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Picture Imperfect?

Avoid these 10 common mistakes when shooting listing photos.

A picture is still worth a thousand words and, within the online marketplace, a picture could be worth a thousand bucks, too. Before you plan your trip to the bank to deposit your expected riches, be sure you know how to present a picture that will truly pay off.

The truth of the matter is that all too often profits are plundered by indifferent images. Whether captured in a hurry or rendered without some simple planning for purpose, bad item images do bad things to online profits.

While there’s no denying that the mere inclusion of item images within a listing can quickly boost bidding rates and potentially increase item sell-through rates (and price), it’s equally true that poor photos can quickly undercut a potential sale, alienating and even angering potential bidders or buyers.

Don’t despair, though, because these sales-sabotaging offenses are easy to anticipate, and similarly simple to avoid. What follows is a list of the 10 most common image mistakes that can afflict an online listing. Chances are you’ll recognize several (if not all) as photo faux pas you’ve seen in your online travels. Take note of each mistake and how to ensure none of them infiltrate your online dealings.

1. Poor lighting

Whenever possible, use natural lighting to faithfully represent an image

If your lighting is dim, the result will be an image that lacks detail, grossly under-representing your offering. By the same token, an item too brightly lit will result in a severely overexposed image, again obscuring important details and likely to misrepresent colors.

The antidote: Whenever possible, use natural (outdoor) lighting to faithfully represent an image. If that’s not possible or practical, aim two 40-watt incandescent bulbs at the item, one from either side, to render a fully lit image.

2. Blurry images

Fuzzy images are an annoyance and reflect lack of attention on the seller’s part. Always check the focus before you photograph and then verify crispness and clarity as you review your images. If you have a jittery hand, use a tripod for a true “still-life” image.

3. Excessive glare

A close cousin to poor lighting is excessive glare. This is typically caused by over-lighting an item but most frequently is the result of improper camera flash usage. An item need not be shiny to become afflicted by glare.

To avoid this problem of image “hot spots,” photograph items from an angle—from the left or right; alternatively, photograph from above or below an item’s midline.

4. Reflective surfaces

Have you seen that now-infamous image of the chrome tea kettle and its immodest proprietor? If so, you’ll know why you need to take care when photographing truly reflective items, to avoid revealing distracting or embarrassing elements opposite them.

If you’re photographing chrome, glass, mirror, or anything else that can capture a reflection, shoot these at an angle while positioned opposite from a neutral background, such as a blank wall or a temporary neutral-colored scrim.

5. Bad backgrounds

Forgo any sort of fancy backdrops that might feature stark colors or visually busy patterns

As mentioned in the previous discussion of reflective surfaces, choose neutral-colored settings to accentuate your items. Forgo any sort of fancy backdrops that might feature stark colors or visually busy patterns—these will only distract potential buyers from getting a best look at your item. Choose complimentary backgrounds like beige, black, or pale blue to really make your item stand out.

6. Confounding combo-shots

If you think it efficient to photograph several different items within a single image, you’re encouraged to think again. Some sellers consider this a cross-selling tactic, showing an image of several items in a listing where only one is actually being offered. Sometimes, the other items in the photo will seem more compelling to a buyer, drawing their attention away from what the seller hopes to sell. Beyond this, multiple items in an image can appear a bit messy and possibly misleading.

7. Lack of cropping

Few bidders are interested in scouring an image of a messy desk or table in search of the item that’s supposedly being offered. If you’ve gone to the trouble to provide a neutral background for your item, complete your good work by ensuring you crop out anything beyond the backdrop. Crop your images to cut out anything that distracts from the item—this includes the kids or the kitten, no matter how cute they might be.

8. Lack of close-up

Ever looked at images of jewelry or small collectibles where an item is too tiny to clearly discern? Avoid frustrating potential buyers with far-away photography and, instead, move closer to the item or use the camera’s zoom function to reveal every telling detail. Of course, be sure to check your focus and image clarity.

9. Over-enhancement

Sometimes it’s necessary to utilize a bit of image editing to improve color, exposure and sharpness of a photo. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with touching up minor image imperfections, take care not to enlist every image enhancement setting. Over-enhanced images often appear as improperly colored, unnaturally sharp, and generally jagged and blocky looking.

10. Excessive image size

Review your listing to ensure your image displays properly and quickly

Finally, a fast way to alienate a potential buyer is to make them wait (and wait and wait) for a huge image to display on their computer screen. In fact, most won’t wait much more than five or six seconds before they decide to leave your listing and shop for something else. Set your digital camera to take moderate-sized pictures, looking to avoid any image that exceeds a 40KB file size. (Enabling the free Supersize option within Auctiva’s image hosting service will allow potential buyers to enlarge images within your listing, if they wish, and get a more detailed look at the goods.)

Always review your final listing prior to publishing to ensure your image displays properly and quickly.

Now, certainly, none of these could be considered fatal offenses for an online listing. In fact, there are many tolerant bidders and buyers that will forgive these sorts of imaging mistakes.

Even so, there are as many who will not grant you the patience of squinting at a bad image. Bolster your bottom line with every listing by ensuring each one includes helpful and engaging images that will translate into sales for you.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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