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Get the Picture Straight: The Basics of Selling Glass and Pottery on the Internet


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  Part Two:

 "Get the Picture Straight: The Basics of Selling Glass and Pottery on the Internet" by Forrest D. Poston 


Not every picture is worth a thousand words. If your picture is too small, blurry, dark, sideways, or too large, the words it can speak will be fewer, and most of them are likely to be impolite. And keep in mind that when a picture speaks, it speaks not only about itself but about you as well. People who say, "I'll let the picture speak for itself" may find that the picture calls them lazy or even untrustworthy. A thousand words, give or take a few hundred, allows a lot of room. Consider which words you want your pictures to be worth.

I'm not going to write a full essay on how to do photography (but there are some links listed later for such information). I simply want to make you stop and think about the elements and choices involved and how they can influence a sale. The quality of the picture is one factor, with setting, angle, and number also requiring thought. Ideally, the description and pictures work together, but my first general guide is that you post pictures as if there were no description and write your description as if there were no pictures.

The writing will come later, but for the pictures imagine yourself walking through a shop and noticing the piece. First you tend to see the whole vase (or whatever) because of the distance. If it catches your eye, you walk over and look more closely, maybe pick it up for a good look at one interesting spot or possible problem (holding it very, very close if your eyes are getting like mine). If you still like it, you turn it over and look at the bottom. Depending on your level of experience, you may just be looking for a mark. If you're starting to learn more, you're looking for the form of the bottom and possible indications of age, maybe the clay color if it's pottery, or the pontil type if it's glass.

That answers your questions about what to picture. How often do you buy a piece in a store without looking at it in more than one way? Multiple pictures allows your distant shopper as close to the same opportunity as you can get. In rare situations, one shot may be enough, but it's better to have one too many than one too few. A general guide is one full shot, one detail, one bottom. With glass, you can get away without the bottom shot with many pieces of pressed glass. Always show the bottom if there's a pontil of any kind (and if there is wear to indicate age that will show up in the picture). With pottery, always show the bottom, mark or no mark, legible or not. Show the bottom, preferably straight on. The clay, the shape of the bottom, and several other bits of information may be important to your shoppers even if they mean nothing to you. Also, anything you don't show is something you could be hiding. Remember, your shopper doesn't know you, and any overt or covert hint that you could be untrustworthy may be the deciding factor.

If there's an aspect of your piece that looks particularly good, show it in its best light. Sometimes, I like to put the detail shot first in the listing. Get the viewer hooked with your best shot. Then maybe show the mark, and save your full shot for last. Make sure you've got pictures of everything showing before any of the added text, such as the Paypal logo. Some people stop scrolling at that point if they aren't fully hooked. When you add the pictures within the text box (where you write the description), they show up before Paypal and other logos.

If there's a flaw, show it, too. You can expect any flaw to hurt the price more on the internet than it would in person, and we're back to confidence again. On the other hand, don't overplay the flaws. Keep the picture of the flaw sharp but moderate size. You don't want to make a flake look like a chunk anymore than you want a chunk to look like a flake. My goal is to make the pictures look almost (only almost) as good as the real thing. The pictures must look good enough to pull in the bids, but you want your buyer to open the package and say, "Hey, that's even better than I expected." You don't want, "Well, I guess it's nice enough, but it seemed brighter somehow." Of course, there are limits because monitors don't show colors the same. That's also why you work with the written description.


If possible pick a part of the house (or outdoors) where you do most of your photography. It's a lot easier if your assorted props are nearby, and you get to know the lighting conditions in that area. Sunlight will always be best when possible, but you rarely want the items to be in direct sun. Slightly mottled or slightly shaded is best, even if it means using the flash or a secondary light source for assistance.

You'll want a stable, flat surface and a backdrop that doesn't distract your viewer. Shots on the dining room table can be effective, but if you've got leftovers, paperwork or loud wallpaper showing, you've just lost bids. Most often, I use some combination of a low stool or bench, a high bar stool with a back, and a cloth backdrop. For tall items, I place the cloth over the bench and over the back of the bar stool. For shorter items, I place a thin hardback book on the seat of the bar stool to get a flat, stable surface, then toss the cover over the book, seat, and back. Just where I position things depends on the position of the sun at times, to get the best light and less glare.

Picking your backdrop is usually easy. Go with a mild color when possible. Most of my items are shot against white. A matte surface is better than glossy. Sometimes I like a strong contrast and will use dark blue, red, or black. I've even been known to go with a mild floral print or a strong plaid. It works once in a while, but sooner or later I go back to the basics. Take some items and shoot them against different backgrounds just to see what works or doesn't.


White or glossy off-white items can be especially difficult to get good definition. I've discovered that using a background close in value to the color of the piece works better than going for strong contrast. Dark backgrounds cause most cameras to adjust and allow more light in, which simply makes any glare worse than ever. A soft gray or pastel may be called for. Some people use paper backgrounds, but I think cloth tends to cause fewer problems with the lighting.

Noon tends to be a bad time for photography. The high daylight tends to create a harsh look.

With transparent glass, a backlit shot can be great to bring out the color, but you may have to use the flash as well.

With any opaque item, don't backlight. All you get is a very dark picture that does your view no good. (You can see what I mean on-line at

When trying to photograph the etching or other pattern on clear glass, try shooting through the inside of the glass if you can get the angle. That way you're only shooting through one layer of glass rather than both parts, and you'll have a better chance of getting a clear shot.

If your camera tends to focus on the background when you shoot clear or very transparent glass, try putting a book just off to the side at the same distance as you want the camera to focus. That can help get the camera to focus at the right length, and you can trim the book out of the picture when you edit.

Always edit your pictures. You can do marvelous things, and you can learn to do them quickly. Editing is often faster than trying to get the perfect shot to begin with, especially with detail shots.

Getting a picture of a tough mark is often a matter of angles. If working in sunlight, tip the piece several different ways, getting different mixes of shadow and taking several pictures in hopes one will turn out well (trying to make sure that you're seeing it the same way the camera does---if you look from one angle but hold the camera lower, higher, etc. you may be wasting your time.) If using a flashlight or any other mounted light source, try shining it at as strong an angle as possible (especially for embossed or impressed marks--creating as much shadow contrast as you can).

If your problem is glare off a highly reflective surface, try angling the camera so it's not going to flash right on the mark. More than once, I've needed at least a dozen tries to get a decent picture, and there are some marks that will never show well. Go ahead and include your best shot with an explanation.

One advantage of using a digital camera is that you don't have to worry about the cost of film, so shoot plenty of shots if you want, especially while you're learning about what works best with your camera and studio. I do suggest buying the AC adapter most models have available, and go with rechargeable batteries for when the AC isn't around. You also don't have to wait for developing to see if you need to reshoot any pictures.


First is focus, and for that you need to know your camera. I'm going to assume that you're using a digital camera, and I think you should. However, one disadvantage in the initial shot is that most digital cameras have a problematic focal length (how close you can get to your subject). That's something to consider with any camera you buy. I had an Olympus that could get much closer than the specifications said, about 2" away, which is great. My current Kodak is limited to about 10-12". It does have a zoom feature and a setting for close-ups, but for some really small marks, it's just not good enough. For the full shot, you shouldn't need to get any closer than 18" unless it's a very small piece. Move back and forth until the image doesn't quite fill your viewer, allowing enough leeway so you don't end up cropping parts unintentionally.

Read your manual, at least parts of it, and play with shots at different settings, different distances, different lighting. With good light, just how close can you get? Don't get any closer. A close-up certainly does no good when it's fuzzy. And the good news is that you can do some great things with image editing programs. Yeah, that's another thing to learn and play around with. If you aren't already familiar with an image-editing program, learn. Some of the sites listed at the end of the booklet have excellent information about working with your images, but first you get the best shot you can.

For the full shot, you want attention to be focused on what you're selling. Sometimes it's worth it to get cute and show the piece in a setting (window sill, mantle, table, with a cat) with other items so the viewer gets a sense of how the piece will look at home, but don't make that your main shot. That's an extra, useful but not your money shot. Keep it small, and don't make it your first shot in the listing.

On the other hand, for many items, it's useful to have something else in the shot to show size. Getting the sense of proportion to come across on the screen is almost impossible, but you want to do what you can, especially for pieces that are more desirable because they happen to be particularly large or miniature. Most often, I use a wooden yardstick positioned beside or behind the piece. I've also used a coffee cup with a saying I like. In other cases, Ginny or one of our cats has helped out by becoming a prop. Unfortunately, our cats tend to make things looks smaller when we want them to look bigger. Other people have used coins, pop cans, anything that your viewer is likely to be familiar with.

For other suggestions about photography, check out some of the sources on the web. Some of the sites listed at the end of the booklet have good information. In particular, there's a good link on the Glass and Pottery Sellers Association page.


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