It’s helpful to look at what makes a bad image before figuring how to create a good one. This sub-par snap has lazy focusing, making our second-hand camera look blurry. It’s slightly underexposed and, in an attempt to get a fast shutter speed the camera has raised the sensitivity of the light sensor, resulting in a huge amount of ‘noise’ across the image. There’s also been scant attention paid to the background, meaning there’s lots of distraction from the thing we are supposed to be photographing (or rather, selling). The result is an unappealing picture that fails to capture the camera in its best light.
First, choose the location carefully. For most people wanting to sell old stuff online, this means a room in their home. The flash built in to most cameras isn’t likely to do you any favours, so count on a longer exposure and find a room in your house with lots of light – a conservatory, say, or a spot with a south-facing window. The next step is to sort out the background – a clean, white backdrop will help the image stand out. Art shops sell heavy-duty, plain-white paper card like this but carefully positioned A4 sheets will do. If using a larger sheet, as in our shot, set it up so it curves smoothly from vertical to horizontal – you don’t want attention-grabbing creases in view. Really thick card will often support its own weight; for flimsier paper you may want to try using masking tape to keep things in place.
A camera’s aperture is the hole in the lens that light passes through: the smaller the aperture, the more of the frame will be sharp, which is important as people will want to inspect what’s shown in your shots. DSLRs and many compact cameras have an aperture-priority mode. With your camera in this mode, set the aperture to f/8: this means a relatively small aperture and a larger depth of field.
Because the aperture is small, it doesn’t admit as much light. This means the camera will use a longer shutter speed, leaving the photos prone to blurriness through camera-shake. The best defence here is to put the camera on a tripod so you don’t have to touch it while taking a picture. If you still get blurred images, use the camera’s self-timer (some can be set to two seconds), so the act of physically pressing the shutter button doesn’t shake the camera.
Focus is crucial – blurred images are ones that people will quickly skip. If you can, move the focus point on the camera over a point on your subject with lots of detail: this will allow the camera’s autofocus to work more reliably. If the camera only focuses on the middle of the frame, try half-pressing the shutter button while the centre of the frame is over a detailed area, then re-compose the shot once it is focused. Some cameras – including the one we’re using – can enlarge a portion of the frame to help the photographer gauge whether the subject is sharp before the picture is taken. Now take the photo.
Here’s our finished image – taken with exactly the same compact camera as the image in Step 1. The background is clean and without distractions, the image is bright and the camera in the shot is in focus from front to back. All this means that potential buyers will not only get a better idea of the condition your goods are in, but more aesthetically pleasing images may lure them into bidding more for your product compared to someone else’s. The total time taken for this shot was just a few minutes and once set up, subsequent shots can be composed in seconds – a seriously worthwhile investment.