What Do You Use For Elevated Photography?

July 4th, 2011

Steve Mather, of the Mather Team in Cleveland, OH, sent me this photo of his low tech, DIY elevated photography rig. Steve calls it his 9.5 foot tripod. He’s bungied his tripod to the top of a fiberglass step-ladder. Steve says it’s stable enough to shoot brackets for HDR/Exposure Fusion.

I think it is well worth reiterating that all real estate photographers need to have a way to shoot elevated shots. There are two basic reasons:

  1. The siting of some homes is such that it is impossible to get a reasonably good front exterior shot standing on the ground. Routinely there will be homes in hilly neighborhoods where the bottom of the front door will be 10 to 20 feet above the street level.
  2. Even if the home you are shooting is sited on a flat lot where the bottom of the front door is at street level, a front shot 10 to 20 feet higher looks way better.

There are many inexpensive ways like Steve’s to deal with the fact that about 5 to 10% of the time you need to shoot the front exterior from an elevated position. Here are just a few:

  1. Do as Steve does, carry a step ladder. There are some very cool folding ladders you can get that will fold up into a small enough package to put in the trunk of a compact car.
  2. Put a folding ladder in the back of a pickup. I’ve used this for years. I have a folding A shaped ladder I carry in my pickup bed.
  3. Stand on top of your vehicle. You’ll probably end up denting the roof but not on every type vehicle. My wife has a Mitsubishi that she use to stand on to shoot listings and it doesn’t dent at all whereas my Toyota Pickup roof dents easily.
  4. Hold a camera on a tripod over you head with both hands. I have a photo of March Lacoste of Nantes, France doing this in the PAP Chapter of my Photography For Real Estate eBook. This approach works amazing well!

Of course there are many approaches to putting a compact camera on a painters pole for almost nothing but what I’m talking about here is lower tech than that.

What do you use for elevated photography?

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19 Responses to “What Do You Use For Elevated Photography?”

  • Being an avid DIY’er, something I made primarilly with scraps arounf the garage. The two expenses were the 18′ painters pole I snagged at Home Depot half price on clearance, and splurging on a Manfrotto quick release so I can go straight from tripod to pole without removing the base plate from the camera. Pole connectoe is a paint roller handle (metal top potion removed), but important to use a handle with a metal ring base rather than all plastic to avoid splitting under stress. “L” brackets are bolted to the handle and camera platform with a small piece of pipe insulating foam covering the handle bolts. Platform is 1/4″ MDF was leftover scrap from a stereo speaker build, cut large enough to protect camera/lens when laying on ground – but nat too large to affect the lens FOV. Also has enough space to slide a wireless trigger under a rubberband to secure. Platform painted black to appear professional, as does the foam over the handle bolts.

    One word of caution. Don’t lay it out and try to lift 18′. Not only can you hurt yourself, but the weight on the platform puts a lot of stress on the handle/pole connection. Raise vertically. If going beyond the initial 12′ rise, will tighten that section, however, when fully extended to 18′ don’t bother to tighten. Hand pressure at the extension point maintains until ease pressure for controlled decent.

    Non-PFRE use occured last night with our small town’s first ever fireworks celebration, and our town give the photo club free meeting space in exchange for documenting events. I brought the pole along for tent and crowd overview, birdseye view of band, etc. It had the secondary effect of an attention getter, striking up conversations, and got two jobs out of it.

  • 15 ft. painters pole with a PolePixie adapter and a wireless shutter release. I put a 5 pound ankle weight on the bottom of the poll as well – it really helps stabilize the setup and makes it safer to use.


  • +1 for the PolePixie and a painter’s pole. I’ve added a level to the pole so that I bought at Home Depot for a couple of bucks.

  • I thought about going the ladder route at first but then realized that many houses that need an elevated shot don’t have a yard (or street/sidewalk) level or stable enough to make me feel safe on a ladder. I’m another pole pixie convert.

  • I carry around a Little Giant collapsible ladder that I use from time to time. The great thing about this ladder is that even though it extends up to 12′, its less than 6′ when collapsed. That means it will fit in the back of my Highlander and I can take it just about anywhere. Also, each side adjusts independently so if you have to set it up on uneven terrain or even a staircase, it will work. I bought the utility platform that has several perforated holes in it. It just so happens the spikes at the end of my tripod fit perfectly and provides for a pretty stable platform to position my camera and tripod. At the highest I can get up to 16′ or so and still do long exposures because the camera is on the tripod. The only drawback is that while lighter than a lot of a-frame ladders I’ve used in the past, it still requires some man power to lug it around and set-up. But hey, for that perfect shot, you gotta do what you gotta do….

  • I use a Gitzo carbon GT3541XLS tripod with a GS3511 center column. This setup enables me to go from @ 2′ to over 8′ in one super light & compact rig. I top it off with a Manfrotto 405 geared head… It doesn’t get any better! The Gitzo often gets me plenty high & enables rock steady brackets at 8′.

    If I need to go higher I use a WonderPole. From @ 42″ to 24′ in a package I can carry in my car trunk! I top off the WonderPole with a Manfrotto RC4 quick release system so moving from pole to tripod is a snap.

    I had Custom Brackets custom fabricate a straight bracket that allows 2 PWII’s to be mounted beside my Nikon D700 with right angle viewfinder. One PW enables remote shutter release, the other triggers remote flash units…

    My goal was to have my gear fit in the trunk of my Toyota Avalon, which it does with room to spare!

  • Most of the time I climb on top of my Suburban… Gets me about 10′ or so off the ground without having to carry anything. Of course my sunroof leaks now, and there are footprints that need to be washed off the hood.

  • “Of course my sunroof leaks now…”

    Haha – that would make an interesting blog article. What condition is your car in after starting up in PFRE. Mine, sadly, was already pretty banged up but since starting the trunk has seen a lot of wear and tear and there are a few more scratches from leaning the pole pixie up against it.

  • I’ve found myself using the “hold up extended tripod with two hands” method a lot recently. Combined with cable release and high speed bracketing, it has been working well.

  • 21-foot WonderPole with weight boot, two 7 pound ankle weights, PolePixie adapter, Phottix Statto II wireless shutter release. I LOVE this setup. Takes just a few minutes to mount the camera, get some shots, and pack it back up. I’ve only had it for a couple of weeks but my clients are thrilled with the results. I wish I had added this to my bag of tricks years ago.

  • This is my first time commenting on this site and from here on out plan to become more active in this PFRE community. Thanks for all your hard work, Larry!

    I jet around town in my ’02 Civic Si Hatchback. When Realtors see me pull a Little Giant Ladder and a 8′-23′ painters pole out they are always shocked.

    For myself, the normal practice is to visualize the shot, position the Little Giant Ladder, add the utility platform to the proper rung, set up the wireless shutter release on the camera, climb up the ladder, look through the viewfinder of the camera to determine your “aim”, insert the camera into the Pole Pixie adapter (which is attached to the painters pole), raise the pole so that it is resting on the utility platform, grab the wireless remote, level out the pole, take aim (favor the left side of your target), and exhale as I hold the remote shutter for 3 bracketed exposures.

    For good measure, I always start shooting with my “aim” a little to the left. Then as each bracketing sequence is completed, I adjust the camera a few degrees to the right and continue doing so until necessary. This ensures that at least one of your “sets” will be centered.

    You can’t go wrong with the Little Giant Ladder/Mr. Longarm Pole/Pole Pixie outfit. This combo gives you the ability to shoot with an elevation ranging from 0-35 feet. However, just because you can reach 35′ doesn’t mean you should. I have found that the average elevation for a good looking shot resides in the 20′- 25′ range. To acheive the best perspective, the main principle is to get the camera at eye level to the house or slightly above.

    The Pole Pixie is solid. I scooped up the foam resting plate, as well, but you don’t need it. It has a guide arrow on the bottom to help you aim your camera but it requires you to align the arrow with your lens and it’s a pain. So ditch the Pole Pixie resting plate and use whiteout to mark your own “guide lines” on the bottom of your lens hood instead.

    Hope this helps! If you want to see some of my images produced using this system go to the link below.

  • I am in the process of purchasing a bucket truck:)

  • Painters pole for me. Mine is an 18′ pole from Home Depot and I took off the roller threads. I made my own adapter and mount a ball head on the pole. I use a wireless trigger to fire the shutter, and usually take 10-20 shots, varying the angle for each one.

  • I like the bucket truck idea! I’ve rented platforms before – for a great parcel of land with huge Catskill views that were blocked by trees. 45′ up, in a strong wind, swaying…

  • I like to keep it simple and take my third vehicle for the properties that need special attention.

  • For those that are making a pole themselves here’s an idea. Instead of buying an extra tripod head to mount on the pole, just adapt the center section of your tripod to mount on the pole. It makes for a quick transition from tripod to pole.

  • I use a trailer mounted pnuematic mast. I wanted a bucket truck at first and they arent that expensive (check craigslist for an older one). However, insurance, registration, car maintenance, hydraulic maintenance, and a place to put it forced me to mentally move on. I had tried an electricians fiberglass pole and the height was OK (35 ft) but it was wonky…I felt kinda clownish as it swayed back and forth on higher shoots and I tried to time my shots below. After that, I had a working relationship with a tree trimmer and got to use his bucket, that was fun and even a little scary which was also fun, but he was unreliable…it couldve worked great and I recommend others trying it if you know someone, I just went down the phonebook calling people. After standing up two clients in a row with my MIA biz partner I decided to get something I had more control over. My first searches were for a manlift which would also work great…something you can pull with a truck and store. I ran across an affordable mast mounted to a trailer already and realized it was the solution I was looking for. Im really happy with it, its low maintenance and simple design with no hydraulics which seem to be prone to problems. Its very much overkill, but it’s also very stable which is great for bracketing. Im waiting for the right shoot to do a sunset timelapse with, I think it will be very impressive if done well. A huge side benefit is that (like the OP said) it makes an impact. It gets a lot of attention, its a big deal when I roll up with it and I get asked for my business card regularly. I havent made advertisements for the sides of it yet (its a big steal cube on a trailer with a built in ladder and a mast pointed skyward in the middle of it) but having a rolling advertisement to answer the quesitions (is that a missile launcher) I get should help biz. It does have its downfalls (more gas, wear and tear on my poor fx35, trailer registration, storage) but I havent regretted my decision yet. Its also a great platform (about 7 feet tall) to shoot from and since I use a generator to power it, I have power for lights which is often necessary to get a decent twilight shot. Additionally I can drive it around while extended (Laptop in the passenger seat, foot riding the brake) to get multiple angles of a property with minimal extra work/time. They are $10k new, but you can find them on craigslist, machinery auctions (news van), and ebay for much less. There are smaller car mounted versions too.

  • I purchased a 25′ telescopic flag pole that came with a receiver hitch mount. I built a special mount that fits on top, but I can also just pull the center column out of my tripod and slide it in the top of the flag pole. I then trigger the camera with pocketwizards.

  • Mine is a 32′ Heavy Duty Telescoping Windsock Pole Item # 77932 maketed by Premier Kites, You will have to Google this to find a distributor. Its been a great pole. I use it with a Canon G10 that has a 30 second delay timer. Time enough to raise it and point. The pole is 9 sections of fiberglas. Very compact and light to stow. I can use it anywere I can stand. I can also use it at any hight up to of 32′.

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