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Pro Tips: Minimum Standards for eBay or Craigslist Pics

Chris Haining December 5, 2016 All Things Hoon, In General 14 Comments

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The lede image of this article shows a vendors attempt to portray the interior of a car he is selling. A picture can paint a thousand words, as we all know, and you’d think that eBay sellers would know that, too. Yet this guy took his photo on a rainy day and didn’t even bother opening the door. Hopeless.

It stuns me that, in this day of ever more informed, enabled and tech-savvy consumers, people still lack the wherewithal to post useful, informative and representative images of what they’re trying to sell. It’s clearly a lot more difficult than I assumed. OK, not everybody’s a wizard behind the lens, but the photos don’t need to be of David Bailey quality, even a few snaps from a low-tier ‘phone camera will do just fine with the application of just a little common sense.

So, in order to help navigate through this apparent minefield, I’ve taken a look around and found some specific areas that people seem to have trouble with when it comes to eBay photography. Now, I’m no expert but I still think I can share a few hints and tips to help make your eBay listings look a little more professional and a little less like a feeble and futile waste of time and energy. This is a Hooniverse Public Service broadcast.

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Try to present your car positively. The ’87 Audi 80 in the image above is only going to appeal to one of two types of people: Somebody who wants a pair of rear lights for a Lister Storm and is prepared to remove them himself, or somebody who thinks that hardcore gardening is a vital part of a car purchase. If you’re about to list your car for sale and it looks like this, you’ve got your priorities wrong.  From this image it’s not clear to see just how much Audi 80 the buyer is actually bidding for. Extricating your car from the garage and foliage so it can actually be seen could well net you a little more interest from prospective purchasers.

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Consider cleaning your car. You know, enough to make it look like you at least have the vaguest bit of interest in it. It’s commonly accepted that cars are visually judged as being more valuable when they don’t look like crap. We’re not talking about finicky detailing, here – but an absence of moss can drive up your car’s value. And when you’re selling something rare; an MN12 Thunderbird in the UK, for example, presenting it as something other than scrap is sound advice.

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Take a photo of the actual car itself. Taking a photo of a phone with a picture of the car on its screen really isn’t the same. And if you’re really determined that this is the way to go, and you’re really proud of your entry-level smartphone, photograph it in such a way as it’s in the middle of the shot, isn’t obscured by reflected light and the subject matter takes up more than a quarter of the total image area. The effort above is, frankly, a shoddy effort.

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The creator of this shot is getting there, but still has some way to go to achieve perfection. He has at least taken the bold step of venturing outdoors and actually photographing his car in the metal. He could have cleaned it, of course, but let’s not be petty. The main issue here is a technical one – composition.

The main objective, unless you’re depicting specific details on the car, is to fit the whole car in the frame. In the above shot, one simple technique the photographer could have used is to turn slightly to the right. That way, the rear end of the car would be further towards the left of the frame, and more of the front of the car would be visible. An advanced technique, if you find that you can’t fit the whole car into the image, is to step backwards a bit, moving further away from the subject matter. This has the reverse of the effect of ‘zooming’ into an image, and is very effective once you’ve mastered it.

Also, although stage-dressing can be an effective technique for adding interest to photographs, your laundry and kids scooters will provide little added value.

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Sometimes a professional photographer will add interest to a composition by using a so-called ‘Dutch angle’. This can add drama and power to a static object, while not disorienting the viewer. In the case above, the angle chosen is so extreme that it has a confusing effect. The vendor, in his pursuit of creative flair, has overlooked the more humdrum principles of eBay image preparation. The soft-focus effect is striking, especially in combination with the extreme exposure, but almost wholly inverting the image leaves the viewer a little unsure of the message the vendor is trying to put across.

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Quality, not quantity. In this listing, the vendor had supplied images of this P38 Range Rover, wholly visible, out in the street. As anybody sufficiently equipped in the cojones department to daily drive a P38 will tell you, evidence of your late-‘nineties Range Rover actually operating under its own power is well worth shouting loudly about. Unwise, then, for the main image in your eBay listing to be of it sitting on the driveway with the hood open, half obscured by a privet hedge. I would argue that this image added very little value to the listing, no matter how proud the vendor is of his or her topiary.

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Finally, location is everything. It’s not every day that a ’58 Edsel Corsair comes up for sale in the UK, and when it does its vendor would be well advised to show it off to its very best advantage. When your car appears not to be a festering pile of rust and despair, consider taking photographs that don’t suggest that it could be eaten by ravenous pigs at any moment.

If you live on a farm, or your car lives on a farm, it’s geographically probable that an attractive rural location is close at hand. It may take you upwards of several minutes to achieve, but consider driving the car a moderate distance until you find somewhere fittingly pretty to photograph it.

Remember, if your photographs show that you actually give a fuck about what you’re selling, people might reciprocate by giving a fuck about bidding on it.

(All images quietly syphoned from eBay listings. Copyright remains property of Anglesey Brass Rubbing Society)