If you sell on eBay or want to try it, there are two things so important to help you sell, to maximize your success, drill them into your head: 1) a well-written description, and 2) compelling photographs of your items.

I’ve sold a wildly eclectic number of things over the years: rare books and comics and records, die cast models, computers, vintage toys, coins, posters, clothing, buttons and badges, postcards, furniture, and hundreds of others. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of my items. Peppered around this article are a few I’m proud of.

Shooting some items is a piece of cake, while others are damn difficult. It depends on what it is you’re selling, but there are some basics that any seller needs to know to take pictures that will give your auction page maximum impact.

The whole idea, your ultimate goal, is to use appealing pictures on a computer screen to give your potential bidders as close an experience as possible to holding the item in their hands. Aim for that goal. Any successful seller will tell you: good pictures get you higher bids and more bids. Make those bidders drool. “I gotta have that!”

Here are some tips culled from years of experience that should be useful to you, make you a better seller, give you that good feedback to boost your reputation, and most of all, get you more money for your items than if you just sleazed your way through it.

USE A GOOD CAMERA

You can buy digital cameras for next to nothing these days. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars, but avoid, I mean run away from cheap, crap cameras. A couple hundred bucks or less will get you a decent lens, a few mega pixels of resolution, macro, zoom, full auto or manual tweaking, and let you preview the results in the camera, while you’re in front of your item, so you don’t have to load the shots into your computer and then moan “damn, I didn’t see that shadow, I’ll have to re-shoot.” Don’t buy a camera in which you can’t see what you’ve shot. You’ll regret it.

I use a Sony Mavica FD-91. Sure, it’s a few years old, and it’s only 1024×768 (XVGA) at its max res, but that’s more than enough for eBay purposes and it has an absolutely killer lens with auto-focus and Sony’s patented SteadiShot. I can handhold that big bruiser and get crystal clear pictures, whether I’m shooting a car outside, or a tiny die cast model of one indoors. Just stay away from junk cameras. You’ll know them when you see them. Don’t cheap out.

KEEP YOUR PHOTOS A REASONABLE SIZE

You don’t need or want mega pixel sized pictures on an eBay auction page anyway. Remember, you’re shooting for 72dpi screens, not high resolution printing. Some folks are still on modem dial-up, and they don’t and won’t wait all day for your auction page to load if it’s filled with enormous pictures. 640×480 is really the maximum sized picture you should use on an auction page, as it will fit in the eBay page window on an 800×600 screen without side to side scrolling. You can shoot in higher resolution and scale down in an image processor, but don’t try to shoot smaller and scale up. You can’t make something out of nothing.

WHAT KIND OF LIGHTING?

Most of my auction items are shot in natural light, indoors, near an open window. I use flash for fill or spot metering if I don’t like the initial results. Beware of hot spots or glare from flash, avoid flash entirely if you can, or shoot at an angle. Since I can preview my shots in the camera, I can change camera settings or pop the flash open, fire away, and then when I’m ready to edit the images in the computer, I have many to choose from and can see what’s most appealing and attractive, and throw the others away.

Yes, I said edit. Image processing. 99% of the pictures you take are going to need to be tweaked in one or more ways.

The beauty of digital is that you don’t have to wait for even “one hour photo” to hand you back prints. You get instant results. So shoot away. Catch your item at different angles, in different lighting. Experiment. If it looks good to you on the computer, it’ll look good to others.

Digital can be brutally honest. The camera can see dust on a shiny item that you may not even notice. A can of compressed air or soft brush or cloth to dust your item off first is handy.

KEEP THE BACKGROUND SIMPLE

You’re selling a toy, or a coin, or a chair. Your bidders don’t want to see a roomful of other stuff. Get in tight on your item and fill the frame with it. If you live in clutter, tack up a bed sheet, or even drape one over a chair and put your item on it, for a neutral, non-distracting background.

CROP! SHARPEN! ENHANCE!

If there’s one thing I can’t emphasize enough, it’s to crop those pictures. No bidder is going to throw big money at your beautiful item if your picture makes it look like a pea sitting on a sofa a mile away. Crop that baby down so that your item fills the frame. That’s where your computer’s image processing program comes in. You probably got one bundled with your camera, computer, or both, and maybe you’ve never even used it. There are literally hundreds of them out there, from free to mucho dinero. Don’t think you have to go into hock and buy Photoshop. It’s way too elaborate for this task.

An astonishing image processor that’s absolutely free, intuitive, simple to use, packed with features, and can import and export just about any image format you can think of (although .JPG and .GIF are the two best to use for eBay purposes) is Irfanview. http://www.irfanview.com or http://www.tucows.com/preview/194967.html are two places to get it. You can’t beat the price.

It’ll take you mere minutes to learn it. Load in your picture, drag a rectangle around it, and then crop out the excess. Looks better without all that superfluous stuff around it, doesn’t it?

Many digital cameras produce soft images. Razor sharp images give your pictures more impact, so sharpen a bit. Boost gamma correction, play with contrast and brightness a bit. After you’ve worked with a few pictures, you’ll get the hang of it.

HOW MANY SHOTS DO I NEED?

Good question. Glad you asked. The more expensive an item is, the more pictures a bidder wants to see. If the item has flaws, don’t try to hide them. Shoot them clearly and explain them in your description. You don’t want returns. And you really don’t want negative feedback for hiding an item’s flaws.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Coin collectors spending hundreds or thousands on a coin want absolutely crystal clear, well-lit pictures. You might want a copy stand and side lighting. Car buyers want to see a vehicle from every angle, inside and out. Record buyers want to see if that vinyl still has original sheen. If the jacket has seam splits or ring wear. Learn what your target bidders want to see and shoot your pictures so they don’t have to ask you questions. More information, written and visual, is better than not enough.

PROTECT YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Your image processor should let you type some text and slap it on your picture as a copyright notice. This prevents lazy, sleazy sellers from stealing your pictures for their auctions if you’re selling a generic item, or even a rare one. Protect your pictures with a watermark or an opaque copyright notice near the border but partly over the item. No one will steal them because if you do it right, it’s nearly impossible to edit out a watermark.

And look at other auctions. Look at a lot of them for items like yours. See how their sellers photographed them. Ask questions. Many sellers are proud of their photographs and are happy to give you more tips. Learn how to be successful by studying others’ success. This isn’t stealing, it’s education.