Move Your PAP Up To The Next Level

June 1st, 2011

Guest post by Lee Jinks of McAllen, TX:

I recently evaluated a 21-foot Wonderpole from Polepixie that is particularly suited for Pole Aerial Photography (PAP).  The thing that makes it suited for PAP over other Wonderpoles is that it’s black.  Okay, that doesn’t mean you can’t do PAP with a Wonderpole of another color, but the black one just looks like a piece of cool photographic equipment.

It doesn’t happen often and I try to be mindful when photographing a home, but there are times when equipment is reflected in a window.  A black pole should need little to no cloning where a white pole would definitely need post processing before delivering the final product.  An efficient workflow is important.  Having a black pole potentially means less time spent in post processing in addition to just looking more professional.  And perception is reality to the client.

I’ve been developing PAP systems and techniques for many years, and have used a number of poles in varying heights, sizes and materials.  So I thought I would share my thoughts about the Wonderpole and its use for handheld PAP.

I got the Wonderpole from John Hokkanen at Polepixe.  Polepixe provides a number accessories for painter’s poles and more recently, the Wonderpole.  John has thought of just about everything one would need to conduct PAP efficiently and safely without having to deign and manufacture your own rig.  Before Polepixie, only geeks like John and I really did PAP.  Polepixie has opened PAP up to the “normal” population.

The Wonderpole is heavier, beefier and more rigid than a painter’s pole of comparable height.  I find it very controllable even with a 2 1/2 pound Nikon D5000 attached.  The 21 foot version is 5 feet when collapsed.  This makes it easy to transport and to extend either horizontally or vertically.  There are also 30 and 40 foot versions of the Wonderpole.

Polepixie supplies a weight boot with every Wonderpole.  The boot’s purpose is to hold an ankle weight at the bottom of the pole enhancing stability and safety of operation.  With 10lbs at the bottom of the pole, one can easily tip the pole from horizontal to vertical.  When you tip an extended pole from horizontal to vertical, control is assured throughout the entire range of motion.  Extending a pole vertically does not provide that assurance.

When conducting PAP with taller poles, you want to keep the base in firm contact with the ground to give you the longest moment arm possible.  If the base loses contact with the ground, that moment arm is suddenly shortened.  Having weight at the bottom of the pole gives you added control and time to get the base back on the ground.  Without the base weight things can get very scary in a hurry.

My only concern with the Wonderpole is that it comes supplied with a nylon cap over the bottom of the pole.  When I mentioned to John that I thought the nylon end cap at the bottom of the pole seemed as though it might wear quickly, he sent me a prototype replacement.  It’s a longer nylon cap with a spike bolted to it.  Over the spike fits a heavy duty rubber cap.  This is exactly what is needed.  Essentially the pole now has a heavy rubber foot which can quickly and easily be converted to a metal spike to be used on soft sloping ground.  John also supplied a high density foam disk which fits under the cap at the bottom of the pole.  Its purpose is to act as a shock absorber when  the upper sections are retracted vertically.  As I said, John has thought of everything.

Summary: Short poles are easier and safer to control, but height is limited.  Poles above 30 feet become increasingly riskier and more difficult to control.  On top of that, cost goes up exponentially with height.  I have often said, most of my best PAP shots are taken between 15 and 20 feet.  This makes the 21 foot version of the Wonderpole one of the best choices for someone serious about getting elevated shots.  It gets you to the most optimum height safely.

There are always risks when conducting PAP, but the base weight coupled with a maximum height of 21 feet mitigates that risk.  The 21 foot Wonderpole with Polepixie accessories is the perfect combination of height, safety, controllability and price.  Before conducting any type of PAP, I highly encourage you to read the safety page on the Polepixie site.

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8 Responses to “Move Your PAP Up To The Next Level”

  • How about a video to help explain some of this?

  • I have a mast that goes 50 ft up. It was quite expensive, but works great. I mainly use it for my own listings, but made a few grand on the side shooting with it for other Realtors. The nice thing about my set up is that you can actually see what you’re shooting from a laptop below. I mounted a electric pan/swivel head on it and it works great. But again… expensive and time consuming. This looks like a nice alternative.

  • I have a similar home built rig that goes upto 16′ tall. My question is how many of you are using a DSLR rather that a point and shoot on your pole rigs? I’m putting my D300 with a 12-24 lens up there and feel pretty comfortable doing so. We all agree this is the most important shot we can get, so why use a less capable camera?

  • I recently purchased the G11 for the primary purpose of PAP use. The lighter weight really does take the pressure off. I usually deploy the D5000 and 10-24mm on a Hastings 30′ pole, handheld. I recommend the shorter 21′ pole and base weight for someone starting out. Once you’ve had 50 to 100 hours of operation under you belt, you might be able to work your way up in height and possibly even eliminate the base weight while maintaining positive control of the rig.

    I do have wireless remote and monitor for framing. It just wasn’t part of this article.

    Joe, sorry no video. But it is a good idea and I’ll see if I can incorporate some video in the future.

  • Speaking of video do you, or can you, shoot video with a DSLR on this pole?

    I will check out their website, do they have any kind of pan & tilt control?

  • I don’t think video from PAP, especially lightweight hand held poles, is going to be very watchable… too much wobble.
    The greatest advantage of these type of set ups is that they adhere to the KISS principle. IMO adding a pan/tilt head is over complicating things. The pole is held in your hand… twist it to pan, tilit it to tilt, that’s it folks.
    I think Lee has a downlink to monitor the liveview, I don’t even have that.
    I set the manual exposure [and +/- bracketing] adjust my zoom to about the correct framing on the ground, put my D7000 on a 35′ telescopic pole, send it up, fire the trigger using an el-cheapo RF trigger. Drop the mast, chimp, adjust and re-shoot if needed. Simple and quick.

  • I searched long and far for a good quality mast that I could use for professional elevated photography, but most setups were over $2000. The Wonderpole seemed like a good solution, but as discussed, it is best for properties that can be photographed at 20 feet and below. I stumbled upon Spiderbeam out of Germany and was very surprised with how inexpensive their masts were. I own a 15 meter mast (49 feet) and bought their quadpod base for some extra support. Add four 25 pound sand bags and you have a very stable platform for elevated photography. For monitoring the camera, I use a Canon Powershot SX30 IS and a UHF video transmitter that I can then tune to with a TV tuner on my laptop. Using a Canon camera also allows me the use of the CHDK firmware hack. This allows me to set the camera up to take a photo every X seconds which alleviates the issue with having to remote trigger the camera. Using a wireless transmitter, and having the camera take a picture automatically removes any wires that I need to manage while the mast is elevated. The mast and pod were less than $1000 and is highly recommended for those looking to do this kind of work seriously.

  • The Manfrotto 24′ tripod might work at only $650

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