Shooting PAP With Minimum Equipment and Effort

March 12th, 2008

Today I’ve been testing my PAP (pole aerial photography) equipment because this weekend I have to shoot a new listing we have where the home is sited well above the street and there may not be room to use my usual technique of standing on the roof of my pickup. I thought it would be worth while to review my approach at shooting PAP with a minimum of fuss and expense.

Here is my approach to PAP:

  1. You don’t need to be all that high up to significantly improve the look of a front shoot of a home. The photo above was shot at 14′. This home is sited at street level. My belief is that an easy to handle 8′ to 16′ painter’s pole is plenty for 90% of situations you will encounter. Sabrina over at pointed out that Manfrotto makes a 24′ tripod that would also work nicely. You can fold up the legs and use it like a pole at any height up to 24′.
  2. Now days for around $250 you can get a pocket camera that will work great on a 16′ pole so you won’t risk destroying your DSLR and lens. I use my Canon G9 pocket camera but I’ve also used an old Coolpix 4300 with great results.
  3. You don’t need a bunch of fancy electronics to make PAP work. A 10 to 15 sec self timer works beautifully. Mike Martin pointed this out a long time ago and at first I didn’t believe it, but I’m now a believer. A pocket camera on a 16′ pole triggered with a 10 sec self-timer works great! Mike uses a 30′ fiberglass windsock pole the same way. Just set the timer, press the shutter release and put the pole up. It’s important to have the audio turned on so you can hear when the shutter releases. I can set my G9 to shoot a whole series of shots several seconds apart when the self timer goes off.
  4. The last issue is attaching the pocket camera to the pole. This is not difficult. Painter’s pole’s have plastic tops with a small hole. Just cut the head off a bolt and thread it into the plastic. In some cases it may be possible to put the same size bolt in the pole as fits on the camera mount. Otherwise attach an inexpensive flash bracket to the bolt and attach the camera to the flash bracket. Below is the way I attached my Canon G9 to my painter’s pole.

What I like about the painter’s pole approach is that the whole thing is very easy to handle. If I need to get higher I can stand on my truck with the pole and I can use it in very tight spaces. It took about 20 minutes to put the bolt on the top of the pole and drill the hole in the flash bracket. I had all the parts to put this pole together but if you don’t you can get the parts for about $60 USD. Even if you have to buy the camera it’s possible get all the parts for around $350 USD ($550 if you use a Canon G9).

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28 Responses to “Shooting PAP With Minimum Equipment and Effort”

  • […] PAP With Minimum Equipment and Effort cindy wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptToday I’ve been testing my PAP […]

  • I mount my Nikon D300 fixed with a Tokina 12-24mm wide onto my Manfrotto Monopole and achieve these results.

    Good article. Aerials are now a permanent addition to my real estate photography.

  • I’m interested in adding this to my service list as well, but I’ve been wondering about it’s stability. When it’s fully extended, or to whatever height required, doesn’t it get top heavy and flimsy? And how do you centre the house in the screen without the fancy gear?

  • You don’t have to go up high to make an exterior shot interesting. FWIW, I use a modified version of this technique by extending all the legs of my regular tripod as far as they’ll go, setting the timer on my DSLR and then hoisting it up and holding the tripod by the legs. This gets me shots about 10′ in height…high enough to make a shot interesting and unique though nothing like real PAP.

    If you do follow Larry’s advice and go PAP, ALWAYS do a visual survey of the area for power lines and other obstructions above you before you hoist your camera/pole.

  • @Linda,
    Stability is not a problem if you use a pocket camera. Getting a usable can take a couple of shots but very quickly you get the feel of how to hold the pole to get the shot. I got the photo above on the second try. Even when I shoot from ground level I take 3 to 5 shots from different angles working with a pole is much the same some shots work out others don’t. It’s easier than you would think.

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  • Great article. I use a telescoping fiberglass windsock pole that can position my small pocket Canon up to 35′ high. I set the camera for a 30 second delay and take a burst of 5 shots with loud sound effects. I try to vary the angle of each shot a little to improve getting good results early. If I don’t get the right stuff the first time, I try again. Like with most everything, experience helps. Examples of my PAP work can be seen on my website. Click on the “example tour”. The pole collapses to only about 4′ long and weighs about 5 lbs. Other than the bolt at the top to fasten the camera, it has no other threaded or metal parts. PAP can work equally well in many back yards. How many MLS photos have you seen showing the undersides of decks?

  • I set up a painters pole to record my son’s soccer games from about 12 foot high using my sony video camera, a remote control cable for the video camera, and a portable tv to be used as a monitor. Recently bought a digital camera with a 2.5″ lcd view screen off Ebay that records video from the camcorder on top of the pole. My whole video system is now portable and easy to carry. Placed my Canon camera on the pole with a usb extension cable hooked to my laptop using the Canon remote control software for still photos. Thinking about trying it with my Nikon and a 15′ firewire cable.

  • If you want to get to 60′, check this out:
    on ebay. search ebay for “Aerial Photography System” to find it.

  • If you want to get to 60′ search ebay for ‘Aerial Photography System’

  • That link above is the scumbag eBayer who pinched my photos off my website.

    Three pairs of those demo photos he uses are mine, “Aerial View”.
    If his system works… why isn’t he using his own sample photos???

    (An obvious question)

  • After reading about PAP many times – which up until recently I had not heard the term – I have thought of how I would get into it. Meaning, where would I start. I own a Canon 40D which I use for my RE and other photography work and a Canon SD400 which I use for my everyday fun, personal and family photos.

    Last Friday I went to meet with a RE Agent in Temecula, CA about photographing a $5 mil home on 21 acres, yada yada yada. While I was there I wanted to take a few pix kinda as scouting photos for me to know how we were going to approach the photo sessions and the marketing of the property.

    Well after walking the property for about 30 minutes, I went to my car to grab my camera to start taking some photos. When I got there, I thought it might be a good idea to take some PAP pix. Not having done this before, I thought I was going to use my 40D and my monopod. As I lifted up the hatch on my Prius, I noticed my 10″ Air Cushioned lighting stand under a bag and a reflector. Whaw! What an idea. The stand has a 3/8 thread on the top I can use for my SD400. So I screw on the camera, extend the stand to the 10″ max releasing the feet to the stand so it will stand up if I want to rest my arms. I set the camera to 10 second delay, point the camera at the subject as best I can for focus and exposure and hold the camera and light stand over my head holding on to the legs to steady the camera and point it in the direction I want. I was amazed at the accuracy of my first image. If anything, I was tilting the camera too much towards the ground. Very quickly I got the hang of it. Here are a few images from that day.

    So, I already had all the gear, just had to put it all together (in my mind). Like people have pointed out before, you can get a good point and shoot for around $250. If I were buying now, I’d look for a camera (Canon my choice) that has Image stabilization. Maybe a G9. The light stand (mine is a Model# LTSP10AC) cost around $39.95, and you already have two arms and two legs for holding it in the air. All you need to do now is practice.

    BYW, I am 5′ 10-1/2″ and I can reach about 7″ standing on flat feet. The stand is about 10″ 7″ is you extend the legs all the way down so that they collapse together again. That means I can get the camera about 7-8 feet in the air. Plenty for my purposes. If I need more height, I’ll rent a helicopter.


  • Above Post from Gar
    Correction: The stand has a 5/8th inch thread for the camera, not a 3/8 thread.

  • Sorry, another correction. I can get the camera about 17-18 feet in the air, not 7-8 feet. A lot different!!!

  • @Adam – Crikey, that’s the second person who has pinched your pics! I just PM’d him through my ebay acct (blunt yet civil 😉

  • We’ve wanted to add PAP to our services for a couple of months now, but without any real sense of demand for the service in our area we just couldn’t justify the expense of a full blown professional system. Not initially at least. So in order to “test the waters” while minimizing our financial risk we started looking for an alternative system which would be;

    (a) safe
    (b) relatively inexpensive
    (c) practical
    (d) extremely compact and mobile
    (d) professional looking (we admit it, we’re vain)

    After lurking around the forums and getting a sense of what others were doing we soon found that our options were pretty limited. We looked into painters poles, wind socks, fiberglass flag poles, telescopic HAM radio towers, modular sign posts – pretty much anything and everything that looked like it might fit the bill. Although some of the other ideas were ingenious, for one reason or another none of them met all of the criteria we were looking for. They were either too heavy to use safely or too flimsy if they weren’t. Too short to be practical or too difficult to transport. Too expensive for now, or (here’s the vanity again) too amateur looking.

    We were about to give up searching and splurge on an entry level Clark mast when last week I was strolling through the local Rona (a Canadian Home Depot) and happened upon one of those contractor grade telescopic ladders on sale for $249. Right away I knew I had our temporary solution.

    In case you’re not familiar with these ladders, if you look at them the right way they’re not really ladders at all. They’re actually two 22′ telescopic masts with rungs in between them. They’re light, easy to transport, rated for 250 lbs., and best of all they scope down to about 3′-6″. I know some of you already see where I’m going with this, but before I explain what we did you should know that this might not be a project for everyone. You’ll definitely need access to some tools an average handyperson would likely already have in their kit – or at least a friend who does. Also, even though the one we built seems to be working just fine so far, we are definitely not structural engineers. If you do decide to give it a try, like us you also do so at your own peril!

    Essentially what we did was took the ladder apart. We removed the rungs and wound up with two masts and a total of 16 rungs. As the rungs also contain the individual spring loaded pin mechanisms which keep the ladder/mast erect, we cut the rungs down to just the section which houses the pin – discarding the rest – leaving us with 32 (one for each side) connections. We than reassembled each mast, overlapped them by six feet, and connected them together schooner style with three heavy duty brackets (for the brackets we used boat trailer rollers [$12 each] which worked perfectly because the concave rubber wheel at one end automatically conformed to the radius of the mast). What we ended up with was a stable, heavy duty, 38′ (44′ less 6′) more or less professional looking telescopic mast.

    For a very simple camera connection we found that if we removed the bottom tube from a telescopic monopod, the next section up fit perfectly inside the top section of the mast. A simple drill through and bolt and presto! If you need more height than this (not very often I suspect), then inexpensive curtain rods also fit perfectly extending your maximum workable range to about 48′ or slightly more. With my hefty D200 I definitely wouldn’t go any further though.

    For support at the moment the unit is coupled to my Jeep via my wife’s trailer hitch bike rack (she is not pleased), as we are still building a portable base for it with more tubing and outriggers salvaged from a second hand surveyor’s tripod. Total material cost so far is less than $300 for the mast and brackets (not including my monopod). Not too bad for what you get.

  • Yes!! I want to try this on my next home shoot, which overlooks a golf course. If I mount my Canon S2 (image stabilized) to the pole, I can run a video feed to my portable 8″ monitor (DVD player) and set the Canon S2IS to fire off timed shots, while still being able to “aim”. I bet I can make panorama shots this way, too. This could add a whole new level (pun intended) to what I can offer my agents. Cool!!!

  • […] most amazing camera I’ve ever owned! It never leaves my side. This is the camera I use on my PAP pole. What blew me a way when I first started using the G9 is that it’s RAW files were slightly […]

  • […] I bring this up is I’ve talked to several people that are eying the Canon G9 as a potential PAP (Pole Aerial Photography) camera. Only problem with the G9 as a PAP camera is that without a converter it’s widest angle is […]

  • […] has a post on putting a point and shoot on a painters pole. This is very similar to the one I did recently on the same subject but I like their suggestion of using a small light ball head on the top of the […]

  • […] kite, a balloon of some sort, even an r/c helicopter to get a good picture. Had never though about using an extension pole. I should have. After all, I use one to hang Christmas lights on my very tall Douglas firs. It […]

  • […] kite, a balloon of some sort, even an r/c helicopter to get a good picture. Had never though about using an extension pole. I should have. After all, I use one to hang Christmas lights on my very tall Douglas firs. It […]

  • […] can tailor their product for still photography, then you might have a winner. Way more costly than a painters pole, but if you have the budget and really want to look ultra-professional (or use your DSLR tethered […]

  • […] my last post on PAP I described the absolute simplest PAP configuration, a small lightweight camera (Canon G9) on a 16 […]

  • I have a Canon G10 with Nikon wide angle adaptor that I am using atop a Manfrotto Super High Camera Stand (269HDB-3U) to get low level aerial shots when needed. I have a laptop with PSRemote software that I want to use as a monitor & to remote control the camera. I am having a real problem with the USB cable, however. I purchased an @ 32′ Active USB 2.0 A Male to B Female cable, paired it with a B Male/A Female adaptor & plugged in an @ 3′ A Male/Micro-USB B Male cable to connect the laptop to the pole mounted camera. The connection is unreliable at best, however. Has anyone found a solution to this issue with long USB cables?
    Any advice will be much appreciated! Cal

  • I use a 18′ painters pole with my heavy DSLR on top and cam ranger to control it. Works great to get that ‘different’ angle. Some houses benefit more than others. For instance older homes with power lines in the back yard , you can wind up showing more of the power line ugliness. But I find it especially good for 2 story homes. Kinda puts you at ‘eye level’ with the house rather than that ‘looking up a the house’ look.

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