How to Take Good Estate Sale Photos

Taking good estate sale photos should be high on your priority list, whether you’re a seasoned liquidator or looking to start your own estate sale company. In an industry more competitive by the minute, you need to set your estate sale company apart.

Investing in good estate sale photography is a start and can bring great returns. Put another way: not taking the time to invest in good sale photos can really hurt you in the end. Plus, it’s a missed opportunity to get even more buyers to your sales.

vintage tin boxes
These tin boxes have been carefully staged with labels showing for a well designed photo. Photo by Ampersand Estate Sales.

Photos as a Selling Tool

News flash: Your estate sale photos – not the creative headlines – are what draws buyers to your sales. It’s a fact that estate sales with photos on EstateSales.org get double and triple the views than sales without.

“I get anywhere from on a low end, 200 people a day, and on the high end, 700 people a day coming through a sale, and they’re generally coming in because of the photography,” said Brad Ruby of Ampersand Estate Sales of Chicago, one of the biggest estate sale markets in the country.

“I believe the photography I do sets me apart from my competition,” said Ruby.

To cover all your bases, you should list your sales on all the major estate sale listing websites. EstateSales.org will also automatically cross-post your sales on five other highly trafficked for-sale websites, providing even more exposure. Posting estate sale photos on your own social media pages is also a good practice and part of building your building your online media presence.

However, slapping a bunch of photos online isn’t enough. What will differentiate your company from the hundreds of others in your area are really good photos. After all, estate sale photos are your first impression to buyers, clients, and potential clients, so you need them to be good.

If you’ve ever worked retail or customer service, you already know first impressions count, and in this business, presentation is everything. Your estate sale photos can also tell a story.

“There’s a lot of psychology with your photos. . . quality, clarity, content, specialty items leaving an element of surprise. Special location? Use your photos to guide your buyers on an adventure. It’s not the number of pics. It’s the adventure you lead them to,” said Dixie Haley Brewer of In Your Wildest Dreams Consignment and Antiques.

Kate Spade purse label
Show off high end labels to attract buyers and justify higher prices. Photo by Pink Dog Estate & Moving Sales.

Photo Equipment: Cameras vs Phones

Estate liquidators are an opinionated bunch, and when it comes to photo-taking devices, everyone has a different view on which one works best. There’s no right answer. A few years ago most people would have said handheld digital cameras are superior to smartphone cameras, no question. However, with greater technologies available, even phone cameras are becoming quite good.

“I use a Nikon digital SLR,” said Dan Jordan of Again L.A. Estate Sales. “I had been using my Samsung Galaxy and it takes amazing photos in low light. The Apple phones, iPhones don’t take as good of photos.”

While using your phone is more convenient, eliminating the need to spend money on an extra device, some people prefer the control digital cameras offer.

“I’m using a Nikon Cool Pics F9900 and then I have the same program from them in my laptop that allows me to enhance, adjust, do what I need to to each picture to make them look even better,” said Jeanette McBeth of Platinum Estate Sales.

backlit plant stand
Beware of backlit photos which make items appear darker.

“I can lighten it, I can darken it. If I inadvertently put a price tag in there, I can white out the price tag. So it’s great software to have,” said McBeth.

One thing all estate liquidators agree on is having enough battery power. Be prepared with chargers, extra batteries, or memory cards, so you don’t run out of juice mid-shoot. Upgrade or opt for more gig space when buying devices.

“For awhile I had an iPhone 5 that only had 8 gigs of memory and I was unable to use it for sales, so for a few months I used a very old Canon Elph camera which was fine. I took perfectly good pictures with it and I had no problem,” said Michelle Raybeck of Pink Dog Estate & Moving Sales.

“But then I got a Samsung Galaxy S7 which came with a promotion for a free 256 gigabyte SD card – so obviously that makes my life a lot easier as a liquidator because I can just take photos and photos and photos and not worry about running out of space,” said Raybeck.

Many liquidators use their smartphones to post quick estate sale photos and updates on social media.

90% of our social media posts on Facebook and Instagram are photographed with an iPhone 6. Our complete photo albums advertising our sales are photographed using Canon DSLRs,” said James Fry of Brown Button Estate Sale Services

blurred estate sale photo of boxes
Don’t do this! Blurry, unlabeled estate sale photos makes these items difficult for buyers to discern.

Other Estate Sale Photo Equipment

Some estate liquidators have a whole professional photography setup, with a tripod, different backdrops, and special lighting. But these days, it’s not really necessary in order to produce high quality photos.

Since you’ll be taking photos at the estate, whatever equipment you do use must be portable. Your equipment should be simple to assemble and reassemble. Remember, time is money, and depending on how many estate sales you’re managing, you might not have hours to spend setting up an elaborate photo shoot .

“I don’t use a tripod. I really try to travel light, so the less equipment I have to carry, the better. But for the setup of the sale, I bring all the tables and table cloths and jewelry cases, and clothing racks – whatever I need,” said Raybeck.

Instead of spending money on expensive lighting equipment, take advantage of natural light for free. If you do opt for natural lighting, make sure to time it right. Check the weather forecast and try to schedule the shoot on a sunny day. Sunrise or sundown can still be too dark, and right in the middle of the afternoon can run the risk of backlighting your photos.

Luckily, between high definition cameras, phone cameras, and photo editing tools that keep getting more advanced and user-friendly, you can easily achieve a professional look.

cobalt blue estate sale items
Keeping like colors together also makes for a good photo, like this table of cobalt blue glass. Photo by In Your Wildest Dreams Antiques, Consignments & Liquidations.

Estate Sale Photo Staging Tips

If you know how to set up your estate sale, you probably already have the supplies you need to stage good photos: tables and table cloths or some sort of table covering, clothing racks, black felt or velvet, and other materials.

Before diving into photography, take a few minutes to get acquainted with the space. Don’t hesitate to rearrange or move items. After all, this is your estate sale and the better it looks, the more you’re likely to sell.

1. Put Like Items Together

Putting similar items together make for a neater showroom. Plus it makes it easier for shoppers to find things.

“When I’m setting up an estate sale, I’m working with keeping like items together, like colors together ” said McBeth. “If we have books, all the books are in one room. All the glassware is in one area. Pottery needs to be kept together. It’s keeping like items together, keeping bright colors together where you can,”

2. Clear Clutter

Try to remove all surrounding clutter from the item you’re shooting, and hide cords and other distractions.

3. Find Blank Space

While it’s difficult to shuffle furniture around, most smaller items can be moved or rearranged. Look for a blank piece of floor or wall space to serve as a clean back drop.

vintage wall clock
The blank white wall really shows off this vintage clock. Photo by Pink Dog Estate and Moving Sales.

4. Show if Off

Show off anything nice, unusual or valuable, especially jewelry. Bling brings buyers! Special props like stands or levels can help showcase them.

“I have a piece of black velvet that I use for good jewelry – I’m not going to do that with every individual piece of costume but for gold and good silver. I have a piece of black velvet that I use. and at the sale I display jewelry in cases lined with black felt,” said Raybeck.

5. Table It

Use tables for items, instead of leaving them on the floor.

“Nobody wants to bend down to get stuff! I don’t want to bend down to pick up an item,” said McBeth.

6. Cover the Legs

Also important: covering your tables when possible for a more put-together look.

“I skirt every table that I can. You don’t want to see the ugly legs. You don’t want see what’s underneath. You want to make it exceptionally presentable, almost as if you were in a better retail store,” said Mcbeth.

8. Play with Angles

It can take some maneuvering to get the best shot for estate sale photos. For example, be mindful of possible glares or reflections

“When you’re shooting something with glass, be it a mirror or a framed piece of art that’s got glass on it, you have to play billiards and shoot off angles so you don’t have a big flash showing up in the glass which will detract from your picture,” said Ruby, who also happens to be a professionally trained photographer. 

closeup of vintage clock
Another shot of the clock from above. Taking multiple photos of the same items gives buyers different views. Photo by Pink Dog Estate and Moving Sales.

The More Estate Sale Photos, the Better

Less isn’t always more. In fact some liquidators believe more estate sale photos means more buyers. Some good advice is to err on the side of more photos. EstateSales.org offers unlimited photos, so you can show as many as you want – and bulk uploading makes it faster.

“I think too many liquidators don’t put enough. We typically put at least 200 photos if not more every time. For a big sale I could as many as three or 400,” said Jordan.

Updating your estate sale photos as your inventory changes (either from new things coming in or items sold) can also have benefits.

“Not only do we take photos, but every time we go back to the house, we take more photos and update our listing every chance we get. Because we find that every time we update our listing, our viewership [on the estate sale listing sites] goes up,” said Raybeck.

Show Multiple Angles

The more estate sale photos you take, the more good photos you’ll end up with. It can be a crap shoot (no pun intended?), so take as many as you can. You don’t always have the luxury of going back to the estate to take more photos.

“I take multiple angles. I’m taking three to five shots of every piece, then choosing the best shot or shots that’s needed for the site,” said McBeth.

estate sale room shot
A full room shot gives buyers a good overview and works great for digger sales. Photo by Again L.A. Estate Sales

Room Shots For Scale

Don’t forget to take an overall room shot. This way, people know the estate sale is worth the drive. In bigger cities like Chicago, Los AngelesDallas, or Houston where estate sales are happening all over the city, buyers have to be strategic about how they spend their time. A room shot full of stuff can entice buyers to make the commute to your sale.

“Here in L.A. there’s so much competition for sales – we have so many every weekend that people want to go out where there’s a ton of stuff. Especially in our area, because wherever you go you’re going to be driving for the most part, so people really like full houses,” said Jordan.

Room shots work especially well for digger sales. Some buyers enjoy the hunt more than the actual merchandise.

“I think if you give a room overall shot, along with going and doing detailed shots of what’s on the tables, your customers appreciate it  and they can make a fast decision if that sale’s for them or not,” said Jordan. “It’s kind of amazing the effect actually. You never know what you’re going to get.”

label for wingback chair
Go the extra mile to make your labels look nice and stay on brand, which will look great in photos. Photo by Brown Button Estate Sales and Services.

Closeups, Group, and Individual Shots

Not every item at an estate sale item deserves a closeup. Digger sales especially. Be discerning. Some items will need to be photographed individually, at multiple angles. Some will not.

“If you have three pretty pieces – show those! I mean let’s face it, glassware doesn’t sell that well anyways, so the better picture you can get of them, might draw in one or two!” said McBeth.

“Example: We have a table full of glassware – we’re gonna take a shot of the entire table, and then I’m going to piece out the table for more closeups of it,”said McBeth.

Some estate sale items can be shot in groups, which saves time and still lets potential buyers know what to expect.

“What I do is photograph the segments of tables if you look at our photos. If I photograph an individual item, it’s probably worth a lot of money,” said Jordan.

And of course, there will be those items you want to showcase with closeups. When shooting an individual item, take time to do a little staging.

“Clean things off, clear the area around the item. The less stuff around it, the better. I try to find a blank wall and a blank bit of floor. You can’t do that for furniture – but stuff that’s in cabinets or on tables, I try to put it some place where there’s going to be nothing around it,” suggested Raybeck.

Estate sale photo closeups are also great places to capture identifying details.

“When I’m shooting art, I try and shoot the full piece and then get the signature line. And with furniture if I can find the maker’s mark, I tend to shoot the maker’s mark because there’s an identifier,” said Ruby.

vintage mao bust with water bottle
Include identifying details in photo descriptions. Note how the water bottle pictured above serves to show scale. Photo by Clark’s Auction Company.

Descriptions for Estate Sale Photos

We know. Writing descriptions can be time consuming, especially when you’re running several sales a month. But it’s true: estate sale photo descriptions can be real selling tools – and not including captions can be a missed opportunity. You may also display descriptions on signage to appear in your estate sale photos.

One reason to take the time to write clear descriptions is so buyers will know what exactly they’re looking at. This is especially true for Millennial buyers who might not know what a lot of vintage or antique things are.

Use estate sale photo descriptions to underscore brand names (and therefore justify higher prices). Descriptions containing keywords will also come up in Search on EstateSales.org, which is another way buyers can find your sale.

Descriptions also tell the story behind interesting items, which can go a long way toward making an item a must-have.

Finally, photo descriptions serve as reference points when communicating with potential buyers. Instead of having to go back and forth to figure out which item they’re interested in, you can refer to the description.

Krishna artwork with label
Descriptions on actual signage throughout your estate sale can also be captured in photos. Original photo by Again L.A. Estate Sales. (Edited by Estatesales.org)

Estate Sale Photo Editing Tools

With the number of free photo editing tools out there, there’s no excuse not to edit your photos. Edit to rotate, crop, or enhance photos – although be careful. Too many enhancements may make the item look like it’s worth more than it actually is.

“I don’t touch up photos, I absolutely want to be completely honest in my advertising,” said Raybeck.

Transparency is always a good idea, and photos give you the opportunity to be up front. If your item for sale isn’t 100%, don’t hide it! 

“If I’ve got something that I believe is expensive, but has a flaw, I tend to photograph the flaw,” said Ruby.

Digital cameras come with software you can use to edit on your computer or you can spend the money on more advanced programs, like Photoshop (although this isn’t necessary). There are also several mobile apps to edit on the go. However, batch editing features are more efficient for estate sales.

Popular, free photo editing tools to try:

  • GIMP
  • PIxlr
  • The Nik Collection
  • Paint.Net
  • Photo Editor Pro (mobile)
  • Snapseed (mobile)
  • VSCO (mobile)
estate sale photo of sold oriental rug
Showing a “sold” tag on your photos keep potential buyers updated. EstateSales.org has a feature that will let you update sold items, like in the estate sale photo above. Photo by Platinum Estate Sales.

Time and Money Investment

Remember: to make money, you’ve got to spend money – and this goes for time, too. Spending time and money up front on investing in good estate sale photos will pay off in the end.

“I’m much more anal retentive than most of my peers. You can use the quote “insane” if you want. I typically spend four to six hours editing photos per sale,” said Jordan.

The time you spend will depend a lot on the time you have. In other words, you don’t have to be “OCD” in order to see results. But to shoot, edit, write descriptions, and post your estate sale photos, you will have to plan on putting time aside. Consider it the cost of doing business.

“I probably take two hours or so just taking the pictures. Then I have a girl following me, writing descriptions, like it’s a Thomasville credenza or this particular bicycle is a Schwann. When I get home after I load the pictures, I enhance and adjust every single picture so they look good – before I even post them. So it’s a lot of work!” said McBeth.

Like anything, the more you take estate sale photos, the easier it will become. Enlist help to make the tasks go by faster or use batch features, so you can deal with several photos at once.

Quality photographs take time for sure. But it’s an investment of time that we’ve always found to pay off with huge dividends,” said Fry.

Estate Sale Photos

We want to hear from you! What are your best tips for estate sale photos? Drop a comment below.