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Make Money Fast!

March 28th, 2012  |  Published in Featured, Shoot  |  4 Comments

The long awaited Nikon D4, D800 and Canon 5D Mark III have all started shipping this month and these new cameras hold the promise of helping us do our jobs better, faster, and easier. They also invoke the reality of helping to empty our bank accounts. So for this week’s ShootStyle blog post I’m writing about something that will help you make money to save for a new camera, or if you’re like me, to help you pay off your credit card for the cameras you just bought.  :-)

But I’m not going to give you advice on how to raise your prices, sell wall collages, or market to high end planners. No, I want to help you make money the old fashioned way… by selling your crap on eBay!


No joke, that box has been living under my desk for about a year. When I straighten up my office and come across something that I just never use anymore but that is still too nice to throw away, I put it in that box. When the box gets full enough or I’m feeling broke enough it’s time to sell! And truth be told, a lot of the stuff I’m selling isn’t really crap – I just call it that to help motivate myself to get rid of it. My list of things to sell in the next few weeks runs the gamut from a Nikkor 17-55mm 2.8 and 85mm 1.4D, to a D700, D200, and IR modified D70, to old iPhones, print servers, cordless telephones, and even some never used Apple VGA to DVI adapters.

I’m always amazed how much money I get for stuff I sell on eBay, and I have one primary secret for getting the best price – a secret that I’m going to share with you:

Post Great Photos of Your Crap!

It sounds like basic advice but you’d be surprised at how many sellers have really bad photos. I want my photos to be professional looking and well lit. This isn’t the time to get creative with moody side lighting or silhouettes. I want the lighting to be flattering, but more importantly I want my photos to show off every flaw of whatever it is that I’m selling. If there’s a scratch I want to see it. If there’s a blemish I want it to show. I sell clean products but I want the buyer to be able to see every spec of dust I missed. I even link to high res photos of the products so that buyers can zoom in and really inspect them. Why? Because if I go out of my way to show every flaw, a buyer can trust that they’re not going to get a nasty surprise when they open the package. And when you’re selling online, trust is worth money.

I have a basic lighting setup that I use every time I do a batch of eBay selling. It’s easy to set up and I can use whatever gear I have on hand to make it happen.

Here’s my basic lighting setup:

Today I’m using a roll of white seamless paper draped over a table. I’m usually waaaay more ghetto with the background. I typically use a large piece of construction paper taped to the wall. I’ve even used the backside of a really large print. But I’d just set up the seamless for a portrait shoot, so that made the background choice easy. I’m also using a camera (incidentally one that I need to pay off) with a 105mm 2.8 macro. It’s important to use a sharp, close focusing lens so that you can come in on the details.

I’m also using Radio Popper JrX triggers today because I had them out for the aforementioned portrait shoot. Usually though, I’ll just set up one radio trigger (or sometimes just an on camera flash) and have the other flashes triggered using their optical slaves. That method is fast and easy to set up since once I manually set the power of the strobes, I won’t be fiddling with them much.

The lighting instruments are

  1. Alien Bee 800 with beauty dish and sock
  2. SB-800 in a strip style soft box
  3. SB-800 shooting into a large umbrella

The specific lighting instruments don’t really matter too much, what does matter is that the light modifiers (beauty dish, soft box, etc.) that I use are as large as possible. If they are large and have a flat diffused face it’s even better. That’s why I’m using the sock on the beauty dish–it turns it into a round soft box.

Tip: to make my light just a little softer and more even, I use the translucent domes on my strobe even inside a soft box or umbrella.

I position my two flattest faced light sources (numbers 1 and 2 in the photos)  on either side of the object I’m shooting. They can be a little above the object in height, but I try to keep them as low as possible. I also position them so they they are slightly in front of the object I’m shooting. This allows their light to wrap around the object . If I don’t have enough flashes on hand I can replace one of these side lights sources with a large reflector, but I’ll have to get it as close to the object . My third light source is a big umbrella that is right behind the camera. It’s job is to add a tiny bit of fill to the shadows and to make the shiny bits on the object sparkle.

You can see the effect of each individual light source below:

  1. The beauty dish and sock is to the left of the D200. Notice how it makes pretty reflected highlights in the grip, prism and other left facing areas of the camera. You’ll also notice that this light is a little pinker than the other flashes. The color temperature of the Alien Bee varies as you lower the power on the flash. For this purpose, I won’t mind it in the final shot.
  2. The strip box is to the right of the D200. Notice how it makes pretty reflected highlights in the right facing areas of the camera. The power of lights 1 and 2 are adjusted to be about equal.
  3. The large umbrella is right behind the camera I’m using to shoot with and is adjusted to be about a stop below the power of the other strobes. All it is doing is filling in the darkest shadows and making things like the lens mount and AF illuminator sparkle.
  4. It all comes together with the three lights. Note that since each strobe is contributing to the exposure, this shot is brighter than the ones showing individual lights. The final exposure was about f/11 at 1/250th with an ISO of 800. I use the blinking over exposure indicator on the camera to set my exposure. Nothing on the background should be blinking.
Once I have my lights set up, I just plop one product after another in front of the camera. Even though I usually shoot raw, for this kind of work I shoot large JPEG files with my white balance set to flash to keep the color consistent. I can move in and out with my camera, and since the distance from the lights to the objects I’m shooting remains the same, my exposure doesn’t change.
This lighting works great for almost anything I throw at it. Below are just some of the items that I pulled out of my crap box and shot today without having to change my lighting at all:
By the way, if you see something you like, keep an eye on my eBay listings.
I’d love to see what your eBay photos look like. Post a few over on ShootStyle’s Facebook page.

About Earl Christie

Earl Christie has written 40 post in this blog.

Earl is a Boston wedding photographer who finds love and magic and wonder in everything he shoots.



  1. Meri Bond says:

    April 2nd, 2012 at 9:50 am (#)

    Geez, Earl, you almost have me inspired to make some images as beautiful as yours! Takes me back to my school days. It’s so easy to forget how to do this when what I usually do is event work that is so fast moving.

    Questions: what are you using for boom arms? What’s your attachment setup for the speedlite with the strip box?

    Nicely done piece!

  2. Earl Christie says:

    April 2nd, 2012 at 10:37 am (#)

    Thanks Meri!

    The strip box is on a Cheetah Boom Stand which is a regular light stand with a built in boom arm.

    The beauty dish is on a Cheetah Century Boom Stand which is a regular C stand that converts into a boom.

    The strip box is attached to the stand with a Westcott Magic Slipper. The whole Strip Bank Kit is described here: http://www.fjwestcott.com/products/product.cfm?itemnum=2221&tbl=products&head=magicslipper

  3. Ned Jackson says:

    April 3rd, 2012 at 7:42 am (#)

    Hey Earl!
    Maybe next post you can discuss the pricing strategy! I tried three different methods… not sure which works best, but I will always be doing a “buy now” option for sure! How do you insure that all your data is gone from the electronics? Would you ever sell hard drives?

  4. Earl Christie says:

    April 3rd, 2012 at 4:49 pm (#)

    Hey Ned! Since I sell infrequently I can’t say I have a proven strategy. I do use use Buy it now in many of my listings. I just sold a couple of iPhone 3G handsets. When I selected the buy it now option, ebay gave me a average price of that they sell for. The first phone I priced right around the average and it sold right away. The second phone I priced just a little above the average and it sold after a couple of days.

    If I don’t have a good idea of what something is worth (or what I want to get for it), I forgo the buy it now and let the market decide by seeing a $1 starting price with no reserve. The $1 starting prices gets people to put a bunch of low bids in early so that when the auction is close to ending it looks like it’s had a lot of interest. This can be nerve wracking though as for most of the auction you see really low prices on the item. I’ve been burned a couple of times, but usually it works out. (And by burned I just mean I was disappointed int the final selling price.)

    I uses the no reserve, $1 starting price, no buy it now with a couple of items recently that both have a day left int he auction… One is an old phone that is up to $37. I’ll be happy even if it stays at that price. The other is a Quantum Turbo Battery that’s only up to $12. I’m expecting the Quantum to move up higher before it sells but maybe someone’

      s going to get an AWESOME deal from me! :)

      On an expensive item like a camera I’ll often put a reserve at whatever my lowest selling price is. That usually generates a bunch of annoying “what’s your reserve’ questions from bidders, but so be it.

      I know that free shipping is can be considered important, but I usually charge separately for shipping… and often it’s still more than what it actually costs me to ship the item, especially if I add tracking to it.

      I’ll sell a hard drive, but I’ll securely erase it by writing zeros to very sector first. When I sell a computer I securely erase the HD then install a fresh OS on it. I think that’s nice for the buyer as they don’t have to try to go through it and wipe my preferences. For things like cameras I reset the menus back to defaults and remove my copyright info from the metadata.

      I often start by selling my lower priced items first to get my ebay sea legs back. I also only put up a few items at a time so that I don’t feel overwhelmed by questions from buyers.

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