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Bare Essentials to Get Started in Real Estate Photography

August 14th, 2009

I think it’s time to do an update on what the bare essentials are to get started in real estate photography. Not surprisingly, this is always a very popular subject. First here are the guiding principles I’m using to guide these choices:

  • A wide-angle lens is the most important part of your gear. For interiors you need an wide-angle lens that has an effective focal length between 16 and 24mm.
  • Yes, you can get by with a point-and-shoot. But I’m going to cover the current point and shoot alternatives in another post. In this post I’m just going to cover the DSLR/removable lens option.
  • You don’t have to buy new gear. You can save several hundred dollars by purchasing a used body on E-Bay.com or craigslist.org. DSLR bodies change faster than lenses, that’s why prices drop on bodies more than lenses.

Here are my specific recommendations:

  • Wide-angle lens: Sigma 10-20mm ultra wide lens – ~$479 – Sigma makes this lens for Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony Alpha, Olympus, Panasonic and Sigma bodies. For many years this has been the best ultra-wide-angle for non-full frame bodies you can get for the money. I think it still is. If you are getting a Canon body and can afford it go for the Canon 10-22mm lens – it’s a gem but its closer to $700. If you are getting Nikon body the Nikon 12-24mm is way more than the Sigma (~$800) and many say, not as good.
  • Body: Canon Rebel or Nikon D40 or D40x – about $450 (or less) – Don’t get the 18-55mm kit lens unless you are going to use it for something other than real estate photography. Which body you use doesn’t make all that much difference.
  • Flash: Canon 580 EXII or Nikon SB-900 – ~$450 Get the same brand as your body. For flashes I recommend getting the top of the line (most power) and the same brand as the body you buy because this will be the flash you use on-camera and you will have the option to use in either manual or automatic mode. As you purchase more than the first flash purchase SB-26, SB-80s since they have optical triggers.
  • Tripod: ~$200 Manfrotto or other similar sturdy tripod.
  • Photo-editor: Adobe Lightroom – $299 For photo-editing Lightroom is far and away the easiest to use and best choice but you will need something in addition to Lightroom to straighten verticals and remove barrel distortion
  • Straighting Verticals and correcting barrel distortion: PTlens $25 from epaperpress.com. Although there are many other options but PTlens does all you’ll ever need for only $25 and can be used as a plugin to Lightroom.

When you have extra budget spend it on the glass because that’s something you will keep for a long time and in real estate photography the wide-angle lens is the most important piece of equipment you own. Note however, that the Sigma 10-20mm lens does not work on a full frame DSLR. If you move up to a 5D Mkii or D3 you’ll have to spring for a new lens.

Unless you choose the more expensive glass, all of this adds up to around $1700 whether you purchase Canon or Nikon.

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23 Responses to “Bare Essentials to Get Started in Real Estate Photography”

  • Larry, great post. , I took this advice a year ago this week and got into this business. I bought your books and took the advice of all of the resources on the website. Spending less than $ 2000, I purchased some used Nikon gear and a new Sigma 10-20 and started shooting. I was able to quit my “real job” within a few months and have supported myself and a brand new family ever since. Thanks for great posts like this one and for the resources to help me start my own successful business.

  • As someone who’s just trying to crack this market in my local area I have a very similar setup to this (I have a Nikon D90 and use Photoshop). Larry you actually convinced me to get the Sigma 10-20 over a Nikon ultra-wide as I didn’t have the money but I wanted to make sure I had a lens that would be “good enough”. I am hanging out to get the Nikon lens after your review (http://photographyforrealestate.net/2009/07/29/the-best-ultra-wide-on-the-planet-for-canon-or-nikon/) but for now that will have to wait.

  • Add 100 hours of practice and this list will be complete. This should also be a sticky at the top of the blog.

  • I’m in the market for a FF camera: do you have a low-cost recommendation for a wide that works well for FF? Right now I have a 24mm, and after moving to FF, do I need an ultra wide? So I’m trying to decide whether to go with the EX for my current camera, and then later go to the big Nikon after the FF camera, or to just buy a middle of the road wide angle that will work on either camera. Thanks!

  • Larry, this information is really helpful for an amateur like myself, thank you!

    I know this blog post is for the “bare essentials” but do you think extra lighting equipment should be in the mix? I know this stuff can get expensive for more advanced shooters but do you recommend any that are cost efficient that will get the job done? Perhaps some examples would be great and why you think it is important (or not important) to have.

    Thank you again!

  • Good post, and thanks for the inspiration! I’m a Realtor doing own pics.
    I started out with a 30D and a 17-85 a few years ago, which has worked out well and I’m doing more verticals stitched anyway. No $$ in the budget for either the Sigma or the 10-22…sigh. My next purchase will be an SB80 as a second to my 580EX.

  • Is it sufficient for your first shoot to have just: a 10-22 lens, a canon 50D, and 1 flash? I’ve never done this before, and I want to at least have some decent photos… however I don’t have the cash to get 4 lights, light stands, umbrellas, and all the extra jazz..

  • Please if I can get the advice on this exact page for everyone to share, I frequent this site. THanks!!

  • @Kolt- Yes, if you have a 10-22mm lens on a 50D with a single flash it’s possible to produce better photos than 90% of the photos on your MLS. There are ways to improve from here but this equipment is a good place to start.

    You might try shooting three autoexposure bracketed exposure and combining them with EnfuseGUI.

  • Thanks a million!!!! This site rocks!!!!!

  • Seems like it is time for the addition of video bare essentials (hd or not, editing software, etc.) thanks!

  • Hey Larry, I was wondering… Since this thread began, some newer cameras have come out. I am looking at the Nikon D3100 but it looks like between the body and a Sigma lens, I’m looking at a minimum of $1000. I am in real estate marketing and want high quality photos but don’t have any intention of professional photography as a career. I’m here because I want quality but I wonder if the latest super zoom, the Fuji HS20 EXR would be (almost) as good a solution? If I really just need to bite the bullet and the the DSLR because anything else is wasted money I will go that way but to have the total package for $500 in the Fuji without having to get a specialty lense (comes with a 24mm wide angle lense) that doesn’t sound too bad. Forget the penny, Larry, I’d pay a pound for your thoughts. Thanks!

  • @ Dave,
    I think you’ll find the Fuji that you mention with the 24mm lense is not going to be wide enough for most houses. Most people seem to agree that you need to be able to go as wide as 18mm effective focal length. You’re probably better off going with a cheaper DSLR body, D40 might be an option, and a used wide angle lens. Remember though that an inexpensive DSLR will have a crop factor of 1.5 or 1.6 so the 18mm lens that it comes with is really a 27mm lens.

  • @Mark, thanks for the response. I had not considered the crop factor. Ugh. So much to learn. I do a lot of video shooting so was trying to also accomplish that with the same camera. That fuji will do 1080p video. Probably more worthwhile to just get a second camera for video. Appreciate the input!

  • Hard choice between two lenses, sigma 10-20 3.5 or the sigma 8-16 4.5-5.6. I am going to use on a D7000, any opinion?

  • Wider is better. Creative shot captures even more points earned. But take the film, milk off through extra time in photo clean up and magic you can unlock to really deliver.

  • I’m fairly new at this and even newer to my Nikon D3000. I haven’t been doing much editing of my pictures, but I am interested in the capabilities of Lightroom 3. Is this program easy to use for a novice? Or should I take a course?

    Also, could you recommend a cost effective body with automatic HDR capabilities. I love the look, but cannot imagine realistically taking 3+ photos of every angle, of every room, of every house, then layer them all together.

  • I would be very careful buying a camera body used. A professional photographer can wear out a new looking body very quickly as I surely did. In two years my Nikon D40 is way past its normal life span of 50,000 exposures and I donated it to the family for kid pictures as I no longer trust it for paid shoots. Pro model cameras, like D3, do not have this problem as the shutters are rated for 250,000 clicks. That is alot of shooting….

  • As someone else said, to do a good job (at anything really!), one needs to practise. The first photog i assisted 20 years ago, said take 10000 shots and be prepared to bin them! then you will start ‘seeing well’!… However, I can see that this may not be so relevant with ‘real estate’ photography, and my advice would be to buy Canon or Nikon, a reasonably wide lens (not too wide as the rooms start looking weird), a powerful flash and a copy of lightroom… from there, the world is your oyster. Oh, and practise a lot. (Or did I already say that!) Mark

  • I am using HDR enfuse program and I am very happy with it.
    I do however have an issue of getting WB correct for both interior and windows.
    It seems that if I set up a correct WB for interior, then my windows are “very cold”. Looking very blue.
    Does anyone has any ideas of how this can be corrected or overcome?
    Agents love photos that are done this way, but windows are looking cold and blue most of the time.
    I shot in RAW format and then adjust WB in Lightroom 3.

  • Marek,
    There are certainly some more advanced ways to fix this, but I’ve had good success using the color brush in Lightroom. I’ll add a little bit of yellow and play with the saturation and exposure to get a good looking result. It may not be ideal, but it’s very quick and has good results most of the time.

  • I’m just starting out in real estate photography and have a Canon 60D. I need a wide angle lens and was planning to purchase the Canon 10-22 but the camera store rep sold me on the Tokina 11-16. I can still return the Tokina for the Canon (I have 30 days) but I keep reading mixed reviews online. What are your thoughts???

  • @Debbie- If you want to see the collective wisdom of the readers of this blog and how they vote with their $ on these two lenses just look at my lenses page (http://photographyforrealestate.net/2008/01/26/marketing-tip-bypass-the-agent-and-market-photography-to-the-seller/) and view the results reader poll along the right the Canon 10-22 is the most popular real estate photography lens and almost twice as popular as the Tokina 11-16.

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