One of the least understood aspects of digital photography as it relates to selling on eBay is white balance. But it's crucial to taking accurately colored photos of your items.
Of little concern prior to the advent of digital photography, "white balance" means the color temperature of the palette of your digital image, specifically using the color white as a starting point. In the old days of film photography, the film and the camera gave you the color, and unless you were operating your own color darkroom, you had no control over the final color tone and temperature.
With digital photography, the proper color temperature, or "white balance", is critical to accurate image-color rendition. That's why the color of a single item can vary so widely depending on the type of light used to illuminate it. Here's an example showing three separate images of the same shirt:
Why do the colors of this one shirt vary so much from photo to photo?
Which one is correct? We'll find out in a moment, but first, let's explore the concept of white balance and how you control it.
All good digital cameras come with a menu setting for configuring the camera's white balance. Most cameras use a type of Auto White Balance by default. The camera "reads" the available light coming in through the lens and sets the WB to what it believes is the correct setting.
Most of the time, this works fine. But for item photography, it often doesn't. Your camera's manual will show you where the WB setting is located and how to change it to the available settings:
Light has a "temperature" that varies depending on the mix of various wavelengths of that particular light. The best example is the sunlight at dawn or dusk and sunlight at high noon. The sun provides the light, and it doesn't change -- but the amount of atmosphere the sunlight travels through does vary, with the thickest amount of atmosphere at dawn or dusk and the least amount at high noon.
This variance in the thickness of the atmosphere changes the temperature of the sunlight that hits the your eye, depending on the time of day: low temperature (or reddish light) at dawn and dusk, and high temperature (bluish or white light) at noon. Light bulbs can do the same thing depending on the coating and the type of inert gas used inside the bulb. The chart below shows the temperature (in degrees Kelvin or "K") for various types of light:
The best temperature for light used to illuminate items lies between 4500 and 7500 degrees Kelvin. I use a set of compact flourescent bulbs rated at 5500K. Here is my studio lighting set up for my eBay items:
I bought the softboxes on eBay for under $150 for both as well as the black backdrop made of black studio paper. Note: I prefer black, and I found that studio paper reflects too much light. Today, I use a product called Flex Foam for backdrops. It is absolutely flat with no reflection, comes in a variety of colors (I use black and white only), and is easy to clean and reusable for many years.
With my camera's white balance set to 5500K (some higher-end digital cameras allow you to set the WB temperature!) my shirt shot displays the actual true color of the shirt:
Search eBay in the "Cameras & Photo > Lighting & Studio > Continuous Lighting >" category for "softbox" and in the "Cameras & Photo > Lighting & Studio > Background Material" for "flex foam." Now go forth and photograph!
-- Edited by ebetsy at 02/02/2012 8:48 AM PST
My photos look perfectly balanced in photoshop, but after I upload them to eBay they turn a bad hue (goes towards green/blue) ...why???