14 Tips for taking the best photographs of your stuff with a smartphone

iValuations - 14 tips for taking the best photographs of your stuff

The way iValuations works is that in addition to written information we rely on good clear images from you, our customers. Simply put the better the image the better the accuracy of the valuation.

Art, antiques, jewellery and other collectibles can be challenging objects to photograph. However, it is amazing the detail that our experts can glean from a good, crisp photograph. Bad lighting, blur or low resolution can obscure much important detail. 

To get the most out of your valuation follow these easy tips on how to take the best photographs of your stuff. While we don’t get involved with any buying or selling, knowing these tips will also help tremendously if you want to get rid of your items as well. Presenting them correctly to an auction house or an online selling platform like Ebay will make them that much more attractive. Everyone knows that a well presented item has a much better chance of selling.

1. Choosing your equipment

While some prefer using expensive high resolution DSLR or mirrorless cameras with a specific lens for the job one can’t beat a smartphone for ease of use. They’re reliable, take great photographs, and it’s simple, and quick, to transfer images to the internet. If you have a DSLR though, and know how to use it, then great. 

Otherwise I’ll be talking from the viewpoint of a smartphone user as just about everyone has one in their pockets nowadays.

iValuations - using a smartphone to take better photographs of your stuff

2. Prepare your object

Once you have chosen the item you want to photograph have a look if it would benefit from a cursory clean. Dust and tarnish can obscure much in photographs. This is not to suggest a deep down restoration project but rather just the wiping away of any accumulated dust, fingerprints or other unsightly blemishes. 

Be careful not to over clean as this can damage an item and ultimately diminish its value.

3. Location, location, location

If your object is small enough to move then place it in a well lit area like near a window or even outside. Remember though not to take a photograph in front of a window as the light outside will be stronger and place the facing side of the object in shadow. If the object is too large to move or fixed in place then play around with the light you have. This might involve closing or opening curtains or fiddling with the rooms electric lighting. Or a certain time of day might produce the best results.

Try and avoid badly lit areas or dark alcoves. Most smartphones are not that great in low light conditions.

4. The setup

Always try and place your object in front of a neutral ground like a plain, light coloured painted wall. Even better would be to use a sweep, which is normally a piece of continuous plain paper or cloth that runs behind the object from above to beneath so that the object appears to float. The basic premise here is not to get any other competing objects in the background. One will be quite surprised at how much more professional an image can look just by making sure that the composition is kept crisp and simple.

If you really want to step it up a notch then you can build your own lightbox. This is a great project to undertake if you want to sell your items and really give them that professional edge.

iValuations - how to take better photographs of your artworks and collectables

5. Look into the light

I’ve already mentioned it above but lighting is so important that it is worth saying again. After all photography is nothing but just the capture of said light. Bad lighting can dull, obscure or crowd an image out with too much noise that will hide essential details needed to conduct a valuation. Our experts can glean so much from an image, the grain of a wood, the medium of a painting or just the quality of an object. Above all else, in photography, lighting is everything. You can use the ‘golden hours’ of the day, expertly placed side lamps or use that spot in the house that always gets that perfect light.

Don’t use your flash though. It will give the photograph a harsh colour, obscure details and is terrible with reflective surfaces. It is easy to switch off in your phones settings.

6. Reflections, shadow and glare

Yet more on light but these are the nemeses of all object photographers. Prints, watercolours and other objects behind flat glass, for example, are notoriously difficult to photograph without getting reflections in the way. First make sure you haven’t got a light source like a distant window behind casting a glare spot on the object. Close curtains and doors if necessary and be aware of overhead lights as well as yourself. Often the reflection of the phone, and the photographer themselves, can become part of the image if one is not careful. Unless you use professional lighting like side lamps you are going to have to play around with the angles and find the best position. It can be a frustrating process but worth it in the end.

Reflections, shadow and glare obscure essential detail, not to mention mess with the cameras settings, so it’s important to try and diminish them as much as possible.

7. Steady your hand

Next to bad lighting the other chief culprit of poor quality images is a shaky or impatient hand. Take the shot like an Olympic rifle shootist. Take a deep breath, but don’t hold it in. Just before you press the shutter button let it out, slow and steady. Don’t crouch over or under the object, holding your body in a tense awkward position that is liable to cause the shakes. Get comfortable first. Make sure you can see the object clearly on your smartphone screen. Tap the screen, which will help sharpen its focus. It might also then adjust to what it thinks is the best exposure setting. This may or may not be to your liking but you can play around with it just by moving the phone or tapping on different areas of the screen. Take your time and don’t hurry the shot. If you want you can use an object like the back of a chair or table to steady your hands. A great trick is to use your phones earphones as a remote shutter. First steady the phone, ideally on a phone specific tripod, open the camera app and then use the volume button of the earphones to snap the shot.

Low light means a slower shutter speed, which in turn amplifies any shakes into a very blurry result. As does not waiting for the phones camera to focus.

iValuations - taking better photographs of of your stuff with a smartphone tripod.

8. Line up the shot

Depending on what you’re photographing will determine how this is done. If you’re shooting a small object, like a coin, then you can get right over it. Place it on a flat neutral surface and shoot directly down. For objects like paintings try and shoot them at eye level so any distortion is avoided. Try and not shoot from the side or underneath or above. Smartphone cameras normally have a grid overlay option. Turn it on and it will help you compose the shot better.

Good composition is an essential part of good photography.

9. Get in focus

Smartphones have fast shutters but they are not DSLR fast. Taking the time to make sure your shot is in focus before pressing the button is vital. Often this is just about making sure that you have your glasses on but if the phone is too close to an object or it senses the lighting is not to its liking then a blurred image can result. As mentioned earlier tapping the screen will help the phone regain its focus on the object. Also moving it slowly backwards or forwards will help find the optimum point. Also, most smartphones cameras have useless zooms so are not worth using. Rather treat your phone like it has a fixed-focal lens.

It’s worth being a little patient here as you try to discover what works best.

10. Go wild

There’s a reason that pro photographers fill tons of SD cards to get the right shot. Getting that shot normally takes a few tries but it is worth it in the end. If shooting an object, like a silver teapot for example, then take lots, from all angles. Afterwards you’ll have to delete many but taking the time will help your valuation to be as accurate as possible.

George III wine cooler, early 19th century

11. Marks, signatures and stamps

Getting the right information in front of our experts is essential. It ensures that we provide value to you for our services and allows the experts to do their job efficiently. Which is why if your object has any distinguishing marks or signatures it is vital that they are recorded clearly. Photographing tiny hallmarks, for example, that can be found on silver or jewellery can be difficult to shoot without something like a macro lens. However smartphones are fantastic at picking up minute detail if one is fastidious with your shot. Being aware of where the camera lens is on the body of the phone is important here as is not shooting too close up, or too far away. Again this is one for playing around with until the right result is achieved. If you really want to get creative you can create a simple macro lens using a drop of water.

Signatures on paintings, particularly with oils, can also be challenging due to their textured surface. Getting the angles right and sometimes stepping back slightly is best. One can always zoom into the photograph after it has been taken.

iValuations - antique silver hallmarks

12. Damage

As is with marks condition is another essential piece in the puzzle of determining value. Make sure you document any known damage of the item. This can be to show the back of a painting or the repair of a table top. An old solder mark on a piece of silver or a hairline crack to a porcelain charger. 

Not to mention missing parts or replacements. An incomplete object will have to have its missing bits accounted for and appraised accordingly.

All details that are essential for a complete appraisal.

13. The cutting room

Unless you are taking photographs because you want to sell an object elsewhere then you don’t need to worry about editing your images. iValuations is happy to accept images as is as long as they have been taken with care along with the tips mentioned above in mind.

Don’t use filters or otherwise adjust the colour of the image as this can give the incorrect impression of an object.

iValuations - better artwork photographs with your smartphone

14. Resolution

For most modern smartphone this shouldn’t be an issue but it’s worth mentioning that a low resolution image is next to useless for providing an appraisal. Too many details cannot be determined. 

On the flip side there is a maximum limit of 5mb when uploading an image to iValuations’ website. Again this shouldn’t be an issue with smartphones but if your photograph was taken with a serious megapixel camera you might need to scale back the resolution.

In conclusion, if you want to get the most out of what iValuations offers then its worth investing a little time in learning to take the best photographs of your stuff possible. If you have any questions please feel free to get in contact. We’d love to hear from you.

Here at iValuations you’ll find experts in over 50 categories of art, antiques and collectibles that are waiting to give impartial professional, affordable and in-depth valuation reports in a timeous and easy to use manner.

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