Let’s face it—we collect cards because one, we enjoy the trading or selling of them, and/or two, like showing them off. It’s a big reason why baseball card collecting is far from dead…people like to have things and they like to show others their things.
Whichever way you lean with the reason why you collect baseball cards, you’re probably going to need to learn how to take good photographs of your collection (or pieces of your collection).
The Importance of Good Photos
If you’re holding onto cards for your own collection, and perhaps need photos for your personal website or baseball card blog, trading card database, etc. the importance of taking good photos is contained to your own self judgement. Meaning, it’s less important, really.
If you’re selling baseball cards or trading baseball cards, though, the condition of said cards is one of the most important aspects to convey. Especially when selling online as most of us do, the buyer on the other end needs to have peace of mind that the cards they are buying are in fact in good shape.
Here is a picture of a card I purchased, and then the photo of that same card when it came time to sell:
Overall, taking good photos of your cards allows for:
- Maximum selling price
- Reduced chance of complaints
- Increased chance of loyalty business
- Increased legitimacy of the hobby
Maximum Selling Price
Yes, you can point out a card’s imperfections in writing, but hey, we are all human, and can easily downplay a dinged corner or chipping, or even overlook a hairline crease.
It’s a funny thing…we scrutinize the cards we buy, but can “talk” a card into better condition when we are selling it.
But, as sellers, we need to be better.
Plus, we should want to be better. If you can erase all doubt from a buyer’s mind, you’re more likely to get that buyer to pay top dollar for a card.
I mean, it’s a big reason that large, random lots of cards can go for surprisingly low prices—there is a lot of uncertainty…not only with the value of the cards that might be included, but the conditions of those cards as well.
If you’re unable to put the buyer at ease, they’re going to “charge” for that in the form of a lower bid or offer.
(Important note, we are talking about “max value” here and not “multiplied value.” Meaning, the card itself is always going to be the biggest factor in selling price, and even the best of photos won’t increase the actual value of your 1990 score set.)
Reduced Chance of Complaints
If your goal is to be able to sell cads regularly via a platform like eBay, OfferUp, etc., you want to do all you can to not only sell your cards, but to ensure the feedback you’re going to receive from doing so is positive.
Especially when you’re just getting started and building credibility, the last thing you need is a negative or even neutral review because you failed to disclose a card’s true condition.
Here is a card I purchased thinking it was in good condition, only to not notice the big crease dent on the left, that, in a better photo, would have been a lot more clear:
A good photo speaks for itself, and if you can adequately capture a card’s condition through a photograph, your job as a seller is almost fully taken care of.
Increased Chance of Return Customers
Going along with the point above, consumers want to be able to do business with a name or brand they trust. Even if the price is lower elsewhere or a particular nearby store is more convenient, loyalty speaks volumes and propels someone to do more business with the brand they trust.
So, if you’re able to take good photos and accurately describe the condition of the cards you’re selling, the buyers of those cards will bookmark you to check back for new inventory additions at a later time. Or, they might stumble across another one of your auctions down the road, when it then dons on them they’ve purchased from your before, and the resulting transaction was great.
It Keeps the Hobby Strong
With that point, imagine a new collector who is just breaking into the hobby. To them, it seems like every other card they see is advertised as “mint” or “near mint” but if you were to look at those cards, most of the time the condition or grade would fall short.
So then, when it comes time for that new collector to sell or trade their own cards, they’re using such “mint” cards as the condition standard, and thus, putting their cards in the same category, and keeping the cycle going.
For all of these reasons and more, taking good, clear photos of your cards is of great importance.
How to Take Pictures of Baseball Trading Cards
This is probably a good spot to mention that when photographing cards, the biggest secret is that some of the best “photos” can come from means other than photography, like scanners, etc.
But first, the biggest aspects to consider include:
- Take photos in good lighting
- Choose a good background (varies by card)
- Take photos of the fronts and backs of cards
- Capture all four corners clearly
- Use a card stand if necessary
- Highlight anything that could be an issue
- Try scanning baseball cards or various “scanner” apps
Take Photos in Good Lighting
This definitely isn’t a post that is going to detail fancy equipment and make suggestions that are going to cost you money. Really, for taking good photographs of your cards, all of that really isn’t needed.
So, for lighting, all you need is as much natural lighting as possible. This ensures a nice, even distribution of light on your card, versus the concentrated brightness and glare that comes with something like an overhead bulb.
Choose the Right Background
When it comes to the background, you should aim for contras.
That means a 1971 Topps card and its classic black bordering should be photographed on a lighter background, while many of the modern cards like a 2011 Topps Mike Trout RC with its white bordering would be better off photographed against a darker background.
Take Photos of Both Sides of the Card
You can never judge a book by its cover, and you can never speak to the condition of a card without examining its back.
Far too often are the backs neglected, but they make up as much of the card as the front, and thus needs to be examined and photographed as well. It’s not uncommon for a card to have a pristine front, but a back with multiple blemishes.
Capture All Four Corners Clearly
You wouldn’t buy a used car without looking under the hood, right?
With cards, the corners are the first places anyone is going to look when it comes to judging a card’s condition.
I mean, this one pretty much goes without saying, but including it just as a reminder. You’d have to try pretty hard to take a photo of a trading card and not include the corners—but hey, it happens.
(And while it doesn’t warrant its own section, be sure to capture the entire card when photographing. Baseball card sizes vary greatly, so make sure you’re getting every corner of larger cards, and removing as much empty background space as possible with smaller cards.)
Use a Card Stand if Necessary
I say if necessary here because I personally choose to either scan my cards or, if graded and slabbed, take a picture of them. The reason is, the bulky slab doesn’t allow for the scanner lid to close all the way, and the light exposure drowns out the image.
So, when taking pictures of graded cards, I like to use a stand to really help show them off, and, so I can place them inside of a makeshift photo box for the best lighting possible.
Highlight Anything That Can Be an Issue
After all of that, it’s not good enough to take a photo in good lighting, on a good background, while capturing all four corners on the front and back.
Meaning, if there is an imperfection that you know about, it’s your duty to highlight or call attention to it with your photographs.
Try Scanning or “Scanning” Apps
As mentioned above, if you want to try and achieve a crisper photo, try scanning your cards instead of using the camera. Doing so does make for a cleaner look, but it often takes more time.
I use a really old HP 4500 printer and scanner combo, and it works just fine. It also has an app so I can easily start and adjust the scan while saving the photo to my phone, ready to be used when I list on the eBay mobile app.
All in all, the most important thing is that you’re upfront and honest about the conditions of the cards you’re selling or trading. Good photographs are a key piece of that, so hopefully you can keep these tips in mind as you go forward collecting!