Photographing Tools for eBay

Good photos make all the difference

Good photos make all the difference

Good photos and a clear, detailed description make all the difference when you’re buying and selling on eBay. The eBay seller I bought this Stanley Bailey No. 3, Type 14 from provided the photo shown at the top. I have no idea what they were doing to have the photo come out purple, but it sure didn’t make for a very compelling presentation. Looks like some bizarre combination of lighting sources, probably a mix of flash and fluorescent, or perhaps their camera was inadvertently set to some creative “mode.” Additionally, the description was virtually non-existent.  Something like “Old Stanley plane in good condition.” Didn’t really tell me much. Not surprising, the bidding activity was low and I got it for a bargain.

After doing a light restoration on the plane, primarily just cleaning the crud off of it, I took the photo at the bottom using a 12 year old digital camera, cheap tripod, natural daylight, with the plane sitting on my kitchen table. You don’t have to be a professional photographer or have expensive equipment to get good results. You just have to make an effort and think about what you’re doing.

Photography Guidelines

While better equipment can certainly produce superior photographs in the hands of a skilled photographer, even a cell phone or tablet can provide surprisingly good results if you follow a few simple guidelines:

  1. Use Natural Light – Whenever possible, use natural light (daylight) for your light source. Avoid direct sunlight, stay in the shade or better yet, wait for an overcast day. Incandescent and fluorescent lights each produce a very different color balance, resulting in a yellowish cast or bluish cast respectively. While modern cameras usually do a fair job of compensating for this, the photos still look unnatural. If you must use artificial light, stick to either incandescent or fluorescent (don’t mix them) and try to set your camera for that corresponding light. Finally, make sure you turn off any sort of creative effects mode.
  2. Turn off the Flash – Flash photography, especially of stationary objects, is a tricky thing to get right. Flash tends to blast everything in light, flattening details and causing unnatural highlights and shadows. It’s not a good look. Find a place where there is plenty of natural ambient light as described above.
  3. Compose Your Shot – Fill the frame with your subject and think about your platform and background, everything that will be in the photo. Avoid patterned fabrics and anything that might be a distraction. Try to find a spot that is visually appealing, and ideally shows your item in its natural environment. If you’ve ever looked at my auctions, I photograph my tools right on my workbench, because ultimately that’s where they belong. (See photo below) Even then, I remove as much of the clutter as possible so the tool will be the focal point.
  4. Image Size – All modern cameras, even the cameras on phones, produce relatively high resolution images. Make sure that your photos are at least 1600 pixels on one axis (either horizontal or vertical). Square format photos make the most of eBay’s available real estate, but are not always practical for your subject. Again, make sure you fill your frame like I did in the photo below.
  5. Other Equipment – A tripod is nice, but you really only need one if you’re using manual exposure controls with a slow shutter speed (slower than 1/60 sec) , where if the camera were hand held, the photo would be fuzzy from camera shake. A tripod, however, can be advantageous if you need to photograph in low light. You can take very long exposures without camera movement causing a fuzzy photo mess.
  6. Software – This is also optional, but a good photo editor like Photoshop can make a mediocre photo really pop. With a little practice, you can learn to correct color balance and fix minor exposure problems. If nothing else, you will likely need to crop the photo that comes straight from the camera.
275 SB4C Type 10 Post 1

Stanley Bailey No. 4C, Type 10 photographed on my workbench immediately after a few test cuts.

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Professional Services Now Offered by Virginia Toolworks!

VA Toolworks Condensed Logo - LetterheadI am pleased to announce that Virginia Toolworks is now offering professional restoration, identification, and valuation services at very competitive prices!  While the primary focus is, and has always been, on vintage hand tools, I also offer restoration of faded and damaged photographs, as well as cosmetic restoration of firearms.

Restoration

Tools – Adhering to the archival principles of restoration that have always been the foundation of Virginia Toolworks, we now offer archival cleaning and rust removal, and tuning and sharpening (if desired), with starting prices as low as $25.  For more information please see the Services Page.

Photographs – With 35 years of experience as a photography enthusiast, including considerable darkroom exposure (see what I did there?) before transitioning exclusively to digital approximately 16 years ago, I offer digital restoration of old damaged and faded photographs with prices starting at $50.  Examples of my work can be viewed on the Photo Restoration page.

Firearms – As most followers of this blog have seen, I occasionally do restoration work on firearms.  This work is primarily cosmetic – I am not a gunsmith. I offer cleaning of the action, restoration of wood, and light (cold blue) refresh of metal surfaces.  I can also help with missing parts.  However, to verify or ensure safe functionality before firing, you should see a qualified gunsmith for a safety inspection.

Identification

Virginia Toolworks now provides simple assistance identifying tools for a nominal charge of $10 per tool.  For more information please see the Identification Page

Valuations (Appraisals) & Research

Virginia Toolworks now provides written valuations (retail value) and historical research at a rate of $50 per hour with a one hour minimum.  For more information on Valuations, please see the Valuations/Appraisals page.

For more detailed information on these and other services provided by Virginia Toolworks, please see the Services Offered page.

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Preservation Beyond Tools – Digital Restoration of Photographs

Tools are not always the only thing restored at Virginia Toolworks. This is a family photo of my mother and her sisters (c. ~1932) that I restored for her 10 years ago. The original photo shown on the left was scanned at a high resolution.  You can see evidence of the silver oxidation and fading, especially around the edges.  Restoration was accomplished through digital manipulation using Adobe Photoshop . The restored image, shown on the right, was then printed on special 100% cotton paper using archival inks.

Pre-Post Comp - Family Photo

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