Basics Of Elevated Exterior Photography For Real Estate

November 4th, 2013

The post last week on Jeffery Hogue’s bucket truck stirred up a lot of discussion about elevated shots. Clearly a large part of what Jeffery gets out of his bucket truck is advertising and visibility. Iran Watson does a good job in the comments explaining why a truck like this doesn’t make sense for everyone. However, I think it is well worth reiterating that all real estate photographers need to have a way to shoot elevated shots. There are two basic reasons:

  1. The siting of some homes is such that it is impossible to get a reasonably good front exterior shot standing on the ground. Routinely there will be homes in hilly neighborhoods where the bottom of the front door will be 10 to 20 feet above the street level.
  2. Even if the home you are shooting is sited on a flat lot where the bottom of the front door is at street level, a front shot 10 to 20 feet higher looks way better than one standing at street level.

A height of 10′ to 20′ will nicely cover 99% of the shots you’ll need to take. Nowadays there are a lot of good alternatives for getting your camera 10′ to 20′ above the ground:

What do you use? Take the poll below so everyone can see what’s most popular. I’m a bit surprised that about 13% of readers think they “don’t need no stinking elevated shots”. Yes you do! You can’t make great front exterior shots if you are always standing at the street level.

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23 Responses to “Basics Of Elevated Exterior Photography For Real Estate”

  • I use two different handheld poles. My taller pole goes up 30′, but I find that I use it more often at the 17 to 21 foot heights. Because of this, I have been using my 4 to 9 foot pole more often. When held over my head, I’m getting 15 to 16 feet of height on the camera and when at the front of the house, I stand on the back of my pickup getting an additional 4 feet. This puts me at the same height I usually work at with the tall pole with slightly less hassle.

  • Has anyone tried using a GoPro to take their elevated exterior shots? I’d think with all their mounting attachments, it’d be really easy to mound one on the end of any pole you can get your hands one. Another great feature the latest GoPros have is built in wifi, so you can have a live stream of what it’s looking at straight to your iOS or android device.

  • I just call the bucket guy and add it to the invoice!

  • I’ve found that the center column of a c stand works great for me, and I trust it’s strength over a painter’s pole. I use the same quick release that I use on my tripod mounted with a knuckle and a stud, and the weight of the column is great enough that it’s well-balanced with a 5Dii and 17-40.

  • I use three different methods depending on the situation. 1. Stand on top of van. 2. Extend tripod with camera on it all the way and hold high above head, use time lapse to trigger shutter, shoot wide and crop/straiten in post. 3. Last resort use WonderPole (up to 21 feet). Since I don’t use the pole a lot and don’t want to buy remote viewing gear, I just put my remote control timer on the camera and have it shoot a photo every second for 30 seconds while holding the pole steady but making slight composition movements. Again, shoot wide and crop/straighten in post the best image from the bunch. 4. I also often stand on van and extend tripod overhead.

  • Two years ago I bought two land based aerial trailers with 60′ rectangular telescoping masts. I mount a Canon G9 or G10 on a radio controlled pan/tilt head with the ability to rotate 360 degrees, zoom and control shutter release. I test and compared views from 15′ to 60′ on every shoot and I have to say that the scenery views surrounding a home can be dramatically better when I raise the mast above 45′. I can capture pretty stunning shots from 25 to 30 feet, but I’ve found that some of my best shots have been taken from 45′ to 55′ and having the ability to shoot from as high as 60′ provides a competitive advantage.

    Mountain views in Colorado are a huge selling point and in many instances, depending on the terrain and distance from the mountains, I was only able to see the mountains along the Denver metro front range when I raised the mast above 50 feet. So, height does matter, but even having a way to elevate your camera 20 feet will give you a huge advantage.

    I’m sure anyone who’s tried out land based elevated photography has become acutely aware of shooting on windy days!! Winds can be a very scary element to deal with when you start putting even an inexpensive camera on a pole 20 to 30 feet above the ground. I’m very aware of safety and the potential for equipment and property damage that can happen if my mast ever came crashing down because of high winds!!

    Another point regarding camera height, my clients don’t know, or care, what height I’ve shot from . . . I shoot from various heights at up to 3 or 4 trailer locations, send clients watermarked previews and they select the two shots they like best that come with our minimum $199 package. Sometimes my clients choose shots from the lower elevations because they show less roof and more of the homes architecture. I don’t always agree with their selections, but my goal is to send so many good shots they decide to purchase more than two shots at $50 each.

    The two trailers I purchased were manufactured by a company our of Michigan that’s no longer in business so I do have to deal with on-going equipment maintenance minimal support from the previous owner. But I shoot 3 to 5 aerials every week and have added a substantial revenue stream, not to mention I’ve gained alot of new business because we’re one of the only companies in the Denver metro area offering elevated photography.

    I hope this info helps and looking forward to seeing other comments on this topic!

  • Even if you THINK you don’t need a photography pole, some day you’ll find yourself in front of a home perched on a tall hill and you’ll wish you had a way to get an elevation shot. It’s definitely cheaper than a TS lens.

  • I am in Northern California. Given the FAA not liking the remote control helicopters due to airspace & a bit of homeland security issues…. Pole photography is the safe path to go. For me, it is an “add-on” to a project. We all give enough away for free and should not.

    I generally stay between the 17 to 21 foot height level. Shoot three bracketed images per angle in RAW. Review briefly and maybe reshoot the shot, then make one master image back in Photoshop. Many times I check the file on a notebook before I leave the site. If the client wants the other images from my time in the air (so to speak), they pay an “add-on” or a bundle price for each new copyrighted image. I do charge more than $50 per image, but market conditions are different here than in Colorado. I respect each region & market condition.

    In this business we should be considering adding value with appropriate “add-ons”… ie: elevated photography, types of lighting beyond flash on camera, and graphics…maybe even forms of staging if you think about what we do…

  • I do have the Wonderpole, Pole Pixie with remote trigger, etc. and use it with my Olympus OMD with a wide angle lens + Mobi Eye-Fi to monitor on my phone. But oftentimes I’m out with a much smaller car and wish I had my big pole…. and find just extending my tripod to 7′ high, putting a 5DIII on a 10 second timer, and lifting the entire thing over my head accomplishes almost the same thing without all the miscellaneous “stuff” I usually haul around. After a lot of practice, you usually have a pretty good idea on how to aim the thing, so it generally only takes a couple of tries to get it right. The reality is in most cases you don’t really have a reason to go super high…. all you really see is the roof.

  • Forgive my ignorance on this topic, but is there any empirical support which clearly justifies elevated exterior real estate photography, i.e., does it have a statistically significant positive impact upon potential clients’ purchasing decisions? I give my real estate agents photographic perspectives that their clients will get by coming on site–and none include a POV from 30′ in the air. I understand the *imagined* benefits of elevated exterior shots, but this doesn’t translate into actual benefits. Elevated exterior shots certainly sound nice, are interesting, and are obliviously an accepted practice, but what’s the actual return on such an investment?

    –Gary

  • I first started shooting elevated (or Bird’s eye as I called it) images with a Manfroto 20′ light stand, a DSLR and wide lens. this worked, but hard to level, and very heavy. I later purchased a pneumatic mast that went up almost 40 feet and fired my camera with a pocket wizard. I had to modify the mounting, with the help of a local body shop, to work on my Van. Most of the time 30′- 40′ feet gives a great perspective, but on multi level homes, it is difficult to get high enough to clear the roof and see the landscape behind the home. (70′ – 100′ would be great, but is a very heavy and expensive mast)

    I like the ability to offer the elevated images to the realtors, because it is a view that they can’t take themselves, and is a great way to add income to your regular price tours. The downside to using a mast instead of a RC helicopter, is that you need to a van or truck to mount the mast, and you can’t always get the best position. I am looking forward to a time when the FAA allows us to shoot from the RC quad copters which will get us the best images from almost any angle. I avoid the term aerial as it implies that you are shooting from a plane or helicopter.

  • @Gary – As a listing agent for 10 years that listed homes in a neighborhood where literally 50% of the homes were sited significantly above the elevation of the street I would submit that all one needs to see the benefit of an elevated front shot is common sense… for some homes it’s a matter of do you want the front shot to look like hell or do you want it to look great! For homes sited at street level just study a few elevated shots compared to street level and decide how you would like to have your home shown when you sell it. Elevated shots look better period. How many dollars does it add to the sale price? I don’t know, but a significant number of listing agents understand this issue see this elevated shots as an added service.

  • @larry – Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Perhaps I should have more carefully worded my inquiry to exclude the benefit of elevated exterior shots in cases where it’s needed to overcome visual obstacles.

    You said, “For homes sited at street level just study a few elevated shots compared to street level and decide how you would like to have your home shown when you sell it. Elevated shots look better period.” Again, we’re constrained here by imagined benefits generated from anecdotal accounts and subjective decisions/evaluations. My question specifically asked for empirical support for the practice–not imaginings. It’s fine if there’s currently no well-designed empirical studies which support the practice; I merely wanted to adequately ground the “why” of it.

    –Gary

  • @Gary – you should ask the same questions about the HDR photography you provide to your clients. They may be taken from a realistic perspective, but it certainly isn’t representative of what their clients will view when they see the house.

  • Disclaimer – I don’t have my pole put together yet. My region is fairly flat so overcoming elevated properties isn’t my biggest concern. Where a pole will come in handy is for properties with fenced front yards and as a tool to minimize utility boxes, fire hydrants and mail boxes. From a higher vantage point all those distractions in the foreground get minimized without cropping them out of the frame. If the house has a nice wrought iron and brick fence in the front, I want to show that, but shooting it from street level doesn’t look as good as from an elevation.

  • Gary,

    Even if there are no studies to support the financial advantage of elevated shots, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support its continued use.

    First, Sellers love it. They feel like their property is getting special treatment when they see elevated shots of it, and they think it makes their property look good.

    That in turn benefits the agent when they get referrals. Sellers’ agents are all about pleasing the customer. An aerial shot may not generate an extra dime in sale price, but it is well worth the praise from clients.

    And I can only speak for myself, but I’d prefer an elevated shot when shopping for a home because it gives a better perspective of the true property size as well as the surrounding neighborhood.

    So while there will probably never be a true cost/return study on PAP, common sense tells us that the benefits are real when it comes to client/customer relationships.

  • @Matt – You said that, “[HDR] certainly isn’t representative of what their clients will view when they see the house.” Are you sure? Isn’t HDR (not the over-processed ilk) closer to what clients would actually see at the site than LDR? Although, perhaps, some perspective clients *do* have LDR eyes… 🙂

  • @Jeff – Excellent points! Thank you…

  • @Gary – What constitutes “over-processed?” What may appear perfect to you, may appear over-processed to me and so on and so on. To answer your question though, yes High Dynamic Range is better in a photograph but it can be achieved with proper lighting techniques plus professional equipment and post production knowledge. Bracketed images smushed together in photomatix is not a better representation of what’s really there, over a properly lit subject done with the combination of available and supplemental lighting. It’s just an easier and less expensive solution to achieving High Dynamic Range. Anybody with a Canon Rebel, tripod and photomatix can do it, which is why it’s exploded on the scene of real estate photographers and realtors that do their own photos. Just because it’s popular and gives the illusion of HDR doesn’t make it right.

    Regardless, my bad for getting off subject but I’m sure this would be a popular subject and comparable to skiers vs snowboarders!

  • @Matt – Good point about the relative meaning of “over-processed!”

    You said that, “[HDR] can be achieved with proper lighting techniques plus professional equipment and post production knowledge.” It is not HDR when lighting has effectively narrowed a subject’s EV range. For example, one could fully illuminate a subject–skillfully filling in all shadows–and shoot LDR with little or no PP, and produce superb results–but that’s simply not HDR, because the term “HDR” strictly implies a wide EV range.

    “Bracketed images smushed together in photomatix is not a better representation of what’s really there, over a properly lit subject done with the combination of available and supplemental lighting.” I don’t see this as categorically true. Doesn’t “better representation” depend upon one’s desired results? And what could you possible mean by “what’s really there”?! Such a phrase congers immediate epistemological dilemmas, no? (Unless, of course, you’re a (gasp!) logical positivist.) 😉

    I don’t so quickly deprecate photomatix nor others of its species. Lighting tools can just as easily be misused as HDR software. I’d enjoy seeing someone setting up the lighting for a Grand Canyon photo shoot, exclaiming it’ll provide “a better representation of what’s really there.” Wow–can you imagine the electric bill for that shoot (not to mention all that equipment)?

    “Anybody with a Canon Rebel, tripod and photomatix can do it, which is why it’s exploded on the scene of real estate photographers and realtors that do their own photos. Just because it’s popular and gives the illusion of HDR doesn’t make it right.” Well, then, I guess anybody with a recipe book and kitchen equipment can be an Iron Chef, too. The tools do not make the crafts-person, whether it’s HDR software or lighting equipment.

    –Gary

  • I recently started using a wonderpole….I LOVE IT! I know im going to kill my 5DM3 so I will start using my old 60D I guess. Most lots in my area put the house above the road and the elevated shots are very nice! I have found that even flat lots have a nicer shot elevated but it is easy to go too high on those….less is more if the lot is level in my opinion. Sellers LOVE them by the way.

  • Living in Florida, noted for its flatness, I don’t have to worry about house elevation changes. I have found that single story homes could easily be done with a step ladder at around the 12′ range, as higher is too much roof. I may use the full 18′ with 2 story homes, and the street view of multi-story condos. Why do I use pole photography…which I refer to as ‘birdseye view”?
    1) Not everyone does it, particularly DIY Realtors, I stand out and gain business.
    2) Shows off features, such as entry walkway and front landscaping, that otherwise flat and minimized.
    3) Not everyone does it, particularly DIY Realtors, I stand out and gain business.
    4) Homeowners love it perceiving that they are getting more and make my client look good.
    5) Not everyone does it, particularly DIY Realtors, I stand out and gain business.
    6) Can include exterior features, such as lake or golf course that otherwise is hidden at street level.
    7) Not everyone does it, particularly DIY Realtors, I stand out and gain business.
    8) They and neighbors are amazed as they see the camera rise. Recently have let them “help” by holding the iPad as I frame it, and tell them to press “capture.”
    9) Not everyone does it, particularly DIY Realtors, I stand out and gain business.

    You get the picture? Why would I want to handicap myself by restricting my product to street level like everyone else?

  • I’ve used several different methods. Mainly a telescoping mast with a maximum height over 50ft. I’m my area lots of homes are situated above the street or on a mountain side, or have incredible views behind the home that you wouldn’t be able to capture from street level. From my personal experience I feel 95% of homes look better at 10ft and over, depending on the house. I feel its always nice to have at least one high level exterior shot just to get a different perspective than what we are normally looking at from the street. I have an SUV that is somewhat easy to climb so I’ll stand on it and place a 7ft tripod on top of it so I’m able to get between 12-14ft.

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