Reader Question: Why Do Real Estate Photographers Shoot Elevated Front Shots?

October 7th, 2014

whyPAPI got an unexpected question from Brian in NZ. Brian is relatively new to real estate photography and Pole Aerial Photography (PAP). He wondered why PAP is important, and how do you sell it to your clients. Brian was stunned by James Governali’s shot that won last year’s October still contest with a 58′ pneumatic pole. I’ve always thought that the importance of elevated shoots was intuitively obvious, but I guess not. Lets talk about the basics.

Why do you need PAP?
Because just a few feet in elevation can radically change the view of the exterior of a home. The difference between the top image and the bottom image is on the bottom one the photographer (Marc Lacoste of Nantes, FR) has the camera on a tripod with the legs extended over his head. This illustrates how easy it is to get an elevated shot and what a stunning difference it makes. This doesn’t look like the same property. More importantly, the elevated shot shows more of the features of the home and shows them better.

Another reason is that a large percentage of homes are sited above the street level so a handheld exterior shot looks awful! Ten to 15′ elevation can frequently fix this problem.

How to sell it to your clients?
Simple comparison shots like the one above will illustrate to clients the benefits of an elevated shot. Realtors are quick to see the benefits. In 1986 when my wife became a listing agent she came home complaining that the roof of her car was dented. When I ask her how it got dented she said, “I was standing on the top of the car to get a better front shot of my new listing.” After that I shot all of her listing front shots for her with a foldup ladder I put in bed my pickup. Nowadays Realtors want more than PAP, they want drone shots.

Is a 58′ pole over kill?
Perhaps in some situations. The goal of using large poles is, as with James Governali‘s winning shot, you want to show the home, in it’s surroundings and features in the distance that can’t typically be seen just standing in front of the home. These poles along with the control electronics and the trailers to carry them around used to cost around $10K to $20K USD. You don’t see as many of them in use as you did 10 years ago. But they are not obsolete. At least you don’t have to pay any attention to the FAA when you are using a large pole!

Drones will eventually replace these large poles like James’s 58′ pole, but smaller 10′ to 20′ poles are really easy and effective to use and are an essential part of full service real estate photography.

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13 Responses to “Reader Question: Why Do Real Estate Photographers Shoot Elevated Front Shots?”

  • Brian,
    Before I got a drone, and first started shooting real estate I wanted to set myself apart from the other photographers and do something that they and realtors who shoot their own properties could not do. so I found the largest light stand (I think it was about 25′) and mounted a DSLR with a radio control. I was able to get a vantage point that not only gave the home depth, but also showed off the surrounding landscape. but that was very heavy, bulky, and not nearly as high as I wanted to go. So, I invested in a 40′ pneumatic pole which I mounted to my van. now, I was able to get a wonderful elevated image that looked over the roof (on most homes I shot) and see the water, a Golf course or a beautiful surrounding manicured landscape. And, I was able to charge an extra $75 for the shot. PAPs are a great way to get a better shot of most homes, but I wouldn’t be able to justify an additional charge for 15′ elevation. The drone gives a great perspective and view of the area that is unobtainable by a hi mast, and it is actually cheaper than the $3,000 I invested in my 40′ pole. you should be able to add an additional $125-$175 for a drone shot added to your virtual tour.

    even thought I have a large drone, I still use my 40′ mast very often. perhaps when the FAA finally gives us some guidelines, I will sell the mast , and only go with the drone. we are now seeing many photographic drones which are coming down in price.

  • In addition to the art, it plays a large part in the science, of selling.

    When a buyer does an online search for property in their chosen area / price range it throws up a list of similar properties. An elevated shot jumps out of the screen at you, if nothing else, as being different. It is about merchandising as opposed to shelf stacking. It helps to gain that most important first click.

  • I think some markets are better than others for the elevated shots. I live on Long Island…key word island, where I can travel from the north shore to the south shore in a matter of 20 minutes. The geography presents a tremendous amount of properties that are water front and/or water view. For me the mast was an easy decision. I wanted as much height as I could afford/thought I would realistically use.

    As far as the drones are concerned…I follow the drone market and FAA/News reports very carefully. I teeter back and forth daily as to whether or not I should buy a drone. The what ifs worry me…what if I lose control and hit a home/car? What if the FAA rules against it? What if I lose the signal and it flies away? After the recent close calls with drones in NYC this past summer, NRT, the parent company of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, advised all of their agents not to use drone photography when marketing their listings. Many of my clients in the higher-end market are concerned about potential damage to the property if the drone loses control. I am sure an insurance policy for the drone would cover it but I don’t have any of these concerns with the mast.

    My clients love the shots from the mast and I have it mounted on trailer which provides some extra advertising. Most of the time when I shoot with the mast I have a crowd of people looking on and curious about what I am doing. Conversations with curious neighbors while shooting a home has scored me 3 extra homes this year.

  • I’ve been mulling over the same question, and tend to think that higher is not always better. Shots from above can be great, but they also might make the house look small and over-exaggerate the roof. Shots from below can enhance the sense that the house is large. In the examples you include, I think the problem with the lower shot is not that it is shot from below, but that it exaggerates the garage, which is not that attractive.

  • Scott,
    I recommend setting up away from the home if you are going for a higher shot. If you shoot up high, right in front of the home it will be all roof. But if you set back a bit…the results can be spectacular.

  • Hi James

    I agree PAP is a great addition to our tool chest. Your shot is a beautiful example of how PAP can show surroundings. Your comment touches on the question of whether one really needs to be up 58′. From what you just said, to maintain sufficient angle above the house, you’ll need more height as you get farther away. From your shot, it looks like you were about a block away and also on ground elevated above the house, so it seems one needs that kind of elevation to get this kind of shot from this distance.

    The original posting asked why we need PAP. Taking a stab at that, it seems we need it when it helps show what we want to show. From this discussion, it seems it does well at showing surroundings and that we as photographers can do some special things. I have had the experience of shooting a house from above in the woods, and the shot made the house look small. This result may have been because the surroundings did not give much size information. Also, the shape of the house gave few clues as to its actual size. (It was a Geodesic Dome house.) Also, some shots from a human’s eye view can really enhance the grandeur of a house, others can be intimate and inviting. That said, I’ll include PAP on almost every shoot, mixed with other shots from a lower elevation.

    I’m really excited about PAP, as many of us are. My first reaction was that PAP is great for everything. Getting past my excitement a bit, I think the next step may be to consider what results we want, and to use PAP when appropriate. My own experience is that photographically it’s good for showing surroundings and for getting up above things (such as trees) that might otherwise block the shot. Any other uses, I wonder?

  • ..cause it looks good..thats why!
    If a realtor thinks that he/she can sign the listing agreement….& then from there on all that happens …. is just like it did last year, 5 yrs ago or longer….then…wowsers! Under the next gen of buyers, whatever Gen ? it is ?
    … whatever, your world is gonna change.
    Why, well if you have not got a value proposition, and can tell your client why they are paying extra for your services/experience….then your customer is only going to option “to buy on fees.”
    So ….work out yr USP….etc, etc and let folks know in no uncertain terms thats what you bring to the table.
    Seriously!
    If you take the time to email me I’ll let you know more, but seriously if all you bring to the table is…
    …sign me up
    …put in on MLS
    …then zillow, realtor.dot.com, or whoever is the perceived No.1 www site….
    …then put a For Sale sign up…..start thinking…..
    ….am I the only person that can do that?
    In the eyes of your vendor (seller) what do I personally bring to the table??? (ABOVE THAT?)
    And what then do I bring to the table that makes me stand above the other 1 or 2 realtors you phoned to visit for a listing appointment?
    Thats life…..happy to answer your questions.

  • Bring back the drones!

  • Any suggestions on poles and where to purchase them?

  • I think, in general, the height of the property defines the best height for the shot, which is usually 1/2 to 3/4 of the total height. Any lower or higher and there’s something abnormal about the view. That changes when you include an amount of land in the shot as well, even if it’s a yard, and can look better right around 3/4 the height of the house, or even a little higher depending on the architecture. If you’re elevated height is so tall you’ve eliminated the details in favor of the roof, you’re up too high. When shooting land or acreage, 20-30ft+ can really be a great POV because it opens up possibilities for extra details in the terrain that you can’t observe at eye level, and it allows the viewer to inspect the land from the close foreground, through the middle, and the distant vistas. At eye level, you won’t see the middle, just what’s close to the camera and the vista. Raising the camera up also allows you to set the horizon line so it’s not dead center (which is often an un-dynamic placement), instead giving you the choice to employ the rules of thirds.

  • When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I see PAP and RCMA photos many times that shouldn’t have been posted. The biggest complaint I have is that the composition is too “roofy” followed by emphasizing the housing density in areas that only have a few feet between the homes and lastly that old nemesis of going too wide on the composition while trying to show everything. There needs to be a compelling compositional reason for the elevated POV.

    A pole up to 15′ or so works great for getting over fences, minimizing utility boxes and peeking over hedges. It’s fast to set up and requires no batteries. If a home is perched on the side of a hill, a higher POV looks much better than aiming up and catching most of the underside of the deck. I haven’t had the occasion to try this yet, but for homes that have a high vaulted ceiling and view windows, instead of taking a photo from the landing or loft upstairs, a pole shot from the ground floor might be the best way to capture the room and the view.

    I’m waiting for the FAA and more importantly, the insurance industry to get all of the details sorted out for RCMAs. I hope that there is some sort of qualification and insurance requirements for using RCMA’s commercially. If I’m going to make a serious investment in the hardware, I want some barrier to entry so I’m not competing with every teenager in the area that got a cheap quad as a present. If the FAA can get their act together and implement some reasonable requirements, that might prevent the hodge podge of city, county and state laws that are cropping up. I’d hate to have to keep track of 10-20 different sets of regulations in my local area. It would be even more dismaying to have to apply and pay for a stack of annual permits so I could offer the service. I still have yet to see an insurance company that will cover RCMA’s on a commercial basis. There have been a couple that state they do, but when combing the fine print, they don’t on any useful level. Given the notoriety of RCMA accidents and hijinks, I don’t blame the insurance companies for holding back. If commercial operators had to pass a test and hold a permit that could be revoked for reckless and unsafe practices, insurance companies might be more open to writing policies. At that point, real estate companies will require or strongly suggest that their franchisees only hire licensed and insured operators making the investment more practical. I’m not suggesting that a commercial pilot’s license be required, but something along the lines of a DMV written test covering safety and rules for the size class that most RE photographers would use. Craft above a certain size/weight could require a skills test. If you aren’t planning on flying a fully accessorized RED camera but a DSLR, the smallest size class should be all that is needed.

    Drop a note to the neighbors before you fly so they don’t take offense (and pot shots).

  • A big advantage that PAP has over UAVs is image quality. Most pfre seems to be shot with a gopro, but even if you have an octo with a 5dmkiii slung under it, the images aren’t going to be as clean, twilights will look even worse. Layering and adjusting camera settings is another near impossibility.

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