Optimizing Images for Online Sales

For those of us who sell things online, a good quality, highly detailed image of the item we are selling is important. If the items you sell are three-dimensional, you really should invest in a good quality digital camera and create an area where you can take clear, uncluttered photos of your items. If your items are two-dimensional, a high quality scanner is a must. I’m not going to discuss makes and models, that’s a topic for another day.

Once you have your image on your computer, there are some basic things you really need to do in order to optimize the image. First and foremost, crop the images so that any extraneous details are removed. We don’t want to see your entire kitchen (if you’ve photographed your item on your kitchen table), just the vase you’re trying to sell. We aren’t interested in a huge margin around the image, crop it down so all there is, is the image itself. That being said, please don’t crop too far, be sure to show us the edges which are important to determine condition.

Next comes color. Depending on your input device (scanner versus camera), you have have to take a number of steps here. The first is color correction. Compare the original item with what you are seeing on your screen. Do the colors match? If not, you’ll have to adjust them using your software of choice (I am a die-hard Photoshop fan, have been using it since it came out in the late ’80s.) You’ll need to check and correct color balance, making sure that you have your CMY (Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow) and your RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) in balance. Relatively easy to do, remembering that one balances the other: C balances R and so on. You may need to make these adjustments in one or more of three areas: Shadows, Midtones, or Highlights. Tweak the slider bars until the image you see in your hand matches the image you see on the screen. Practice with this option will train your eye and teach you where most of your adjustments will need to be made.

Adjusting brightness/contrast is the next step. Photoshop and other software often have “auto-adjust” options for this, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t (often they blow out the highlights where important detail is kept, so use with discretion.) Again, work with the original at hand so that you can most closely match it with what you’re seeing on the screen.

Finally, image size will often need to be tweaked. Most digital cameras create huge files which will generally need to be reduced before they can be used online. An important caveat here is to be sure of your final resolution. If your image is intended only for the computer screen, then 72 DPI (Dots Per Inch) is sufficient. However, should you ever need to out put your image, you will want to save it at a resolution of at least 300 DPI. We can go over resolution in another blog post, but for today, just remember those two scenarios, and adjust resolution accordingly.

Photoshop has a simple size reduction tool, I generally will downsize a scan 50% before uploading it for my eBay auctions, but a file from a digital camera will generally need to be reduced to at least 25% of the original. Your mileage may vary, experiment and see what works best for you. One caveat: larger files take longer to upload, and some hosting services (such as Auctiva) automatically adjust the image to what they feel is the optimal size, so there’s no point in leaving your files huge, as it will just waste your time.

Finally, it’s important to note that when adjusting your scan or photo for your online sale, there are certain things it’s generally considered not ethical to do. Retouching out problems is the biggest no-no of course. Cropping the image so that bad corners or tattered edges on a postcard is sure to get you in trouble with a buyer when the card arrives. And boosting contrast or chroma so that colors pop more than they do in real life is just plain unethical. My main goal is always for the buyer to say “The item was exactly as shown.” A little honestly up front goes a long, long way when it comes to your images, and going overboard to “clean up” an image can come around and bite you in the ass in the long run.

One final comment: one person’s monitor may show things differently than anothers, and it might be worth your while to calibrate your monitor to ensure what you are seeing really is what you are getting. But that’s another topic for another time.

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