Tips for Successful Online Auctions: Photos That Sell Self-Storage Units

Enticing buyers to online self-storage auctions can be tricky because bidders only get a virtual view of the goods. To be successful, you need a good camera and great photos of unit contents.

Chuck G

April 18, 2017

5 Min Read
Tips for Successful Online Auctions: Photos That Sell Self-Storage Units

Many self-storage operators now have the option to sell the contents of their defaulted units through an online auction service. However, enticing buyers can be a bit tricky with this method because bidders only get a virtual view of the goods. With live auctions, a buyer can peer into the unit with a flashlight to uncover treasures that aren’t visible at first glance. To tempt buyers to an online sale, you need a good camera and great photos.


Your first step toward ensuring more online auction sales is to get a quality camera. Nikon and Cannon have stellar digital single-lens reflex cameras that take first-rate photos. However, they’re expensive and come with a learning curve. Thankfully, an expensive camera is no longer necessary. The high-quality cameras built into smartphones enable anyone to take amazing photos and videos. Today’s best smartphones come equipped with a 12-megapixel camera. Even some short films and independent movies are now shot on smartphones.

First Photo

When the lock is cut and the door opened, what’s the first thing a storage buyer sees at a live auction? The front of the whole unit. You want to provide a similar experience for your online auction bidders.

Stand dead center in front of the unit to take this first photo. Make sure you’re a few feet away to capture the entire view. While an item such as a mattress might prevent you from seeing many of the unit contents, understand this is the expectation of the buyer. He wants to see what the unit looks like—for better or worse—as if he were physically present in front of the door. Time and time again in online listings, this full-front shot is dismissed in favor of close-up pictures of single items. Buyers want full transparency, so give it to them.

Next Two Photos

During a live auction, a buyer will see the unit contents from three different angles: front, left side and right side. For your next two photos, stand to the right and left at a roughly 45-degree angle. These two shots allow the online buyer to see any items that lean out of view or are tucked away on the floor. Fishing poles, artwork, industrial equipment or any thin or flat item against the wall will now be apparent.

‘Money Shot’

Once you’ve taken photos of the front, left and right side of a unit, you’ve given the storage buyer a good first look. Now what? Take a photo of a single item or group of items that hold a good value. Remember, most of your buyers are in the resale business. Pictures of pots, pans and clothing (unless the clothes are designer) don’t appeal, as they generally don’t provide a decent return on investment.

Instead of taking a dozen photos of anything and everything in the unit, be selective. Find the “money shot” that will grab the auction buyer’s attention. Aim for industrial or sports equipment, and new-in-box items—anything that has visible value.


Whether you’re in a rush to take pictures or don’t have steady hands, a blurred photo will be ignored and dismissed by an online buyer. Instead, invest in a gimbal, a device that allows the rotation of an object on a single axis. It will enable your smartphone to remain level as you move about the entrance of the unit. A gimbal will also permit a greater reach into the unit without you crossing the threshold.

Choose a gimbal that’s easy to operate and within your budget. A great way to find affordable options is to search crowdfunding websites.

Time of Day

Interior storage units generally get plenty of light from overhead fixtures, but you have to be careful when photographing outdoor/drive-up units. Too much sunlight can overexpose your photo or cause deep shadows. If you take a picture when the sunlight pours directly into the unit, the contents inside will appear washed out. If you take one when the sun is high in the sky, this may cause a shadow across the front of the image. Pick the time of day when the unit contents will appear crisp and clear. Cloudy days work well, as the light is flat you can use a flash if necessary.

Editing Tools

Professional photo-editing programs can cumbersome to use and require time to learn. However, you can find many free programs online that are easy to use and will help clean up your images. Once photos are uploaded, you can play with tools such as “exposure,” “rotate,” “beautify” or “sharpen.” With the exposure tool, you can lighten dark photos or add more contrast to washed-out ones. These basic programs can easily help you correct mistakes.

Less Is More

A storage operator can upload 20 images to his online auction listings and still not get a single bid. Why? There are generally three reasons:

  • There aren’t enough local buyers registered for that particular auction website.

  • There were too many photos of small items and no clear overview image of the unit.

  • The unit didn’t appear to contain anything of value.

While the first has little do to with your photos, the second and third are more in your control. Once again, take a picture from the front, left and right to give full transparency. Take selective but clear photos of items of value. Less is more. While you’re not staging the unit by moving items around inside, you’re staging the items that can be viewed from outside with an album of images.

Chuck G is the content developer and social media manager for iBid4Storage, an online auction company serving North America. For more information, call 855.424.3669; e-mail [email protected]; visit

About the Author(s)

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter
ISS is the most comprehensive source for self-storage news, feature stories, videos and more.

You May Also Like