Staging and Photography - Danielle Weidemann Interview

Tim: Hey, everyone. Thanks so much for joining me again today. As you all know, there are several factors that go into having a successful estate sale. One of the most important things that you really need to take the time to get right is staging and taking really great pictures of your items. Oftentimes, the pictures of your items are going to be the first and only impression that someone has of your sale.

Joining me today is Danielle Weidman. She is one half of the mother/daughter team at Victorian Times Estate Sales in Oceanside, California. Not only do they have really incredible sales, they've mastered the art of staging a home and taking beautiful pictures of the items. Danielle is going to give us some insight into her process, as well as give you some tips on how to start staging and taking pictures like a pro.

Danielle, thank you so much for being here today.

Danielle Thank you for having me.

Tim: Absolutely. So let's start from the beginning. How did you and your mother get into the estate sale business?

Danielle My mom actually started about a year before I did. I was still living in Oklahoma at the time. My dad had lost his job of over 30 years recently and my mom was like “What are we going to do?” For 16 years before that she had been running a boutique out of her house twice a year where she would take everything out of the house and her and a bunch of her girlfriends would do this really cool little store. She had a very successful business with that, and that was Victorian Times. when my dad lost his job, my mom had met a lady through the swap meet because she loved to go shopping at the swap meet and she was like, “why don't you try doing estate sales?” And my mom was like, “Okay.” So her and my dad started and they were very successful very quickly. It was small, but they were doing very good. When my son was born, we had already been planning to move back out here. And my mom was like, “you guys should join us and we'll make it a family business.” So we did and almost eight years later, here we are.

Tim: Now as far as the photography side of it goes, are you a photographer by trade? How did you get into that?

Danielle I’m definitely not a photographer by trade, I just love photography. I have friends who are really great photographers actually, but I'm not trained in any way. I love a good film camera, but I'm terrible at it. But honestly, it's just been over time that I have really learned different tricks along the way. I’ve tried different cameras and methods and found something that works because we get a lot of compliments on our photos.

Tim: As far as going into a house that’s been lived in for 30 or 40 years, how do you approach that? What is your process for approaching for staging and photographing?

Danielle Yeah. So it can definitely be overwhelming when you first walk into a house, because like you said, a majority of the time somebody has spent 30 or 40 years in that house and that's been their place. So we always, of course, want to show a lot of respect when going into a house. We want to remember that these were someone’s things. My mom and I will do a walkthrough and get a general look over of everything. We’ll open drawers, see what’s in there and just get an idea of what’s in store. And then we start cleaning up and we bring in our tables. We have a van that we keep full of tables and tablecloths all the time. My mom, because of her previous experience with the boutiques, really helped in learning how to set up. We go in and set it up not only like it’s a home, but as if it’s a temporary store and we try to make everything visible. So we go in and pull everything out. If it needs cleaning, we clean it. My mom is very adamant on setting up with tablecloths so it looks really nice. We use black velvet on our valuables and jewelry table to really highlight items and make them pop. It just makes everything look professional. When we send the client pictures of the home or show them the ad, they can’t believe that was their parents’ home. The setup is a big part of it and how you present it represents your company.

Tim: Right. It's one of those things that you still want to make it look as professional as possible, but you still want to respect the space because after all it is someone's home. So Danielle, as far as staging goes, are there any other tips that you want to maybe throw out there, to help the process?

Danielle Yeah. So in addition to bringing in our own tables and tablecloths and things like that, we really try to utilize every space that's there. Whether it's opening up certain kitchen cabinets, etc. We’ll even tape some of the cabinet doors open so nobody hits their head on them. Little things like that. We like to show what the items could look like in your own home. We’ll move pictures around and if we can’t use the existing holes in the walls, we’ll bring tiny nails with us to try and not disturb the house. We always check with the client like to make sure they don’t mind if we rearrange pictures, etc. We've moved beds before. And we've moved furniture before. So utilize the space that's also there. Make it presentable where someone will say “I can really see this in my home.” You may have a table with like a million sheets on it, but next to it is a bedroom set that's laid out and we'll put all the pillows on it and make it look nice so that people can visualize it in their home.

Tim: Perfect. As we've seen in some of the sales, there can be sometimes several thousand items that are going to be for sale. Since you obviously can't take a picture of everything, how do you really prioritize what you're going to take pictures of and what you want to showcase in the sale?

Danielle Well, being in the business for almost eight years now, I feel like we have a pretty good clientele and I always listen to my customers. We take notes on our mailing lists so I kind of have an idea what they want. So if I know that there's a big crowd right now for Boho, that’s the really in thing right now. So to get people excited on our social media and then on our ad on EstateSales.NET, I made sure to focus on things that I would find interesting and things I know our customers would like. I try to reach out to everybody. I try to get everybody's attention. Whether it's a piece of furniture or a necklace or a book, I really try to get people excited. I go on social media and I do stories. I do a lot of stories because that gets people excited. If I'm excited, if they see that I'm excited, they get excited about it. There is so much that we could take pictures of, but I really try to highlight the most important things. I’ll photograph one or two things from each room and post them each day to get people ready for the sale. It’s hard to eliminate things sometimes but I try to follow trends and post things that people are looking for. If people are looking for vintage clothing and we have a lot of it, I’ll showcase a few different outfits, etc.

Tim: So, we've touched on your approach when you go into a home, choosing which items to showcase, etc. Let's talk about some of the equipment that you're using and lighting. Lighting is something that can make or break a picture. Are you relying on the natural light in the house or are you bringing lighting with you?

Danielle Well, like you said, lighting can make or break a picture. I actually just bought a new light but haven’t gotten a chance to use it yet but I’m really excited to. You want to have natural light but you don’t want indirect sunlight, you want direct sunlight to come through. Experimentation is how I really found out how to get better at photographing our work. We’ll take furniture about bring it outside if we have to, we’ll open up all the curtains, etc. Some houses are just built really oddly sometimes and there is no lighting no matter what. We’ll take items out of the room and take them some place that has good lighting to get the photos. Whether you get a ring light from Amazon or just using your natural light, you don’t have to get something like an expensive flash for your camera. I use the flash that came with my camera and it helps sometimes. Just be willing to move things around to where there is good light, take a lot of photos from different angles, etc. I will adjust and adjust until I find what looks best. Also, don’t be afraid to use an app to maybe brighten or darken a photo.

Tim: So as far as the actual camera equipment that you're using right now, what do you take with you?

Danielle I have two things. I have my nice camera which is a Sony Alpha 6000. And it's a really great camera but again, I'm not that experienced in photography and I did some research. It's a camera that I have been looking at for a couple of years, and it’s good quality, but easy enough that most people could generally figure it out and use it. I just went on YouTube, watched a bunch of videos. That's been a huge help. And then most of the time I just use my iPhone 11 Pro Max which has a really great camera on it. I use portrait mode a lot since it’s a great way to really get an item to pop especially if I’m in a room with a single item. Portrait mode gives a little bit of the blur effect around the edge and can really highlight just that one item. So, if you have a great camera , use it. If you don’t, just use your cell phone. With a few apps to adjust photos and using portrait mode, you can take really great photos inexpensively.

Tim: Right? So you’ve touched on not having to use a high end camera and a lighting rig and all that, what tips would you give someone that is just wanting to up their picture game a little bit, that may just be using their cell phones.

Danielle I love using my cell phone since I also do a lot of social media for our estate sales. Generally when I’m taking photos for Instagram and Facebook, I use my cell phone. Again, it has a great camera on it and I can use different lighting features on it. I’ve also downloaded a few different apps I’ve come to really like, in particularly one called Color Story. If you don’t want to do that, just use the features that are built into your phone. You can also just use a basic Photoshop on your computer to adjust lighting, color, etc. You don’t have to make it a big deal and go out and buy a really fancy camera. Before I used my nice camera, I just used my phone and a point and click that my mom had. I like to use something as simple as the vignette feature, which a lot of phones have, just to highlight something. That’s good for when there’s a lot of stuff behind the item. It just helps bring attention to what you’re trying to focus on.

Tim: Right. So, if you’re just using your cell phone, use the features that are built in. You mentioned Photoshop earlier. Are you doing any extensive editing after the fact?

Danielle Well, right now I have an iPad that I do all of my editing on and I just use what’s on there. Like I said, I’m using what I have instead of going out and buying a bunch of extra stuff and that makes it more accessible. Again, I use Color Story for basic editing. I really like using fonts too. Adding a font to a picture can really help draws people attention to the item. There are a lot of great photo editing apps out there right now and the free ones work great.

Tim: So, some of the main takeaways would be just using what you have. You don’t have to go out and get a lot of expensive equipment to get good results. As far as staging goes, just have fun with it. It’s one of those things that you can have a lot of fun with and get great results. Danielle, thank you so much again for being here today. You’ve given us a lot of great information. We will put the links to some of the apps you use so folks can see what you’re using. Again, this is Danielle Weidemann with Victorian Times Estate Sales.

Danielle Thank you for having me again.