DIY Remote Controls For Pole Aerial Photography

January 20th, 2009

In my last post on PAP I described the absolute simplest PAP configuration, a small lightweight camera (Canon G9) on a 16 foot painters pole. I use this configuration a lot for front shots. Martin Kimeldorf sent me link to a video tutorial by John Park, on how to use some basic radio control parts to build a remote shutter trigger, and remote camera up-down control).

To me, the remote shutter control looks the most interesting because with my G9, I have to set the interval timer, put the pole up and wait for a series of 5 shots to be fired while I move the pole position slightly between each shot. I can tell when each shot is fired because in this mode the G9 beeps each time a shot is fired. A RC shutter control would add the ability to put the pole up and fire off as many shots as I want without taking it down every 5 shots. The downside is this would take two people.

The next level in PAP camera control that I’m thinking about is to use a telescoping 24′ tripod in combination with both of the remote controls that John describes. This would allow a 15′ to 20′ high shot that could all be done with one person.

In the video, John doesn’t give specifics on what RC controller to buy for this project. I did some Googling and found this remote control unit that seems to fit John’s description of what you need. For $40 USD you get a 2 channel radio controller and several servos. This appears to be everything you need for this project.

The final level of control would to be able to view what the camera is “seeing” so it wouldn’t take so many random shots to get what you want. Since most point-and-shoot cameras that are light enough for this kind of application don’t have remote video functionality so, it would be nice to have a remote video camera show you what the camera is seeing. After thinking about it for a while I came up with the perfect solution… an inexpensive, battery powered, baby monitor. For around $170 USD you could mount this on top, or next to the camera and make camera aiming much more accurate.

My goal is to put together a completely portable, lightweight PAP system for my G9 (and other similar cameras) that can be operated by one person. I think this can be done for about $800.


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12 Responses to “DIY Remote Controls For Pole Aerial Photography”

  • I’ve done exactly the same intellectual process! For efficient PAP, you need to frame and control the release.

    I strongly suggest the gent360, a small RC for KAP, with a shutter release for many camera models.

    With the baby monitor and a miniature 2.4ghz video sender : PAP rig discussion

    Here is a last week example

  • Whilst carp poles and painters handles are OK for personal fun use, I think there are better options for a [budget] professional use PAP pole. IMO the best solution for a hand held telescopic pole are the ‘Exel Universal Telescopic Pole’ available in all different lengths and configurations. They are used for the high level window cleaning systems, so you should find a supplier in most areas. [ a UK cleaning supplier has the: 6 Sections, Glassfibre: 1.80m to 8.4m = 27ft (30FT REACH), for £150 ]
    And they are strong enough for a [lightweight]dslr.

  • How about a Sony DSC-H50 with its tilt/swivel live view and a remote control?

  • Similar to Larry’s setup, mine uses no sophisticated components. My pole is a heavy duty telescoping windsock pole, item# 77932 available from or their retailers (about $100). It gets my camera up over 30 feet above street level. On top of it I fit an inexpensive pocket camera that can delay shutter action up to 30 seconds. I need almost 30 seconds to raise the pole and aim the camera. Most Canon cameras have a delay timer that will delay up to 30 seconds. I have the camera take a burst of shots and vary the horizontal angle a bit during each. I can stand most anywhere and operate everything without help. See an example of a PAP shot and the same view from street level at:

  • Very cool, I have just begun experimenting with pole photography taping my mini-tripod to a painter pole along with my Nikon d70 & remote. I was thinking a wireless eye-fi memory card – would be what I would try in conjunction with my laptop to see what my camera was capturing during the process. Not sure what the steps are, but if the card will send as images are captured it might be a good solution.

  • Honestly, at 30′ I can usually lean to the pole enough to achieve the tilt I need, after I’ve set the initial angle before raising the pole. So the complexity of the tilt unit may not be needed.
    I use a 30′ Hastings hotstick (google tel-o-pole) I purchased used for $200. I found an inexpensive monitor for framing the shot (Moultrie’s handheld Digital Picture Viewer) which Wal-Mart was clearing out for $20, but it’s only $55 retail. Finally, I use the DigiSnap 2000 from Harbortronics to control zoom and shutter (once I upgrade from my Coolpix 5400, I will probably lose the zoom function). It’s simple, light and easy to use for one person.
    Many PAP systems raise over 50′, but I find that I rarely have a great photo of a house which is was taken from more than 20′ up and greater than 30′ requires more than one person to control or a mounting system adding to weight complexity and reducing flexibility. I’ve used my PAP system inside homes as easily as I use it outside.

  • Lee and all- Yes, I agree that 20′ is completely adequate for 99.9% of situations. Many of the shots I see taken from really tall masts are mostly of roofs.

    I’d like to compile a bunch of resources for inexpensive alternatives for 20′ and under PAP systems. Thanks much for all your equipment suggestions… keep it up! This will be a great resource for people.

  • I’m using the german Spieth glas fibre mast for antennas:
    Works fine up to 4 meters with a Canon 5D on a Markins ball head. With the lightweight Canon G9 you should reach 6 meters without a problem.

  • just a tiny caution, be totally aware where any power wires are, especially when raising and lowering your pole.

  • G10’s remote is a simple 2.5mm “stereo” plug.

    Get one of those, solder in 3 wires of the length of your pole +some ( 20%? 30%? ), braid ’em together ( takes a bloody while ), and try crossing the wires in different ways ( make *totally* certain there is no leakage between the solderings in the plug, or it’s screwed – ahem ), and then stick switches on ’em, as appropriate.

    I’m doing mine with a momentary-contact in parallel with a slide-switch for each, so I can get focus with one switch ( either momentary or slide ), then fire with the other, full-auto if I want.

    CHEAP, any length you want, tape the switch-board on your pole, & you’re good to go.

  • I have a bunch of old r/c stuff laying around, never thought of trying this. Brilliant – thanks!

  • Regards for helping out, fantastic info.

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