Minimum Cost For Real Estate Photography Essential Items Startup Kit

March 29th, 2015

StartupKitI’m in the process of a major update to my Photography For Real Estate e-book. Since it is a book about getting started in real estate photography it suggests gear for someone getting started in real estate photography. A new feature I have in the book is a minimum cost list of getting started gear. Here is my list:

  1. DSLR: Canon Rebel T5 (body only)  – $320
  2. Wide angle lens: Canon 10-18mm – $299
  3. Manual flash: YN-560-III+Trigger –  $90
  4. Flash stand: 7′ with bracket       –   $21
  5. Tripod: Manfrotto 055xPROB          – $240
  6. Tripod head: MHXPRO-3WG         -$200
  7. Total……………………………………$1170

This is a list of just photographic gear. There are other costs, like Lightroom, a laptop or desktop computer etc. The purpose of this list is to focus on the important equipment items that one needs to get started in real estate photography.

Here are Nikon version components for items 1 & 2 if you’d rather go with Nikon:

  1. DSLR: Nikon D3100 – $290 or D5100 – $280
  2. Wide angle lens: Sigma 10-20mm –  $379

The Nikon version is only slightly more expensive.

It’s worth noting that you don’t need new equipment. There are a lot of good used gear on Amazon, bhphoto.comEbay and keh.com. What suggestions do you have to improve the list?

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35 Responses to “Minimum Cost For Real Estate Photography Essential Items Startup Kit”

  • The one thing I would add is a sling between the tripod legs to hold the handheld flash when moving around the room. Mine was only 10 bucks at Amazon and it has saved so much time from not losing things and having to go back looking for them.

  • Since it is geared toward the newbie, I would have a section going over the pros and cons of full frame vs cropped sensor when making their selection. Maybe point out the cost difference and the fact that if they decide to change later, what the costs might be.

    Cannot tell you how many people I have run into that wished they had started off with full frame

  • My insurance Co replaced some stolen gear with a D7100 about the time I started taking my own RE pics. I added a Tokina 11-16 2.8 but am wondering if I should stop right now and trade to full sensor before DX goodies start adding up..? I keep reading how the 7100 crop is “completely different” from older DX sensor cameras, as good as FX etc… Here’s a couple samples of what I’m getting: http://www.davespencerphotography.com/interiors/ (please remember I’m a newbie 🙂

  • You also need a computer (27″ iMac for me) with Photoshop and Lightroom… just as important as the camera gear…. at least for me.

  • Anybody can go to a SAMs Club, Costco or B&H and buy a Rebel T-5 and all the other suggested equipment, then order business cards at VistaPrint, but that does make them a professional RE photographer?

  • Anybody can go to a SAMs Club, Costco or B&H and buy a Rebel T-5 and all the other suggested equipment, then order business cards at VistaPrint, but does that make them a professional RE photographer?

  • Camera case/backpack – $50-$75
    Spare camera batteries/Memory cards – $30
    Lens/sensor cleaning supplies – $80+
    2-3 sets of rechargeable batteries for the flash and remotes. I also pack some alkaline cells JIC.
    Flash umbrella – $15

    A longer focal length lens should be in the list.
    Having a camera battery charger that works on 12vdc can be a life(face) saver.

    The little stuff adds up fast.

  • @Dave, I would recommend getting a backup body before stepping up to a full frame camera. Mid-Range crop frame cameras are perfectly adequate for nearly all RE photography. If you still have money left, buy the best lenses you can. I’m not very knowledgable on Nikon model numbers, but you want a body that uses lenses that will also work on FF bodies. When you need the extra quality of a full frame camera, you should have the budget to buy one. Remember that top end lenses hold their value but bodies don’t and next year there will be a new model out with even more features so you want to be able to justify the extra cost within the first year even if you hang on to gear longer.

  • Can’t ignore mirror less anymore. A used Fuji kit is less than $1000 with image quality that can’t be beat for the price. Heck of a lot lighter to carry around too!

  • @Tyler – I’m with you on that! When I switched to a Sony A6000 with the 16-50 kit lens ($500 – $600), my on the job photography time and post processing were cut by 1/3. Plus, because it’s so light weight, I don’t need a very expensive super heavy duty tripod and head, saving even more money.

  • While the tripod and head you have listed are fine pieces of equipment, they’re far from being the bare minimum. You can get by with much less just starting out, just getting your feet wet. I mean, do you really need a geared head? Some people don’t even shoot with a tripod. Don’t get me wrong, I love my 405 head atop my tripod but I shot for a long time before plunking down the cash to get one.

  • What is needed beyond this list is a staging kit: clothespins, spring clamps, masking tape, duct tape, door stops, dust cloth and cleaner, some small dowels, pliers, screwdrivers. Probably more, but that’s all I’ve needed.

    I also carry a monopod, just in case.

  • I would add memory cards and extra batteries for cameras and your flash. The flash is not so much a concern since many of them use off the shelf AA batteries available almost anywhere. Camera batteries on the other hand are a must especially when you use your camera for both photography and videography. Having large or enough memory cards is a must as well if shooting in RAW and then add video to those cards to boot the space is needed.

  • I honestly dont think that list is realistic for anybody who would present themselves as a professional. Real estate photography isn’t a starting point (newbie) in photography, it’s an advanced level pursuit.

    IMO, that list is a starting point for learning, but not for what we do… it’s more suited to babies and kids of friends and relatives, which IS the starting point that most people should engage in. Or maybe vacation or nature photos. Even graduation portraits require more gear to do them with competence.

    By the time you’re ready to shoot architecture, you should already have years of experience, and a pretty reasonable arsenel of gear, unless you’re an exceptional genius of some sort.

    Here’s the thing about such a limited kit – electronics and mechanical things often fail for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is operator error, especially true of newbs. Going on a paid assignment without backup gear is doing a disservuce to the client, who expects the work to get done well, and on time, without excuses. And, in my mind, someone with such a limited kit probably has limited post-processing skills as well, which again, should be reserved for friends and relatives, not offered in the professional arena.

    So I would recommend your minimal kit x 2, at the very least. 🙂

  • For newbies, it’s also important to consider the costs of running a business like insurance, travel, cell phone, internet, website, marketing materials, etc. Those expenses could cost more than the equipment once you add everything up. I also agree with the above comment about adding extra batteries and memory cards. To add to the list, I have found a wireless shutter remote and a large reflector to also be really useful and would suggest getting those near the beginning as well. Regarding the comments about going full-frame, I think newbies can totally get along just fine on a smaller sensor for a long time. Faster, sharper lenses are more important in my opinion than full-frame cameras. And they work on both the smaller sensor and larger sensor cameras. So, I would suggest getting the more expensive lenses made for full-frame lenses, in case you decide to upgrade to full-frame in the future. You’ll need a new camera body well before you need to replace your lenses because the technology changes so much and shutters wear out, plan on replacing the body about every 3-5 years. Or at least that’s how it should be. So, investing in the best lenses is wise because they will last a lot longer than that.

  • @Chip, what might you need all the other staging stuff for? I get the doorstop, and cleaner/dust cloth but the rest?

    Thanks to everyone for being honest and forthright in your comments and willingness to explain things for us newbies. It’s been a tremendous help and I find myself coming back day after day to see what else has been posted! Great site, great shares, great group of folks!!

  • I just am in the process of migrating from a full frame Canon to a mirror less Olympus EM 1. Half the weight and size and great image quality not to mention cost.

  • This started out about what it would take to get your feet wet and now it has grown into what a seasoned, skilled pro would have. Maybe that is something that Larry should have a paragraph on as well, “This is what it takes to get started and this is what a seasoned pro would have”.

    The question is asked all the time, “what does it take to get started”, they should also be aware of what they should have once they get into it.

    The discussion as to what brand, type and sensor size is the foundation of making their choice in what direction they go. Not everyone is broke when they go into this, most can afford to make the choice of spending a few hundred more or not. I know when I started out as an intern, I was excited to get a Kowa 6 medium format camera to shoot weddings. The director was nice enough to set me straight right away and sold me one of his Hassleblads for a good price saying “If your going to learn, learn with the equipment that is used in the industry”

  • You’ll also need a set of triggers to fire the flash.

  • I’m with Jerry Kelley above, I sold my Nikon DX gear and have moved to an a6000 (hopeful for an a7000 soon too). I use a Rokinon 12mm f/2 for wides and image quality is stellar. I also use the Sigma 19mm for a little tighter. I might add a Rokinon 16mm as well but so far hasn’t been needed. No one starting out should worry about FF unless they have money to burn. You don’t need an extra stop of high ISO using flash, I’d argue very few people, and certainly not beginners (or realtors) will see the advantage of extra color depth, and dynamic range is pretty close with crop sensors and usually beyond the processing ability of most beginners. Plus depth of field decreases, so you stop down further to get sharpness, then crank ISO to compensate and the FF advantage disappears. The only good argument I’ve heard was from Scott Hargis that you get better glass on FF because it’s easier to make 18mm lenses than 12mm lenses, but we’re talking about beginners, not someone looking for a 24mm TS lens.

    I also use the Yongnuo 560’s. I have three Mk III, and just picked up the Mk IV. I’d recommend getting two Mk IV (same price as Mk III) and you’ve got a second off camera light and a light/trigger for $142 (bounce the Mk IV on camera in TX mode and it triggers the other in RX mode.)

    One last thing. If you’re spending $1000 plus to get into this, spend $47 for “Lighting Interiors”!!!

  • Matt Parvin, according to DXOMark, the APS-C sensor of the A6000 beats the Canon FF 5D mark lll sensor in every way except one, for low light sports. The A6000 is really an amazing camera. Just because it’s small does not mean poor quality. It also beats the T5 in every way.

  • Interested in getting started in RE Photography. How is the Job Market? Of course I plan to do this part-time, but just curious.

  • Herb, it all depends on where you live, some areas are booming and other places are still in the slow down from 2008.

  • Thanks for the reply

  • A good rule of thumb on where to save money and where to spend it is to consider the life expectancy of the item. Another factor is how specialized is the piece of equipment. Tripods are a good example of a technology that hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. If you buy a good one and don’t run over it, you’ll be putting a camera on top of it for decades. If you decide to cash in your 401k to get a Tilt-Shift or dedicated macro lens, you might want to give yourself a cooling off period and be honest with yourself about how often you will use it.

    For things like collapsable reflectors and shoot through umbrellas, I generally go pretty cheap. The price difference between a no-name Chinese made umbrella and a higher quality name brand is rather large. I tend to toss both of those items around, they get dirty and the best ones are going to get smashed if a boot full of gear shifts. I’ve also been able to amass a good selection of sizes and types without breaking the bank.

    Small hardware parts in ten packs purchased from an eBay auction can be less than one copy of a premium brand. Just be prepared to toss some stuff out and buy the name brand if the cheap one is going to cause a big headache. On balance, I’ve been good at knowing when to choose the premium item. I shake my head when I see somebody with a top of the line camera mounted on a flimsy $12.99 tripod they probably picked up at the big box store. Balance grasshopper, balance.

  • @Herb DuBois, Get on Trulia, Zillow and Realtor.com and look at the listings in your area. If you have been following this web site the Flickr group and bought a couple of instruction books from Larry, you should know how to identify listings with professionally produced images and those made by an advanced amateur. The lousy ones are easy to spot. Just because your area doesn’t have any professional images being posted, don’t think that it’s a target rich environment. I’m in that sort of area and it’s a lot of work to build agent’s awareness. You might be better off if there is a little bit of competition. To me, agent’s seem a little complacent about marketing. It’s not until somebody ups the ante that they will start to take an interest.

    Agent’s are also very unorganized so they don’t remember that they need images made until the last minute and want you to instantly appear, make the images and deliver them before their coffee cools off. That could make working part-time hard to pull off. If that’s all you can do, you should consider your weekends dedicated to PFRE. Agents may work with you if you are in more of a laid-back area. If you are in a major city, you may not be able to book as many jobs, though, if your competition won’t work on weekends, that may be your niche.

  • @Kendra, the clamps are for holding back wires that can’t be unplugged, curtains that won’t behave, shades – ditto, tapes for hold-backs, pliers and screwdriver for minor fixes, dowels for various things, among them tilting vases, etc. for a better showing. Obviously, I don’t always get houses that have been well-staged, so I have to do it myself once in a while. I’ll do what’s necessary to make the shot look right for the Agent and the prospective buyer.

  • I think this is a pretty good list of minimum gear for someone starting out that covers the basics. Obviously everyone has their favorite camera but it’s best to start with Nikon or Canon. There’s just so many more inexpensive lens options, accessories, and support in place with those systems than any other camera brand. Compared to when I started the gear listed above is state-of-the-art and more than adequate for creating professional level images and I think the suggestion that the gear makes the professional is ridiculous.

    I started out shooting real estate with a Nikon D50, Sigma 10-20mm, a single SB-26 speedlight, a pair of Pocket Wizards, and a Manfrotto tripod/head. When I “retired” from shooting RE late last year I was using a Nikon D700, Nikon 17-35mm, a single LumiPro speedlight, a pair of Pocket Wizards, and a Gitzo tripod with Manfrotto 410 head. So my basic RE setup didn’t really change much over the years and I was very successful without owning and using an arsenal of gear.

  • no one seems to have mentioned it also pays to a zoom lens for more distance – I often use my 70-300 for zooming in on interesting views, also for the different shots of the property from a distance, over a valley etc.. I would also recommend a painters pole with a pole pixie attachment for slightly elevated shots.

  • Since the title is the “minimum cost” shouldn’t you remove the flash and lightstands? We all have our different styles and it’s certainly possible to start a business without these.

  • @Mark – Sure, it’s possible to do without a single flash but most would agree that even when shooting brackets and processing with HDR or Enfuse software a single manual flash will improve quality noticeably. So I consider it essential gear. If you don’t use at least one flash you sometimes have a hard time rendering pure whites.

  • If I only had one flash I wouldn’t bother using it at all. You can say that you’d get better whites, but only to the coverage of the flash, and having only one flash on a wide angle setup doesn’t cover very far. So to that extent, you’d still be fighting getting your whites white. Better to just shoot without it and have one less color temp to deal with. IMO if you’re going to use flash you’ll need at least 3, and that’s bare minimum and you won’t be shooting anything too large.

  • In my opinion, a full frame camera is not needed for RE photography. Use well, an APSC sized sensored camera will exceed the demands of web based images. The real issue for me in choosing a camera body was what kind of lenses I wanted to use. I decided on the lenses, and chose a suitable body. I think that should be the approach of anyone gearing up for RE. I have a background in photography so I was confident enough to buy high quality gear without wasting money on expensive camera bodies.

    I don’t think that mega high end lenses are necessary either. Any decent wide to normal zoom would probably do (so long as it is profiled by Lightroom or whatever you intend to use).

    So I think that the article was pretty spot on, although the gear list is completely different to what I use.

  • @Al, I also recommend going with Nikon or Canon as well for the same reasons. There are very good mirrorless and MFD cameras that get used in RE, but they’re not as well supported by third parties. If one has a problem with their body, it’s much easier to find a C or N rental while it’s being repaired. Remote devices like CamRanger and tethering software tends to support Canon and Nikon at least initially. Post processing software also favors Canon and Nikon with more profiles and quicker updates for new lenses and bodies.

  • 440$ for a tripod is a bare minimum? Oo I can agree with the rest but cmon… that doesn’t make much sense.

    the problem with these kind of setups is always the wide angle lens. before the canon 10-18mm (which I have btw) came out the cheapest option would be the same as for nikon.
    So canon became the cheapest option otherwise it would be nikon. For the price it’s really an amazing lens.
    They are far from perfect but in the right hands they will produce great results.
    Mirrorless are great for portability but if you are going to use flash and a tripod then the portability advantage is irrelevant. Still the sony 10-18mm f4 OSS and the fuji 10-24mm F4 R OIS are one of the best lens there is considering price and performance. One thing I notice is that sometimes 18mm is not enough for some shots and you need to change to another lens. 10-24mm will cover 99.99% of all shots needed.

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