Do Real Estate Photographers Need To Carry A Wagon Load Of Gear?

January 31st, 2016

WaynesKit-300x225Dean asked the following question last week:

I am wondering what the typical setup is for photographers arriving at a photo shoot. How much equipment do people really bring for their typical bread and butter shoot? My concern is if I show up hauling a wagon load of gear up to the front door does that show professionalism, or will it immediately set the agent to tapping her wrist watch? Just because you can, should you?

Don’t worry about “showing professionalism”. You should just focus on getting great results in minimum time. But the fact is that you don’t need to carry a wagon load of gear.

What you carry to a shoot depends somewhat on your style of shooting:

  1. To shoot brackets (HDR or Enfuse) with no flash all you need is a sturdy tripod and a camera. A minority of PFRE readers use this technique because dealing with color artifacts created by this technique in post-processing is challenging. About 14% of PFRE readers use this technique (See PFRE lighting poll).
  2. When shooting brackets, to get the very best results and minimize your post-processing time, one small manual flash is important. For maximum flexibility, a light stand or monopod that you hold is best although some mount the flash on-camera. About 13% of PFRE readers use some variation of this technique.
  3. When shooting with small flashes, you don’t need a big light stand for each flash. A couple of small light stands is adequate. Flashes can be put on the top of doors, held with your hand and some use a “flash on a stick” (monopod that is held in your hand). About 46% of PFRE readers shoot with small flashes.

Wayne Capili, one of the best in this business (uses #3 above) and did a guest post back in September talking about the gear he uses. Wayne’s kit is shown above. Click on the photo of Wayne’s camera bag (Lowepro hard side 200) to read the details. Besides the very small case of gear, Wayne probably carries a tripod, light stand or two all of which one could carry under one arm with a shoulder bag. So just because you shoot with small flashes doesn’t mean your need a lot of gear.

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16 Responses to “Do Real Estate Photographers Need To Carry A Wagon Load Of Gear?”

  • Until June of 2014, I carried three bags and a heavy tripod. My bags wore out after more than twenty years of use. I was in Costco one day for lunch and they had a display of airplane under seat bags for $30. I bought two, one for flash stuff and one for cameras and lenses. These bags have wheels on them and a telescoping handle. I cut up carpet padding to make pockets and padded liners for the flashes, extra batteries and flash accessories. Did the same for the camera bag and added the lens-camera pack from my very old Domke bag. The bags are made of nylon and have held up very well. I switched to my lighter 30 year old Bogen tripod and generic Chinese ball head. Yes, I’ve been told I need a $500+tripod and geared head to make my job easier but what I had worked perfectly and just as fast. It got even lighter when I switched my DSLR to the Sony A6000. After over a year and a half, these bags have held up very well, they still look great and so much easier to move around than my old bags.

  • That is sort of like asking how long is a piece of string. The answer has to depend on your style of shooting. When getting into photography I assisted two pro’s in advertising work; one brought almost the entire studio with him never wanting to be stuck without the equipment he felt he needed while the other went with minimal equipment expressing the feeling that he liked to be challenged to do the most with the least. I fall somewhere between the two. I think as you develop your style of shooting, just observe what equipment you actually use and bring that ensuring you also have some back up equipment in the car in case your camera body has some hot flashes and needs to take time off. And it must never be forgotten that perception is everything. So using old, beaten up equipment, despite the fact that it can do the job, does not make the right impression just as arriving in an old clunker tells the wrong story about your success or lack there of.

    I am of that small percent who does not use flash. When I need lighting, I use tungsten, but that is rare. So I do not have to lug around lots of lighting equipment. But if I did, I would purchase one of these lovely woven fabric lighting bags with wheels. Makes the right impression. Stands (and umbrellas if you use them) require a certain size bag even if the flash heads do not.

    But in the end, I would have to say, keep it as simple and minimal as you can so you can work fast and don’t find photo equipment ending up in some of your shots.

  • @Jerry Kelley, if you search around on eBay you can find the same sort of velcro attaching dividers that come in “camera” bags/cases. I just picked up a bare bones Pelican case and that’s how I plan to section it off. They’re really cheap too.

    I pack fairly heavy. Things that I use all of the time are in four cases/bags. The obvious first is my camera case with 2 bodies, collection of lenses, batteries, cards etc etc. The second case is my small flash kit packed with speedlights, diffusers, clamps, batteries, feet and small tools. My stands are in a stand bag and the last bag has my tripod.

    In addition, I bring a case with a battery powered strobe (JTL Mobilight) with it’s accessories. A painters pole with camera mount. A case with collapsable 5-in-1 reflectors, cloth (B/W), all sorts of spare tape, more clamps, light cotton cord. C-47’s (clothespins), door stops, T-Paper, Windex, Paper towels, misc light bulbs and bit of fluff at the bottom.

    The problem with RE photography is that you don’t usually get a look at what your are shooting until you arrive. I rarely haul everything into the home with me, but if I need something, there’s a good chance that I have it. I think I have heard others describe RE photography as “problem solving” in a hurry. A photographer’s kit is something that evolves over time and should be analyzed from time to time to make sure that it things aren’t being left in that were used once a couple of years ago for a unique situation.

    I always get comments about my gear when I open up my basic kit to get started. Even if I never change the lens and wind up only using a couple of speedlights, my customers are convinced that they have hired a pro. I agree with Peter D’Aprix, keeping gear looking good gives a good impression. A used appearance is fine, but when something has passed into the realm of ugly it’s time for a coat of paint or replacement. My product photo studio is mostly DIY and looks it, but customers don’t usually get to see that. They just see the finished (or semi-finished) images.

  • No wheels, I just carry. A Domke case (canvas, lacking bulky padding) camera with 16-35 attached, couple extra lens (occasionally use a telephoto for across lakes or focus pulls on video, etc), a TTL flash, batteries, flash controller and other extras. It is basically by grab and go bag for everyday photography. Over my other shoulder, and providing nice carrying balance, is a 32″ tube case that carries 2 light stands 3 manual flash in their case, 2 umbrellas, and in a pinch can include a slider but it gets tight. In my hand is a lightweight carbon tripod as I greet them at the door with “I’m the photographer” (well duh..). Assemble there initially used, then ask them where their laundry room is. The look of fright as they think I am going to take a photo of it rather than store my cases and excess gear out of the way.

    Remaining in my car – pole and camera mounting platform, heavy tripod with video head, slider, stabilizer, and all important – fishing line. I use it to open non-solid front doors that would otherwise show me through the frosted glass as the door opens on video. Totally freaked out one Realtor who wanted to know how I opened clear glass door with clear glass sidelights and wasn’t seen. I told her I was auditioning for the Invisible Man sequel as it sounded better than fishing line.

  • I love the “how long is a piece of string” quote. Nice.

    “Two is one, one is none” is a special forces motto. If you don’t have a backup, you don’t have the tools for the job. So you need to carry two of the essentials with you at all times, as everything fails. Ive had cameras fail, lenses break — I even had a leg fall off a tripod.

    I switched to Fuji two years ago, partly for this reason. I now carry two camera bodies, 5 lenses, two lights, a light stand with mini boom, tripod, plus batteries, cards, small modifiers. ALL of this fits in a Think Tank expandable backpack with one small belt pouch.

    Mirrorless is awesome.

  • I always carry backup equipment. Pelican case with an extra camera body, 4-5 speedlights, extra lenses, battery powered strobe, a few lightstands and two drones. When I get there I take a look around with the agent, decide what I need and only take that out of the car.

  • My typical “bread and butter” shoot only involves my camera for interiors. My camera has a very dependable 5-axis stabilization system, so I don’t even need a tripod. I can go hand-held down to about 1/2 second. For exteriors, I add an extension pole and external screen, but I keep that in my car so I don’t have to carry it in. I don’t like carrying anything in, because it always seems to get in the way (I even leave my shoes outside).

    As many have mentioned above, the equipment you carry depends on your style of shooting. I have chosen a small setup and work with the light I’ve been given. Yes, it takes more time in post and I occasionally encounter difficult color temperature issues, but that’s how I roll. I am happy with my product and my realtors are too.

  • Great topic, as someone who is just starting out it is great to see the experienced guys like Wayne using such minimal kits, its good to know you don’t need a truck load of gear to produce great images.

    @Larry don’t forget my favorite brit Matt Davis, he travels on the subway with his kit.
    https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/24958660@N07/22296157102/
    https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/24958660@N07/21688035723/

  • Lot of great answers here showing how one’s style dictates the gear. For me I have a van filled with everything I need. I frequently shoot homes with enormous great rooms that require very tall light stands. I also light my exteriors and have large lights to do so. However some properties only require my camera bag and a small lighting bag that contains nano stands and speed lights.
    Recently I have rationalized my lighting gear as I am tiring of hauling tons of equipment. I have four Godox AD360 strobes that can do virtually anything I need. That alone has saved me 20+lbs. A tripod is a must for me as I am frequently layering images and need precise positioning.
    So yes, I bring everything but when I arrive I survey the job and unload only that what is needed.

  • I carry (in my car) more than I normally use. I normally carry in a pelican for the cameras and lenses, another that holds six strobes, gels, spare batteries, brackets etc, my nicefoto case separate. My light stands (except for the big ones) and umbrellas are in a duffle and I normally leave it in the car and take out what I’ll need after a survey of the house. Tripod is also always carried in. A big house, big rooms and high ceilings always takes a lot for me. Small home I have gotten by with the nicefoto, camera pelican and tripod, that’s always nice. I have made so many extra trips to the car I try to carry in whatever I may need the first time, wastes less time.

  • I refuse to carry even a single light stand. The way I see it, any one thing you bring you have to carry it with you between your 20 or so photos.

  • @Larry Gray, I tell my customers that I am undead when they ask why I don’t show up in mirrors. It always get a laugh.

  • I originally purchased the Pelican 1510 case because I wanted the option to carry-on, but later thought I need a bigger box so I purchased the 1610. It didn’t take long for me to go back to the 1510 because it holds what I need and is much lighter when full as opposed to the 1610 (you know if there’s room in the box, we will fill it). I then loop a couple small stands (on zippered bags) and a tripod. This allows me to go from the truck to the house in one trip and I have everything I need (almost) [6 flash units, triggers, extra batteries, gels, gray card, lenses, camranger, and various odds and ends]. I keep a step ladder and reflector in the back seat if needed.

  • I would recognize Wayne’s case anywhere! Lighting for Interiors is a great reference for what you can do with small flash (its in this sites book store.) Wayne helped me try the A6000/Roki 12mm and I never looked back (except last week when I lost all the A6000 batteries.)

    The tech and ease of use of the small mirrorless systems is great, and, I now carry a very lightweight tripod (without the heavy geared head.) I carry one medium size bag into the shoot; A6000/Roki 12mm, 4 x YN560 III’s and IV’s, YN560TX controller, tripod with quick release, monopod with flash bracket, 24″ shoot through umbrella, CTO gels, batteries, a few gobos.

    I pack a backup body and lense for distant trips; the D7100/Nik 12-24 in separate case that stays in the car.

  • Firstly, Larry, our thanks for providing a platform for discussions like these.
    I know of no other.
    I’ve been so mugged the past year with work I haven’t had the chance to involve myself in these lively discussions.
    In the film business, we call it ‘FORM FACTOR”. And it absolutely has an effect on a Client.
    You walk in with a Canon 5DMII.
    The other guy fronts with a RED. And a pack of lights; and robust sliders; and Assistants. In a van.
    Yeah. I think that’s noticeable. And that gear does give you an edge.
    The gear I haul to a location would cost you $4,000 a day to hire.
    Doers it give you an edge in real estate.
    No.
    After a decade working in this space, only a very select few notice the difference between crud, crap and quality; and an ever lesser percentage will pay for it.
    What is noticeable is a kid with passion, core passion, and an iPhone, will beat any rig every time.
    I’ve invested close to half a million in my own kit.
    But a kid with passion – that’s ‘on’ – can blow me, you, us, everybody off the ticket.
    Because, with video, is all about the story.
    It has been since we first painted it on cave walls.
    Only the tools have changed.
    Hope I contributed something to your discussion L.

  • Dido to what Brett says!

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