Exposure problems

The collectors and dealers who contribute to this site rarely tell me they use scanners, but it is clearly evident that most do. Scanners usually create well-exposed images.

Stock certificate with dark exposure

Exposure too dark

Some of the most poorly exposed images can be found on eBay. Amazingly, people are actually trying to get someone to buy based on terrible images! Some collectors have even told me they look for poor images because those sellers will settle for less. The percentage of eBay items illustrated by poor exposures moves up and down, but appears to average about 20% in the stock and bond category. It is obvious that almost all such images came from cameras and smartphones. Let's face it, it is really hard to get good images of certificates with cameras unless used with tripods. Even then, certificates are never rectangular

"I'm selling just fine with photographs"

That is probably true if someone is selling a couple items per month. Ten a month? I'm not so sure.

It is one thing to photograph a cowboy hat, a set of tires or a snowblower with a camera. It is another thing entirely when it comes to certificates. If a scanner would help an eBay seller make only a dollar more per certificate, purchasing a scanner would be hard to justify. If a scanner would help bump sales by an average of $5 per sale, justification would be much easier. And eBay sellers are claiming eBay profits on their taxes, then the reluctance to buy scanners and take deductions on taxes does not make any sense at all.

"I can't afford a scanner"

Stock certificate with shadows


I understand; I said the same thing. The argument loses its foundation when one starts reporting profits to the IRS as a "dealer." Even as a part-time dealer. Scanners are not deductible for play, but they qualify for ordinary business purposes. 

Scanners were quite affordable a few years ago, before smartphone cameras increased so dramatically in quality. These days, it is going to cost $250 and up to get a good 8½" x 11" or A4 flatbed scanner with a removable cover. (A removable cover is necessary for scanning large certificates in several pieces.) Combination scanners and printers are much more affordable, but because their covers are not removable, they essentially preclude scan larger certificates. 

WARNING: NEVER run a collectible certificate through a document feeder. It might work a correctly a hundred times, but sooner or later, a destroyed certificate will emerge.

11" x 17" flatbed scanners are going to start at around $600. That seems like a lot of money but is still a good deal if scanning a sufficient number of certificates and other flat items, even as a part-time "dealer." Once "dealers" start scanning inventory, they leave most of their exposure problems behind. They also leave behind the inevitable downward pressure on prices caused by poor exposures. Dealers still need to know how to sell, but that is a different problem.

What constitutes poor exposure?

Scrip certificate with uneven exposure

Uneven exposure

The majority of the exposure problems I see fall into four categories:

  • overly dark and dull images
  • shadows
  • uneven lighting
  • burnouts (bright areas)

The first three problems can be repaired with varying degrees of success with photo editing software. The extent and quality of repairs depend on the skill of the user, but those skills can be acquired. There are thousands of instructional videos available on the web to help with almost every application. I have prepared tutorials in PDF form on how to do simple exposure improvements. (See a full list at Image manipulation.)

Stock certificate with burnout


There are over forty photo editors out there and almost all have the necessary tools to fix exposure problems. Most will function similarly to Photoshop and GIMP.

Burnouts are a different kind of problem. They are rarely repairable.Burnouts (or "flares") are often caused by camera flashes reflecting off certificate holders. The only effective way to fix is to ALWAYS remove images from holders before photographing or scanning. Some burnouts are the result of over-zealous lighting and reluctance to throw away photos and start over.