mad in pursuit: grown-up's guide to streamlining an auction listing

I've sold a few things on eBay -- flotsam and jetsam. My goal has always been less about money and more about making space. But now sales is supposed to be part of my new career plan, so suddenly time is money. I can't be fussing around all day with an auction listing for an item that sells for $10.

Photographs are critical to a good listing. And I'm seeing more and more listings with multiple photographs and the ability to enlarge a thumbnail for a good view of the product. How this is done is not obvious.

WARNING: This guide is for people who already maintain their own websites, are comfortable with the Code View in Front Page, and can do photo editing.

The challenge

Develop a standardized, efficient process to post new listings with multiple photographs. Make the most of the assets I already have, without having to invest in anything new or subscribe to another ebay add-on. Assets: a digital camera, my own web site, Front Page, Photoshop, and a copy of eBay Hacks by David A. Karp.

ITEM

Obviously the secret to success is selling what somebody wants -- wants bad enough to pay more than you invested (including the time to list it!). After researching the item (esp. in the eBay archives), get the item ready for listing.

...Weigh it and measure the dimensions.

...Best practice: find a box & packing material at the start. Weighing the final package will allow you to specify the shipping costs and expedite getting your money when the sale is over.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Goal: Show off items to their best advantage without a professional photo studio

...Digital camera or scanner. Critical for an efficient workflow. I have a Canon PowerShot S100 Digital Elph, with a USB connection. The alternative for small items best viewed straight on (e.g., jewelry, books, figurines) is to throw them on the scanner. (If the cover doesn't close over them, lay a black or white cloth over them to block out room light.) You get big bright pictures that need little adjustment.

...Neutral background: My makeshift photo set is the top of a putty-colored file cabinet, with a backdrop of white poster board.

...Lights: 3 100-watt "daylight" bulbs set at different angles works pretty well. (Light balance on my camera is set to "Auto.") My experiment with halogen work lights was a failure. The white balance was horrible -- everything shifted to red and I didn't understand how to correct it in the camera. Unless you have a sophisticated ability to bounce a strobe, flash is not recommended because it creates an unattractive hot spot that can wash out detail.

...Image Quality: 1600 x 1200 gives the best options for cropping and detail. I thought a smaller size would be closer to the end product but they didn't leave much leeway for cropping. I wound up having to enlarge my cropped photos, which meant some loss of detail.

PHOTOSHOP (or other photo-editing software) for image refinement

Goal: 3 or 4 large web-ready photos, with duplicates in a smaller "thumbnail" size. (You could work just with .jpgs but I like fussing over the photos, getting them just right.)

...Download all images from camera (File > Import...). Discard the losers. Save (CTL-S) the 3 or 4 best in Photoshop format (.psd). Option: save originals separately in case they are needed for revisions.

...Adjust Levels and Selective Color. (Layer > New Adjustment Layer...) Adjust Levels will brighten the photo. If the white balance is off (too blue, too red), clicking the white eyedropper on the lightest part of a white background will snap the whole picture back to good color. Still, if an item looks cherry red when it is really a muddier bluish red, Selective Color is another good adjustment layer to experiment with.

...Crop (Image > Crop), using a marquee set at a fixed ratio (I've been using 1-to-1 for square pictures.)

...Resize image: Object > Image Size... In dialogue, change width to 600 for a big picture. (Note: All photos must be the same dimensions for the click 'n switch photo gallery.)

...JPEGs. CTL-S to save your .psd. File > Save for Web... Save your adjusted photo in high quality .jpg format in your web's auction folder.

...Small JPEGs. Back in Photoshop, resize photo (Object > Image Size...) to 150 x 150 px (assuming you are using a square format). If you have a lot of photos, it's a time saver to creat a Photoshop Action to automatically resize the picture for you. File > Save for Web: jpgs again, same names but with –TN150 suffix.

Optional. Instead of the click 'n switch feature described below, use the Thumbnail (CTL-T) feature in Front Page. Just remember to go into the Code View and expand the URL references to "http://www..." etc. This disadvantage is that the viewer has to hit the Back button to get back to the auction listing.

...Finish up. In History Palette, revert picture to original size. Save and close.

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Selling on ebay isn't just about organizing your work flow. For someone who sells collectibles, it can be QUITE A JOURNEY.