Have Drones Made PAP (Pole Aerial Photography) Obsolete for Real Estate?

September 4th, 2017


Recently I ran across the pair of photos to the right shot by Marc Lacoste of Nantes, France. Marc was showing me the difference it could make if you just held your camera on a tripod over your head to get a little extra elevation (3.6 meters).

This graphically illustrates how easy it is to get an elevated shot and what a stunning difference it makes. This doesn’t look like the same property. More importantly, the elevated shot shows more of the features of the home and shows them better.

Given the importance of the exterior front shot in marketing a listing, this suggests that every real estate photographer should be taking elevated front shots for every listing they shoot! I do. I just carry a fold up a ladder in my pickup which allows me to get my heavy DSLR and lens 20′ in the air with no risk.

Do drones make poles obsolete?
Yes and no. If you are up to getting a part 107 registration and paying for the extra insurance a drone requires and you shoot some drone video and stills, there’s nothing better for marketing. I can remember a Lake Washington waterfront listing my wife and I had in 2000. I wanted video footage and stills coming in off the lake showing the dock, Lake Washington, and the surrounding homes. Back then, there was no way to do it except by boat. Even a chopper couldn’t fly low enough to do what I wanted! But in September 2017, it’s a piece of cake. Except that this particular listing was within a mile or two of Renton Boeing Field so it’s probably not legal to fly a drone there.

If you don’t regularly shoot upper-end homes where drone photography and videography is important, it may not make sense to jump through all the hoops so you can shoot with a drone. But you can still use a pole, large tripod or ladder to get the best front shot! So I believe that drones don’t obsolete PAP and every real estate photographer should shoot elevated front shots. There are many alternatives for poles but here are a couple of good alternatives. Here and here.

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16 Responses to “Have Drones Made PAP (Pole Aerial Photography) Obsolete for Real Estate?”

  • I find the pole is still a great way to shoot most of my properties and find myself using it more than in the past.
    I used to use a 40′ pneumatic mast mounted on my van to shoot aerials, which was a great idea until I got a drone.
    So many times I couldn’t use the 40′ mast as I couldn’t drive my van on the lawn, dock or golf course to get the elevated shot I needed. after reading a blog on this website, I purchased an expandable painters pole and mounted a tilting monopod head on top. I place my camera’s delay to 10 seconds, focus, and hold the pole as high as I can or need. Because I now use a lightweight Fuji mirror less camera, the weight is not a problem holding. The pole allows me to shoot from so many different locations and has freed me up to get some unique shots that some of my competition do not shoot. And now, I don’t have to carry my 4 ‘ ladder.

  • I think both still have their place. Drones are fabulous but if you don’t know how to get the right elevated photo with them it’s not worth your time or your clients money.

    I just ran into this this weekend…it looks like drone indoor photos are available from this Realtor lol.

  • Make poles obsolete? No. Drones strength is in the luxury market with an expanse of property, but for most photographers that probably represents 10% of shoots at best. The bread and butter shoot is the tight neighborhood on small 1/4 acre or less lots where the challenge is not to show off the neighbor’s house and how close they are. Both poles and drones are limited to the same physics – single story about 15′, two story low 20′ range or you gain too much roofline. Ignoring the legal restriction near airports (which impacts about 75% of my luxury market) I’ve put a pole where drones can’t go, tucked up into a tree and holding branches back. Obsolete – no, and really a question of which tool is right for the job as the both have strengths with significant overlap.

  • I probably did things backwards and had a pilots license well before I shot real estate full time but I can’t imagine a pole ever going away. I still use one at homes that are close to airfields where using a drone would be prohibited or take forever to get permission.

    I personally use the drone on about 1/3 of the properties I shoot and for vacant lots you simply can’t beat it. There is a bit of a learning curve with the 107 license, and there is insurance (mine was $750 for the year), but it’s easily paid for itself.

    I’ll still keep the pole around but given the opportunity the drone is coming out of the book of tricks much earlier than the pole.

  • We all seem to be on agreement on this. I use a drone a lot especially with the bracketing available on the Phantom 4 Pro. But as everyone has pointed out there are many factors that make drone flying either illegal or unpractical. So I have been using an extension painters pole with my GoPro 5 on its EVO stabilizer and my iPhone on an EVO cell phone holder clamped on the pole down by where my eyes will be to see what I am getting and control both settings and trigger the shutter. This also lets me get the camera up and between tree branches for some interesting framed shots as well as over high hedges along the street. And when you are on even a short ladder, you can achieve a very good hight. High drone shots tend to show a lot of roof and not much of the building’s other marketable features. Fine if the roof is especially interesting but most are not. Also helps when street level is down hill from the house.

    So I would completely agree that a pole can solve problems that ground level or drones cannot.

  • We just added pole aerials to our MLS shoots as a better way to display exteriors. We’ve been shooting PAP off and on for the past 8 yrs using a 12.5 ft boom pole but are now able to monitor the shots with an iphone. We also offer Drone Aerials which we subcontract from a local drone operator but the profit margin on drones is very minimal and most agents just want drones so it hasn’t been that profitable for us. On the other hand, the pole aerials are all profit and, as opposed to drones which are mainly effective for larger properties, the pole aerials work great for all properties.

    We just shot pole aerials of two McMansions yesterday that we previously shot MLS photos for and they came out great. You don’t need a 20 ft pole to effectively shoot PAP. We use a Canon T6i with 10-18 mm lens which is light and has stabilization built in. Even with the pole fully extended and a slight wind it’s easy to get great shots. We raised our MLS package price and are now including 2-3 pole aerials with every shoot.

  • I started shooting real estate with a 20m pole fitted to a van for elevated shots ranging from 4m to 20m from ground level. I also learned to use my tripod extended to its max and hold it above my head with my arms extended for shots up to 4m (my height + length of extended tripod). With both solutions I used a DSLR camera. In 2016 I replaced the pole on the van with a drone, after acquired my drone certification. The advantage of the drone above the pole on the van is that I have many more angles I can shoot where I could not park the van.

    I regularly use the “tripod above my head” solution for elevated shots up to 4m, especially front or backyard shots, over the fens or wall shots or where the street is lower than the house. I just engage a 5 sec shutter delay on the camera, lift the tripod above my head with my arms extended, point the camera in the directions of the house, and take the shot. Yes, sometimes I have try 3 or 4 times to get the house correctly in the frame, but with practise it becomes easy enough. For safety reasons, I stay away from ladders. Too many photographers in our area fell of ladders and broke an arm or leg. It is much quicker to use the tripod raised above my head method than fetching the ladder from the car and setting it up. With both methods the elevation is about the same. A painter’s pole might give you more height, put it takes longer to setup than the tripod solution, in my opinion.

    I charge extra for using the drone, but not for using the tripod above my head solution. The drone is listed as a chargeable extra on my price list. It is easy to justify the extra charge, equipment cost, insurance, regulation, extra time, etc.

    For me it is about different tools for the job and the budget. The one does not make the other obsolete. I would say it is much easier to use the drone than the pole on the van. Yes, rules and regulation makes drone usage more challenging, but once you get your head around them, it give you more flexibility to get the shots that the clients want, and it brings you more business. Some clients want a drone shot simply because of the coolness factor.

  • 🙂 Poles made a resurgence since the FAA has been cracking down on people flying drones in Class C, D, etc airspace without approval…

  • For those of us that don’t have drones or camera poles (yet) what would be a good height for a step ladder to have on hand for a aerial-like view? I’ve seen a Little Giant 6′ Flip n Lite that seems like the perfect compromise. Thoughts?

  • @Tod – A lot depends on what you drive. The post I link to shows my ladder that I carry in my pickup. It’s a fold up ladder that will extend to 21′ and be 10.5′ as a step ladder. It’s only 6′ when compressed down. Here a link to the Home Depot version of it( It works really nicely. The only negative if you don’t have a pickup is it weighs 300lbs.

  • I have used poles for years but recently I bought the DJI Spark and this little fellow is a dream to shoot houses from all heights. Because it is so small it fit’s almost in your bagsack. The photo quality is not DSLR, but for most average properties the photo quality is good enough. My clients are haooy with the result.

  • @Tod – you can order a camera-ready 21 ft Wonder Pole for $189. It’s non-conductive and only weighs 10 lbs.

    We’re only using a 12.5 ft boom pole and getting ideal aerial shots. There’s an app for your iphone you can download that allows you to monitor your shots and shoot from your phone so you don’t need a remote shutter release cord.

    Ladders can be dangerous, we prefer to keep our feet firmly on the ground. 😉

  • Poles are very easy to deploy and stow quickly. I have a Manfrotto tilt head on the top of my painter’s pole with an Arca Swiss clamp that makes it very easy to use. It’s rare for me to have a property that really really needs aerial photos higher than I can reach with a 14’ish pole. I also use my tripod fully extended as a mini pole often. One thing I often do is use a pole for interior shots. They are great for two story lofted living rooms, especially if they have a windowed wall with a view. It’s also easier to get upstairs open family rooms and landings. I can back up and make image with a longer focal length with less distortion and get a much more unique view. I’ve even used a pole “inverted” where I was up above and lowered the camera upside down to get centered up on my composition.

    My object is always to use the simplest tool to get the job done. If I find it profitable to offer drone images at some point, I will be charging a premium due to the time and costs. My pole setup was under $50 and take very little time to deploy. I also don’t need a license or additional insurance.

  • Don’t know about anywhere else, but if you’re in NYC, I don’t think drones will be replacing anything anytime soon…

  • I have a 4-8 foot telescoping painter’s pole that I take with me on every shoot. Nearly all my exteriors are done with that pole and it gives me the height required for most homes in my area (mostly 2-story), using my primary camera. I go for an “eye-level” shot and generally not a high shot looking down on the home.

    I also have a 21 foot pole and a DJI Mavic drone. I do not mount my primary camera on the pole as it’s way too heavy and way to expensive. I have a lighter and lower-quality camera that goes on the pole. The camera on the DJI Mavic is similar in quality to my pole camera, so my drone has replaced my tall pole unless the home is in a location I cannot fly.

  • I use my Home Depot 18 ft pole with a quick release on it (same as my tripod and I have a safety line and clip in case it comes unclipped), so I can clip my camera on and use Cam Ranger via my ipad to control it. I have not found a need for a tilting head, I just tilt the pole to get any angle needed. I am hoisting my 4-5 lbs of DSLR up there, which is a bit tricky, but no accidents yet 😀 Here in Southern California, it is almost impossible to do legal drone work, so as much as I would like to, I have not got my own drone.

    As noted by others, the modest elevation gain can really transform a shot. I just did one the other day where the pole shot allows the mountains behind the home to show and look great. I also find that pole shots are great for two story homes. I think it kind of puts you on a level with the house so you don’t feel like you are looking up at the house. This is more important in cases where you can’t get a good distance away to do a zoom shot.

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