It's easier to take digital photos than ever before. But that doesn't mean images are easier to upload online or that they're any better quality. And if you have some three-dimensional objects to sell, you face the challenges of staging, lighting, and presenting them clearly.
One seller is happy with her sales images of three-dimensional objects, and she doesn't use a conventional camera at all. Instead, Diana Mitchell uses a device called TopShot to photograph sales items for her Curiously Pink store on Etsy.
Mitchell uses the HP TopShot LaserJet Pro M275, a device that doesn't fit into a single neat category. It's a multifunction printer, yes, but it's also a scanner - a scanner with a difference.
Along with placing sheets of paper or other flat objects on its flatbed surface, you can also place 3-D objects and capture images of them from a camera above the surface that vaguely resembles one of those old overhead projectors your teachers used in high school.
The M275's flatbed surface is white, which means that by placing the object on it and capturing its image, you have solved the problems of staging and positioning that are so common to photographing sales items. The surface is designed for objects smaller than 8-1/2" x 11" like eyeglasses or jewelry, so you'll still need to use a conventional camera for anything bigger. But if you sell thinks like paper doll dresses, sewing patterns, and vintage scissors, which Mitchell offers through her Etsy store, it produces images of high quality.
"When you're looking on your computer or portable device screen at images taken with TopShot, they do seem different," she comments. In my opinion, they're sharper and clearer than other images I see in online stores. When I looked closely, for several seconds, I could see highlights that suggested shape and depth, though the TopShot doesn't produce 3-D images of the sort you see in the movie theater. However, Mitchell's positive comments about TopShot don't really focus on image quality.
"The TopShot is helpful in many ways," she says. "First of all, it saves time compared to the way I did business before switching to the TopShot. With a conventional camera, I would have to take dozens of shots to get one or two good images. I then had to edit the images down before posting to my site. With the TopShot, almost every image I scan is ready to upload to my Etsy site."
Mitchell also said using the TopShot removes certain constraints she felt using a camera. "I was limited to when I could take photos with a camera because the weather and the lighting were not always optimal. Now I am able to scan photos any time of day or night, which is a great timesaver and allows me to upload twice as many photos."
The TopShot, which lists for $399.99, has wireless capability and can e-print to any printer connected to the Internet, or email images to an email address you configure. It can print images on paper as well, though its paper tray only holds 150 sheets at a time. The device prints at up to 17 ppm in black-and-white and up to 4 ppm in color.
The scanning, not printing function, sets the TopShot apart from other devices on the market. When you scan a 3-D object, its 8 CMOS image sensor takes six separate images of the object and merges them together to create a single 2-D image. Though image resolution is small at 245 dpi, when posted online, the images appear extra-sharp and perfectly lit. You can view some photos taken with the TopShot on HP's Flickr account.
Pictured: A product image taken by an HP TopShot.
The TopShot may not be for everyone, but if you have a large number of small objects you need to photograph and get online quickly, the device can boost your efficiently dramatically. On eBay itself, prices for the TopShot range from $228 to over $500. I saw a new one listed with a starting bid of $280 but with no bids. The TopShot's toner cartridge runs nearly $60.
Mitchell calls it an "amazing tool for the small business owner." While some of her sales items still need to be photographed with a conventional camera, she estimates that 90 percent of her inventory can be scanned with the TopShot.
"It has given me the ability to upload items faster while working more efficiently. I feel that with the use of the TopShot, I can expand my business to something beyond what I could achieve with a camera alone."
Hewlett Packard sells the HP TopShot on its website, here's a link to the sales page where you can read an overview, specs and reviews.
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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