Do you want Mearto’s fair market valuation of your item to be as accurate as possible? Are you interested in selling something through an auction house or online marketplace like eBay? There’s one important thing that you can and should do to get the most out of your investment in our service and more money for your items… submit good images!
You don’t have to hire a professional photographer or buy expensive equipment – just follow the tips and tricks we’ve included below to provide our specialists with the images they need, and to attract auction houses and potential buyers.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
Unless you already own DSLR camera and know how to use it, we don’t recommend or require you to use anything more than the camera on your smartphone to submit photos. However, there are a few easy and inexpensive upgrades that will take your images to the next level.
#1 – Steady your hand
One of the biggest culprits behind blurry photos is a shaky hand. Take a deep breath and hold it before you click the shutter button, rest your camera on a table or other flat surface, or consider purchasing an inexpensive tripod (less than $20 on Amazon) for your smartphone if you plan to take photos of many items. Another trick is to use your smartphone’s earbuds as a remote shutter. Plug in the headphones, place the phone on a flat surface in front of the item, open the camera app and use the volume button on the headphones to snap the shot.
#2 – Download an app to enhance your smartphone camera’s capabilities
Do you want more control over the shutter speed, aperture, etc. than what your smartphone’s camera allows? There are many free and inexpensive apps that you can download for extensive options. With more than 30 million users, one of the most popular apps is VSCO, which can be used to adjust the camera settings and for advanced editing. VSCO offers a free seven-day trial, then an annual subscription for $19.99.
#3 – Select an appropriate backdrop
You probably already have many items in your home that could be used as a backdrop for your photos. A bedsheet, piece of poster board or even a paper plate are some options to consider. It’s best to choose something in a contrasting color. For most items, you will most likely want to go with a white or light grey background. Natural materials, such as burlap, may also produce appealing results. Just be sure not to photograph your item against any background that would be a visual distraction – keep the attention on the subject of the image.
#4 – Use a “sweep”
In product photography lingo, a “sweep” is simply a continuous backdrop that runs from above and behind the item to underneath it, so that the item appears to float. This is common in most studio setups (see image below), but you can achieve the same effect at home with a bedsheet or piece of paper. Though not entirely necessary, this extra step gives your photographs a more professional appearance.
#5 – DIY a lightbox
If you plan to have many items appraised online by Mearto and you really want to go above and beyond in the photographs you submit, you can consider building your own light box with materials found around your home, which can be used to take professional-grade images of small items. There are many step-by-step tutorials that can be found on Youtube and other websites. We find the instructions from Wikihow to be particularly detailed and useful.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LIGHTING
Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý once said that “photography is painting with light.” It is one of the most important elements to consider when you’re taking photographs of your item, because bad lighting can ruin an image and make it impossible for our specialists, auction house partners and potential buyers to see all of the relevant details. Here are some tips for helping you get the lighting just right.
#6 – Consider your light source
The best light is natural light. Are you able to carry your item outside? Set up your “studio” in the great outdoors for the best results. If that’s not an option, you can also take photographs near a window or swap out your lightbulbs for daylight balanced LEDs, which imitate the sun. They are slightly more expensive than conventional incandescent bulbs, but they eliminate the pesky yellow or orange “glow” that you see in so many photographs taken indoors.
# 7 – Shoot during the “golden hours” of the day
If you’re planning to take photographs outside or near a window, aim for the hours during or just after sunrise and just before or during sunset. These are referred to as the “golden hours” of the day and provide the ideal lighting conditions. On rainy or overcast days, you can also take great photographs. Just be sure to protect your item from the elements!
#8 – Don’t use your camera’s flash
The flash is very likely to overexpose and misrepresent the colors of your item. Continuous or repeated exposure to bright light may also be harmful to the item. If you are using a smartphone, be careful that the flash is not set up to automatically go off in darker lighting conditions. On most phone cameras, it can very easily be switched off before you take a photograph.
#9 – Avoid reflections, shadows and glare
This may take some time to adjust and practice to improve, but to provide our specialists with the highest-quality images to consider for the fair market valuation of your item, please be sure that they are not obscured by reflections, shadows or glares. Paintings and lacquered or glazed items, in particular, may present some issues. Try shooting from several different angles, or changing your light source if your items are difficult to see in the photographs.
SETTING UP THE SHOT
You’ve selected your equipment and identified the ideal lighting conditions. Now, before you click that shutter button, read through these pointers for getting the best and most useful images of your item.
#10 – Clean the item before you photograph it
This one might seem obvious, but is often overlooked. Make sure that your item is looking its best by giving it a quick wipe to remove any dust or grime. For works of art or antiques, be careful not to use harsh cleaning supplies or techniques that can damage the patina and decrease the value. Consider taking the item to a professional conservator in your area for cleaning if it is particularly old or valuable.
#11 – Clear the clutter
To ensure that all eyes are on your item, be sure that it is photographed by itself in front of a white or neutral background. Clear the area of any unnecessary mess or clutter, so that our specialists know which item they are meant to evaluate and potential buyers know exactly what they will receive when they purchase your item.
#12 – Line up your shot
You should provide at least one image of your item where you are standing directly in front of or above it. For example, if your item is a painting, make sure that the photo is being taken at eye-level. This may require moving the item or adjusting your position, so that your camera is at the correct height. Do not angle the camera to shoot up or down. If your item is small, like a pocketwatch, place it on a flat surface and shoot directly down. In this case, you should make sure that your camera is held square above the item. If necessary, use a stool or ladder.
#13 – Get all the right angles
In addition to the image requirements we described above, it’s also helpful to see the item from a variety of different angles. Photograph the sides and the back, so that our specialists, auction houses and potential buyers can have a 360-degree view.
#14 – Fill the frame
Make sure that the camera is close enough to the item to fill the frame of at least one image. Instead of using the zoom, try moving physically closer to the item, so that it remains clear and in-focus in the photograph. You can also make your item look more appealing to auction houses and potential buyers with the effective use of white space. Just make sure that the item isn’t too small to be properly seen.
#15 – Show the item to scale, or in use
To give viewers a better sense of the size of the item, consider photographing it alongside a common household item, like a coin, or with a ruler. You can also use your hand or body to demonstrate the dimensions. Certain items may look more attractive when in-use. For example, a pair of earrings can be photographed on a model. Jackets and dresses rarely look as good on a hanger as they do on a human form, so consider investing in a mannequin or form if you plan to sell a lot of vintage clothing.
THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Getting good detail shots can be one of the most challenging aspects of product photography. However, they’re essential to our valuations and to convincing an auction house or potential buyer that your item is something special. The recommendations that follow will ensure that you get all the right images.
#16 – Take photos of all signatures, trademarks, etc.
Two of the most important factors in determining the fair market value of a work of art or antique item are: 1) when it was made and 2) who made it. If your item has any distinguishing marks like a signature, date, trademark, stamp or serial number, be sure to include a clear photograph of these details with your submission. Some items, like antique clocks, may require some disassembly to see the internal mechanisms and properly identify the age and maker. If you would like to know more about the images we need to provide an accurate valuation of your item, please contact us to speak to the relevant specialist.
#17 – Document any damage
If your item isn’t in top condition, make sure this is obvious in your photographs. Include images of any damage that your item has sustained over the years. This allows our specialists to take the condition of your item into consideration when determining its value, and builds trust with auction houses and potential buyers who might be interested in purchasing your item.
#18 – DIY a macro lens
It can be helpful to have a special lens designed to get good photographs of small details, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get one. You can purchase a cheap objective kit for your smartphone, or you can DIY a macro lens for your smartphone with a cheap laser pointer, or even a drop of water.
EDITING AND SUBMITTING YOUR IMAGES
You’ve taken plenty of photos and now you’re ready to submit them to a Mearto specialist for an online appraisal. What is left to do? If you want to sell the item, you may want to think about re-touching the images so that they have a more professional appearance. It’s also worth reading our guidelines below to help you decide which photos to include and in what order they should be uploaded for maximum effect.
#19 – Hire a freelancer to retouch your photos
Photoshop and similar editing programs can take years to learn and master. If you don’t already know how to use these tools effectively, why not hire someone who does? There are many resources online, like Fiverr and Upwork, where you can hire a qualified freelance editor to retouch your images. Though not entirely necessary, this step can give photos of an item that you want to sell a competitive edge and it’s probably much more affordable than you think!
#20 – Don’t use filters
If you decide to do your own editing, avoid using filters. While they look great on Instagram, they can significantly alter the colors of your item and make it difficult to assess from a value and purchasing standpoint. Adjust the color balance, contrast and brightness only if you’ve had some experience with editing software.
#21 – Submit medium resolution images
You will want to be sure that the resolution on the images that you submit is not so low that the relevant details can’t be seen, but also not too high so that the images don’t load properly for our specialists. Large files can often take longer to load on mobile devices, as well, which could have a negative impact on an auction house or potential buyer’s interest in your item.
#22 – Submit multiple images
Items that have just one image are less likely to be accurately valued on our website and grab the attention of potential buyers. When you submit an item to Mearto, be sure to include an images from all angles and a variety of detail shots. Since we don’t have the opportunity to physically handle your item, providing a wide range of photographs is the next best thing.
#23 – Upload your best image first
Since the first image is the one that auction houses and potential buyers will see when they find the listing for your item, you’ll want to make sure that it’s a good one. A photograph where the item is nicely placed in the the frame, either centered or following the “rule of thirds,” entices viewers to click, learn more and make an offer. Include other angles and detail shots as second, third, fourth, etc. images.
Your number one priority, if you want to get an accurate fair market valuation from Mearto or sell something online, should be taking great photographs of your item. We hope that these “hacks” have helped to inform you of quick and inexpensive ways to improve your images. For more information about our online appraisal and consignment service for art, antiques and collectibles, please visit: www.mearto.com.
© Mearto, 2019