We’ve all seen dreadful pictures of items people are selling online; laid out on a stained carpet, crammed on a cluttered kitchen counter or with dirty clothes scattered in the background—or even worse, a random bare foot in the picture. (Always remember to crop!) Since buyers can’t see your item in person, your pictures tell the story, so it’s important that they are high quality.
1. Prep your items. A nice photo of a stained or fingerprint-covered dish is, in the end, just a picture of a dirty item. Before you take a photo, grab a cloth and wipe it down. If there are fingerprints or smudges, use a wet wipe to get rid of them.
Plump up pillows, get rid of dust or dirt, steam or iron wrinkled clothes. Put clothes on a hanger, don’t lay them on the floor or strewn across a bed. Do what you can to make the item look its best.
2. Set up your photo “studio.” The ideal light for photographs is indirect, natural light. For small items, set up a table near a window. Be sure not to pick a spot with busy wallpaper or patterned paint. You can hang a white or light gray bedsheet as a backdrop in a pinch.
Remove any visible clutter. Drape a tablecloth or fabric square over the table. Avoid prints, and choose solid, neutral colors that contrast with the items you’re photographing so they stand out. Unless you’re a skilled photographer, it’s best not to use a flash or artificial lighting. For days when there’s not much natural light, you can make a DIY inexpensive light box.
When photographing larger items, like a chair or TV, clean up the surrounding area and open any blinds or curtains to let in as much natural light as possible.
3. Use the best camera you have. Use the camera that will give you the best results. For most people, that will be your smartphone, unless you have a recent DSLR or mirrorless camera. Get a macro lens for your phone. Or, if you have a smartphone with a built-in telephoto hybrid zoom lens (like a Pixel 4, for example), even better. It’s especially good for photographing small objects.
4. Take multiple photos. Take several photos, showing different views of the item. For your primary photo, photograph the item at a slight angle, which helps show the depth of the object. For the additional photos in your listing description, you can snap more direct shots showing the front, back, sides, top and bottom.
Be sure to photograph any special features, model numbers, tags, labels and any notable flaws or defects.
Upload as many photos as the selling platform you’re using allows. More photos show more details, which means more chances for someone to fall in love with your item.
5. Don’t get too artsy. Remember, you’re trying to take functional photographs to sell something—not gain Instagram likes or win an art contest. Best to forego fancy props, crazy angles or special effects.
Be sure to fill the frame. Let the item be the star of the show, taking up as much space in the photograph as possible. Crop any extra space around the photo, leaving a little bit of white space around the edges.
Avoid upside down pictures, placing your item at a weird angle or other confusing shots. You want potential buyers to look at your photo and know instantly what they’re seeing. Also, don’t use portrait or HDR mode on smartphones—it can add a lot of effects that usually don’t produce the best results and will distract from the item you’re trying to sell.
6. Be aware of reflections. Phones and electronics are common items to sell online. However, trying to get a photo of the screen can be difficult because of the reflection. Dark screens reflect whatever is in front of them.
One option is to turn the screen on (make sure you don’t select a screen that has any of your personal information). Or, for a smaller item like a cell phone, turn the screen off and take a picture of the phone face up on a table in a room with a plain ceiling near a blank wall, adjusting the angle of your photo until nothing distinct shows in the reflection.
For larger screens, like a TV, if you can’t turn it on, try to at least to make sure whatever is in the reflection looks neat. Be sure there are no reflections of dirty dishes or a messy unmade bed.
7. Photograph all items. If you’re selling a group of items, spread the items out naturally, with the main object being in the front center. Make sure you take at least one picture of each individual item.
8. Show scale on small items. It’s not always easy to gauge the size of an item from a photo, so to give a sense of scale you can place a ruler or common object (penny, pen, soda can) next to the item.
9. Keep the camera steady. To avoid blurry or out of focus pictures, use a flat surface, chair or tripod to steady your hand or camera while taking the photo. This is especially important if you’re zooming in.
10. Don’t “photoshop” the picture. It’s good to crop extra space out of your picture or add a little brightness to your photo to make it stand out. But keep the edits and effects to a minimum and don’t overdo it. Buyers want to see the actual item they will receive, not a photo with fake features, odd effects or covered-up flaws.
Safety Tips for In-Person Sales
If you are meeting someone in person to buy/sell your item, be sure to take the necessary precautions to ensure your safety.
Meet at a public place or police station.
Meet in a public place with lots of people around, like a grocery store parking lot. Safety experts recommend meeting in the parking lot of a police station to add an extra layer of security. Daytime is better; avoid meet-ups at night.
Bring a friend.
Never meet someone you don’t know by yourself. Bring a friend or family member with you.
Only bring enough cash for the purchase.
If a seller demands an online transfer or payment before you meet to get the product, don’t do it. Also, never carry large amounts of cash with you.
Try to get a detailed receipt.
While most sales are final, if something goes wrong with the product, a proof of purchase might help you get it fixed or swapped for a new product.
Don’t give out your information.
Since you will be meeting someone at a public place, there is no need for a buyer or seller to know your home address. You can furnish an email address if you are comfortable.
Trust your gut.
If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Also, if anything the seller or buyer says raises a red flag, it’s probably best to go with your instincts and cancel the sale.
References: ThePennyHoarder, Popular Science, ManvsDebt.com, Sidecar, Mashable, ExpertPhotography.com, Project Décor