how to take better photos of your graded and raw cards 4
Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit
Share on twitter

No reason for bad images on eBay 🙁

With today’s technology, there is absolutely no reason at all to have a blurry, dark or just plain bad picture of your cards. If you’re making potential buyer’s strain their eyes in order to find the serial number or determine if it’s a refractor or not, you could lose a sale or a bid.

I’ve come across hundreds of sports card listings where the seller took no effort in making that refractor card “refract”. Or didn’t bother to zoom in and capture a crisp shot of that low printed serial number on the back. If you’re looking to take awesome pictures of your sports cards and non sports cards, you’re in the right place.

Trying to hold your camera directly in front of the card while maintaining the perfect light balance and capturing the important details can be tricky. I’ve held my camera in many awkward and uncomfortable angles, fighting that dreaded glare from an overhead light or trying to zoom in on the serial number or an imperfection. After many years of taking pictures of cards, I’ve discovered a foolproof way to take simple and fast photo’s that will stand out from the competition.

What if I have a scanner?

If you have a scanner and it does a good job scanning cards while they’re in a top loader then, by all means, use the scanner. You can scan multiple cards at once and they do a nice job of lighting the card evenly. Some things I don’t like about scanners is the fact that a lot of sellers use them. In my opinion, the images look flat, boring and blend in with everyone else’s. Taking a pictures of your sports cards at the perfect angle can make even the most common base card look attractive to buyers.

If you’re trying to scan graded cards you need a certain scanner in order to have those sharp crisp images you see on eBay. If you do not have the correct scanner then you will be left with one option, takings a picture. Check out my article on some of the best scanners to use for scanning graded and raw cards

Why bother taking good pictures of your sports cards?

When selling your cards online you want to display them as you would at your home in your collection. It is important to show how awesome and great they will look in the potential buyer’s collection. 

This will make the buying impulse stronger which could lead to a sale.

A major factor that determines the value of both sports and non-sports trading cards is the condition of the card. Having good quality photo’s will help determine what condition the cards are in.

Are the corners sharp?
Does the surface have scratches or dents?
How solid is the color on the borders and edges?

These are all questions most collectors ask themselves before purchasing a card. Having an image that is blurry, dark or doesn’t show the full card could prevent buyers from purchasing from you.

Not showing the back of the card

A large percentage of listings I’ve come across only have images of the front of the card. Why would someone pay premium prices for a card they haven’t seen the back of? Better yet, how can a seller expect someone to pay for a card when they won’t show them the back? Are they trying to hide something? 

Is there significant damage or horrible centering? That’s what I think when I come across a listing with only the front image listed. Showing photo’s of the back is just as important as the front. eBay allows you to upload up to 9 images for free! Don’t be lazy upload more than one image.

Premiums for pristine images

The importance of a sharp, well lit and accurate photo of your cards is crucial. If your card is in pristine condition you want to show off the proof. I myself have paid premiums for cards that have been listed as being in “pristine” or Gem mint condition. As long as there is photographic evidence of both the front and the back of the card I’ll buy. I only buy cards I want to submit to PSA so seeing high-quality images that I can thoroughly inspect myself makes me feel better about buying.

Shipping charges for returns

If your card has a major surface damage or a rounded corner you want to let buyers know that. In my opinion, it is more important to have a better image of a card with flaws than a card without any. Trying to hide any damage or imperfections by taking bad pictures will bring no good. It will only result in negative feedback and wasted money on paying return shipping fees. I have come across numerous high-end cards with a heavy price tag and very poor images. I even got suckered into buying one thinking it was a good deal. After receiving it I discovered that the pictures were blurry for a reason. Luckily eBay takes the side of the buyer in the return process.

Good vs. Bad examples

Looking for poorly taken photo’s of cards listed online will take no time at all. There are thousands! I’ve found a few to use as examples of what not to do. I’ve also taken a few pictures to show what it could look like.
I pulled some photo examples, that have room for improvement, from eBay and listed them below in the right column. I took a photo utilizing my setup of a similar card, shown on the left, to show what the photo could look like. These cards don’t have the highest price tag but they are still highly collectible. Every card you sell should be treated as the “most valued” card in your collection.

Good 🙂

Josh dobbs 2017 optic illusions blue prizm

Poor 🙁

Use a penny sleeve & a top loader

The lighting is ok but the seller didn’t take the time to put the rookie refractor in a penny sleeve or a top loader. This card could easily be damaged if not already. The image I took on the left would be ideal for listing this card. It is sharp, crisp, well lit and well protected. You should always protect your cards in fresh penny sleeves and top loaders. Especially rookie refractors.

Good 🙂

Terrell davis 2002 bowman chrome x fractor good photo of card

Poor 🙁

Don't have light glare or low light

That awful light glare can really destroy the wow factor of any card. In the photo below you can see the Tom Brady refractor cards being covered entirely by it. These cards are extremely collectible right now and the seller chose to upload this photo? 

The light is dark and extremely unbalanced which makes it hard to tell what cards you are looking at. A well lit, glare-free image similar to the one on the left would make these cards sell much quicker and potentially with a higher price tag.

Good 🙂

2016 optic dak prescott rated rookie psa 10 good picture example

Poor 🙁

dk prescott 2016 optic psa 10 bad picture examples

No busy backgrounds

Having a clean background is important. It allows the eye to focus on what’s important, like that PSA GEM Mint 10 label!. Using a white background is recommended but I’ve seen other solid colors used that works. Stay away from any texture backgrounds or busy backgrounds. Again, the buyer’s eye’s need to be focused on the card and not the background.

The light is dark and extremely unbalanced which makes it hard to tell what cards you are looking at. A well lit, glare-free image similar to the one on the left would make these cards sell much quicker and potentially with a higher price tag.

Supplies you'll need before taking awesome pics

In order to get started, you’ll need a few things. Below is a list of supplies I use and recommend. I’ve linked everything to Amazon for your convenience. A new page will open so don’t worry about being redirected from this site.

#1. Penny Sleeves and Top Loaders

If the card in your picture is laying on a tabletop or the carpet raw this will detour buyers from buying. Most collectors check and see how well the card has been taken care of before bidding or purchasing. Seeing a card in both the penny sleeve and top loader will ensure the buyer that the card has been well protected. This could lead to more sales and higher ending auctions prices.

If your card isn’t in a brand new penny sleeve and top loader be sure to put it in one.

Using old scratched up top loaders will make the card inside look scratched up and not appealing to the buyer. The importance of storing your cards in brand new penny sleeves and top loaders cannot be expressed enough. You can pick them up very cheaply online. I suggest buying them in bulk. It’s better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them.

#2. Portable and bright lamp

Clamp Lamp

You’re going to need a very bright and portable light source.

I recommend using a clamp lamp work light or a desk lamp. The clamp will attach to almost any surface including table tops, curtain rods, thick boxes etc.

The swivel head will allow you to make minor tweaks and adjustments in order to position the light at the perfect angle. This lamp will allow up to a 150-watt bulb which is very bright. I use two of them for the ultimate shine and coverage.

Desk Lamp

You might already have a desk lamp you can use but if not I listed the one I use below. It’s affordable and comes handy for many other projects or hobbies as well.

The one downfall is that it’s not as versatile as the clamp lamp but it still shines just as bright. 

There are many lamps available on Amazon at low prices that will work great. The one I just upgraded to works great and can be found here. 

Having even lighting in your pictures will pull buyers in that may not be shopping for the card your selling. Seeing how beautiful that refractor card is shining is like a bass noticing that shiny fishing lure swimming through the water. They’ll want to swim after it and eat it up!

Having dark and dingy images with that dreaded camera flash or orange coloring will prevent a lot of potential buyers from clicking on your listing. Even if it’s of a card they’re shopping for.

The lighting of the card can be tricky, especially if it’s a refractor. Having too much light can white out important details like the player name or serial number. Having too low of light will make a refractor type card not look like a refractor. The glare from the top loader can also get in the way if the angle is off. Luckily I have discovered a foolproof way to get around the glare.

I use three light sources one on the left, one on the right and one on top facing downward. This ensures the card is evenly light with minimal shadows. If you have a desk lamp and work light already available great. Skip to which light bulbs I use. If not I’ve listed some lamps below that I use. Keep in mind the brighter the better. Look for lamps that offer high wattage light bulb usage. 150 watt should be sufficient.

#3. Get the correct light bulb

There are literally hundreds of different light bulbs you can use in these lamps. If you look at the best photos on eBay and other cards sites you’ll notice that they are bright white. Similar to what the scanners use. 

They don’t use the warm orange low kelvin bulbs. I’ve tried using the 3500K bulbs and the cards do not look bright or crisp at all. I suggest experimenting with this yourself and figuring out what works best for you.

I buy the 5000k dimmable packs and use them in both my lamps and the lights in my office. This allows me to have a well-balanced light that is not too bright nor too orange. Everyone has different setups and environments so experiment for yourself on which bulb will work best for you.

#4. Use a card stand

Laying your cards down flat makes it tough to get a solid shot without having glare from the light source or having your camera in the reflection. I found that using a card stand works great for standing my cards straight up and allowing me to move the camera around for the best shot.

I feel that cards that are in the standing position are also in the “display” position which makes it much more attractive to buyers. They can envision what it will look like standing up on their shelves at home. This will make them more prone to hit that buy it now or place bid button.

#5. Use a decent camera

Notice how I said decent and not expensive. You don’t need to break the bank and purchase a $900 DSLR camera to photograph your cards. Any smartphone camera will work fine. As long as it shoots in 12 megapixels or more you should get clean and crisp photo’s.

If you have a DSLR camera and want to use it, more power to you. I have one and I only use it when taking pictures of more than 10 cards for large lots. If you don’t have a smartphone ask someone you know to borrow theirs.

You can also buy a cheap older iPhone on eBay or Amazon and use the camera on it. You don’t have to set up wireless service in order to use the camera function. I did this for a month or two with an old iPhone 4 I had lying around the house. It worked great!

My setup for taking pictures

First, you want to set up a clean area on a large table or desk in a room that will be dark without the lights on. You can use the kitchen table or counter top for older cards or non-refractor cards. I find that dark rooms work best for allowing prisms and refractors to shine bright like they’re made to. Having an overhead light on will reflect in the cards and make it difficult to snap that perfect shot.

The more lamps the better. I used 3 lamps in this setup:

1st Lamp is desk lamp with a 5000k 150 watt bulb
2nd Lamp is a clamp lamp with a 5000K 150 watt bulb 
3rd Lamp is a LED luminaire work light top cover the shadows from behind

You’ll want to set up your lamps to cover every angle. Point the heads of the lamps towards the card stand and place the card on the stand. Turn off the lights in that room and remove any other light source that could interfere. You only want the light from your lamps to be on. You may need to add more lamps to the equation if there is not enough light.

Turn your camera on and start snapping some awesome clean and sharp photos!

taking better pictures of your sports cards refractors foils prizm holo

By now you should see the power of the lamps in a dark room. I started to see it immediately and was thrilled. Depending on the type of card your photographing will decide which light bulb you should use. I found the 5000K bulb worked well for just about any card but feel free to experiment with this.

Below is a list of results I achieved

To Photoshop or not?

If you have Photoshop or have ever used it you know the power of its editing capabilities. I very rarely use it for editing my pictures for eBay but when I do it’s for cropping and adjusting the brightness. Never use Photoshop or any other editing software to remove defects from your cards or collectibles. This is simply false advertising. 

Using Photoshop for adjusting the brightness and contrast or cropping the images to make them smaller works great. Let’s say you want to create a large 100 card lot of some very valuable 1955 Topps football cards and capturing an image of them all together in the same photo just doesn’t do them justice.

Cropping for large lots

You can simply snap a photo of each card with the above method open them in Photoshop and crop them around the corners of the top loader. After cropping each individual card to the top loader size you can add them all to the same image next to each other. Each card will be sharp, crisp and well lit. Getting the perfect photo’s of large lots with scanners or take “group” photo’s just will not be the same as the individual image lot.

This can be very time consuming but the work will pay off in the end. You will be attracting all sorts of potential buyers who caught the beauty of your hard work. I suggest listing lots like this at a premium because there will be no others on eBay like it. Being the only available lot could raise a lot of attention.

Adjusting the brightness and contrast

Adjusting each individual cards photo brightness, contrast and any other setting can be a very daunting task. This is one of the main reasons I started taking pictures of my cards with the above setup. It allows for me to snap the photo’s and upload them directly to eBay without all the editing. Although this setup works great for most cards, there have been times when I couldn’t get the right shot with this method.

The Topps Chrome base cards are tricky because they work like a mirror. When you hold your camera in front of the card it reflects that on the card. With there being a countless number of different types, styles, and categories of trading cards on the market finding a system that works for them all is quite difficult. I found that my setup has worked on the majority of the cards I collect and sell, refractor types. When I come across a card that doesn’t want to cooperate I’ll take the photo at an angle with not so great lighting then adjust the setting in Photoshop.

Yellowing background and shadow correction

Photoshop is great for those off-white yellow backgrounds and undesirable shadows that haunt our photo’s. A quick adjustment to the color curve setting and lifting up of the brightness will fix that. Doing this to every photo is time-consuming so add more lighting to your setup if you have yellow backgrounds or shadows. You may also want to consider experimenting with different light bulbs. Try going up to a 6500K bulb.

eBay's editing tools

eBay has a built-in photo editing software that allows you to adjust the brightness and contrast of your pictures as well. I’ve used this and have found it useful for a quick and dirty editing. I do not suggest using any filters but the cropping and brightness/contrast compares similarly to Photoshop.


As you can see, the photos are attractive and professional looking. This setup can be expanded even bigger for larger lots with multiple cards. I suggest experimenting with this and see the different results you get.

I find this to be the easiest and most efficient way of taking photo’s of my cards for listing on eBay or any online store. Taking photo’s allows you to capture the true beauty of a card opposed to scanning them resulting in flat and boring images.

What are your thoughts?

Leave a Reply

2 Comment threads
4 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
3 Comment authors
JMorrowadminElisa Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Are you having any issues with the LED light causing “Black Bars” in your photos?


What holders are you using that have the grade labels at the top?

Affiliate Disclaimer

When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission. Affiliate programs and affiliations include, but are not limited to, the eBay Partner Network and Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.