Our most important tip comes first: shoot during daytime to take advantage of natural light. The sun is your friend. Setup your item near a window and, as long as it isn’t being hit with direct sunlight you’ll have a well-lit subject with soft shadows. Or if it’s a cloudy day, go on ahead and take that photoshoot outdoors. Shooting with natural diffused (aka di bilad sa araw) light gives much softer shadows and a lot less reflections or glare on the shiny surfaces—in layman's terms, you have a much better representation of what your subject actually looks like. Note that this is all on the auto setting, as we’re trying to minimize complicating things! With that said, your camera handles sunlight much better in terms of bringing out true “color” than fluorescent lamps—look how it gives the Nikes a flat, grey tinge that'll make buyers think you've got a worn out pair rather than something VVVVVVVVNDS. It may be indistinguishable to the untrained eye but take a second and we’re sure you’re noticing the difference in shadows and hues. Remember, this is online selling, not a toy convention.

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Flatlay that bad boy

Photo by Arvin Ang

Some items like clothes, aren’t always at their best when hanging or standing. Your buyer isn’t looking at your clothes for sale at a retail store where picking it up and inspecting it directly is possible, they’re most likely looking at your item through a mobile phone screen or a computer monitor. They can’t maneuver around the item and get a feel. So it’s your job to present the item well. This is where all those hours scrolling on Instagram pays off and ties in very closely to the next tip...

Clean Your Background

Photo by Arvin Ang

And we don’t mean spray Lysol and sweep the floors—we mean rid the composition of any distracting elements happening in the background. Take for example our resident assassin, Mr. Arno Victor Dorian on top of a pile of other toys. There’s just too much going on there. Help your buyer focus on the item by taking a photo that completely zeroes in on the item. Pick a clean surface rather than a tiled floor or colorful plaid tablecloth that never flattered anything put on top of it. Only have a messy desk? Then clear the crap off of it. There are way too many photos online of items drowning in visual noise.

Know what “white balance” is

Photo by Arvin Ang

This might be our most technical tip in this list—white balance is a setting found in cameras and phone cameras that basically tells your camera “what kind of light” your subject is under. Are you using sunlight? Indoor fluorescent lamps? Are you outdoors but it’s a bit rainy? Most phone cameras these days have a pretty reliable “auto” setting. But your phone can only do so much “guessing” for you: settings usually come in direct-to-the-point options like “sunny," “cloudy,” or “indoor” or you can just flip through all of them and eyeball it if you can't....read. An incorrectly white balanced photo will not do justice for your subject. Like how this midi controller should have white keys but somehow they ended up on the orange side. You don't want your items to look like they have a case of hepatitis. So if whites aren't coming out pure, a simple change in the settings fixes that.

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Legibility

Photo by Arvin Ang

It’s common practice to take photos of for-sale items, sure. But to present only one, is as impractical as using a 4K TV to play Minesweeper. It also seems sketchy if you're selling an item with a single photo. Show off those details. Show the brand tags if there are any. Zoom in on that backside (no, not that kind of backside). Present different angles and details. And even if you don’t upload all the photos you take, it’s best to be prepared in case a buyer asks for more photos. We’re all just trying to be careful with online shopping, so be prepared for peculiar photo requests like “a photo of it next to a desk lamp” or any sort. Sometimes your buyer will want to get a feel of the scale of the item or its color in relation to a common house item (or to make sure you didn't just rip the pics off from somewhere else).

No flash photography

Photo by Arvin Ang

And not because your house is an art gallery, but because the built-in flash for your phone camera isn’t really made to help you take better photos of already well-lit setups. It was mainly placed there for the times you have to take a photo and there’s little to no light available around. Like you know, at a bar and you just need to get that Instagram story to flex your expensive watch and VIP tables with your friends. For those times, not these times, flash is to be used. People are especially guilty of this when it comes to selling electronics. See how annoying the glare is and how the light actually ruined the overall look. This is online selling people, not an official NBI evidence shot. Turn it off and it gets much better, don’t you think? Soft shadow, no glare, and texture is well represented.

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If all else fails...

Hire a photographer. You probably have a friend or two who would be willing to take on the gig—product photography is a common genre for photographers and this likely won’t be new to them. If all our tips still yielded you poor results, it’s either time for a new phone or time to admit defeat. Hire a photographer, pay them, and get results. Make sure you pay them accordingly! If you're already bros then it probably doesn't even have to be strictly in cash—food and booze is always welcome—but shoutouts are not a form of payment, okay?

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