Choosing Gear to Get Started in Real Estate Photography for the Least Cost

November 30th, 2017

The underlying assumption here is that you want to get started in real estate photography with the lowest possible cost.

First, some general principles:

  • Don’t fool around with point-and-shoot (non-interchangeable lens) cameras: A primary gear driver in real estate photography is a good quality wide-angle lens and this means you need a DSLR/Mirrorless with an interchangeable lens. Don’t even think about using a wide angle converter that screws onto a point and shoot; most are total crap!

  • Ultra wide-angle glass is the most important gear you will need: For real estate photography, the range of effective focal lengths you will want is between 16mm and 24mm. Understand that low-end cropped sensors DSLRs/Mirrorless have a 1.5 (Nikon) or 1.6 (Canon) multiplier effect on the effective focal length. Spending money on wide-angle glass is far more important than spending it on a camera body. For a list of the possibilities, see my lens table that shows all the major choices and a reader poll that lists what’s popular with PFRE readers.
  • Which DSLR/Mirrorless body you use doesn’t make much difference: What I mean is that compared to the wide angle lens you choose, the DSLR/Mirrorless body doesn’t have all that much effect on your results. I assume that if you are going for the lowest possible cost, you will be starting out with a cropped sensor DSLR/Mirrorless camera. See my camera table that lists all the current choices and has a reader poll that shows which is most popular.
  • Everyone needs at least one flash: Lighting is a key issue in real estate photography. While most successful interior photographers eventually realize that multiple small flashes are the way to get the best results, many start out shooting brackets, process with exposure fusion, and eventually grow into multiple flash technique. Even if you are going to start out shooting brackets, a single flash improves your results noticeably. This is why I recommend even beginners have at least one flash unit. For processing a series of brackets, I recommend using exposure fusion (sometimes called blending). I think it’s best to stay away from HDR for interiors because it’s just too hard and too much work to do it well. I only know a handful of people who manage to do HDR interiors well, and many of them have moved to exposure fusion because it is not as time-consuming in post-processing.
  • “Kit” lenses (the cheap lenses that manufacturers bundle with low-end DSLRs/Mirrorless cameras are usually not wide enough for interiors. Kit lenses typically in the 18-35mm range (28.8-56mm effective focal length on an APS-C Canon body) are not wide enough for shooting interiors.
  • Consider used equipment for sale online: Check,, or for used equipment. There is a lot of good used gear available online. You can save hundreds of dollars by purchasing used gear.
  • Get a sturdy tripod for your camera: A Manfrotto or other similar sturdy tripod is adequate.
  • Get an inexpensive tripod to use for a flash stand so you can get your flash off your camera and move it around independently of the camera.
  • Move your flash off your camera: To move your flash off your camera you’ll need some kind of triggering device. My trigger page has a summary of the popular triggers used by real estate photographers and a reader poll that shows the popularity of each.
  • Use a circular polarizing filter for exterior shots:  A polarizing filter is a must for external shots, it makes clouds look great, gives a saturated look to colors.


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11 Responses to “Choosing Gear to Get Started in Real Estate Photography for the Least Cost”

  • Something to think about when choosing your equipment…. “The Cheap Comes Out Expensive”

    Take a minute to think about where you want to go with your equipment in the future when you have the means and let that help you decide what to get now.

  • Spend the money for a very good tripod. If you take care of it, it will last for decades. A geared head such as the Manfrotto 405/410 makes leveling your camera much quicker and a Arca Swiss mount and “L” bracket on the camera makes switching between vertical and horizontal orientation very quick.

    Any piece of gear that is unlikely to change over time should be high quality so you only have to buy it once.

    For used gear, always keep a list in your head of what you might want and what it resales for and visit pawn shops. I just picked up a couple of pretty good light stands really cheap. There are also online eTailers such as KEH that specialize in used equipment. Those outlets are very good with properly describing the item and will give lenses and bodies a fair test so they can tell you exactly what you are getting.

    If you happen to find a piece of gear for a very low price, test it very thoroughly before buying it. There could be a reason that it’s being offered way below market. I watched as a bunch of people got burned on eBay when a new seller popped up with 10 brand new Canon 70-200mm f2.8IS lenses way below used prices. Sure enough, within a week the negative feedbacks started to climb as those people figured out that it was a scam. The price of top end lenses doesn’t vary too much if it’s in good working condition. I’ve been looking for a decade and have never once found a Canon L series lens being honestly offered below what they typically sell for on eBay for the condition that it is in. I have seen them offered for more than MSRP on several occasions.

  • Does anyone shoot with the Panasonic GH5 / 7-14MM lens? The on-screen electronic level is a great feature. And the camera is as good as it gets for video without spending a fortune.

  • Now that you have purchased that budget system…you have graduated to “some guy with a camera.” Now invest in yourself. There are multiple e-book and video sources on this page ranging from starting a business to specialized techniques. Then go out and practice shoot your own home and nicely staged model homes and critically reviewing before you even begin thinking about shooting for someone else.

  • I agree with Ken; a good quality tripod with a geared head is pure heaven. Also; I’d steer clear of any ‘gray market’ ebay deals. Without a US serial number there’s no manufacturer warranty – unfortunately I learned that the hard way…

  • I’m an Associate Broker with a background in professional photography. Because of that, I have about 40+/- agents within 3 counties that hire me to take their marketing images. My basic real estate photography case holds a Nikon D610 and a D750. I have the Nikon D810, however the file size is important when placing images on the MLS. The D810 or D850 are just a bit overkill for typical real estate images. The D610 and D750 are perfect for the job.

    As far as lenses; starting with the wide angle for interior images, I use the Nikon 16-35mm and a Tamron 15-30. The 16-35 offer the ability to use the LEE filter system (which I keep in my case along with a range of ND filters and others) but the Tamron is a faster lens for those shallow(er) depth of field shots. Albeit, shallow depth of field in a wide angle remains not as useful as in a longer lens. From there, I use the Nikon 24-120, 70-200 and a Tamron 150-600. I’ve been asked “why do I need a 600mm lens for real estate”? Many lake front homes offer a great opportunity to shoot from across the lake for a unique angle. There are other occasions as well but the “across the lake shot” is the primary reason. I also have many other specialty lenses but this makes up my basic camera body and lens package.

    As for lighting; I carry 3 Nikon SB700 flash heads and an SU800 flash transmitter. Setting up lighting properly to fill a room is important. While most of my images are taken with only one flash head, occasions requiring additional lighting occur quite often. However, don’t be afraid to shoot with available light when the shot requires a nice romantic image.

    Aerial images play a huge part in real estate photography. Originally I used a Cessna 172 as a licensed private pilot. However, about 10 years ago, I found that drones make for such a great tool in real estate that I became an FAA commercially licensed drone pilot as well. For that, I suggest the DJI Phantom 4 Pro with an ND filter and prop guards. I actually have two of the DJI Phantom 3 Pro’s; but I already had them when the 4 Pro came out. I haven’t yet seen a significant reason to step up yet. I started with the 1, then moved to the 2 and then stepped up to the 3 Pro. In all, I’ve had seven drones over the years. The DJI Inspire is really nice too but the size is better suited for aerial images of larger commercial properties rather than houses placed in among trees. The FAA does require a drone pilot to be licensed if they are for any type of commercial use, such as real estate.

    This brings me to the final type of photography for my business. Underwater photos and video are starting to become important for lake front homes in order to display the quality of the beach areas or to promote fishing or other water sports. For that, I use a Sony mirror-less NEX Series camera body with an underwater housing. I’ve even used it to promote homes with pools. I understand that underwater images aren’t required on most properties but it’s another tool to think about.

    Beyond the cameras and lenses, you should also consider a monopod for stability such as the Manfrotto 560-B-1 as well as a tripod such as the Manfrotto MK290XT. As for filters; I suggest the LEE filter system. The LEE System allows for creating great twilight images.

    The last thing that I’ll mention is about editing software. There is a lot of it you there. I have over 6 different software programs in my computer however I typically only use one of them. I strongly suggest buying Light Room 6 to start with. That’s the one I use nearly exclusively. Landscape Pro is also good but takes more time to use.

    Now that you have a list to work from, decide what’s best for your needs and budget. Keep in mind that short cuts on gear, tools and talent will show up in your images. Buying cheap to start with ends up becoming much more costly down the road when you realize that you need to upgrade everything. There will be a big financial hit to your wallet at the time of trying to sell your used photography gear. Perhaps you may want to look at buying used gear to start with. Amazon has a large selection of used gear sellers. If you decide to buy used gear, I suggest buying the gear listed as “Like New” or “Refurbished”.

    I understand that this goes beyond just a starter kit but tools for any true professional job will come at a cost. Invest in your business and step up to be the best in your area as a Real Estate Marketing Professional. Good luck.

  • I have found the following list of equipment to make me a lot of money.
    Sony A600 or A6300 camera. The A600 body only is selling now for $449.00 and the A6300 for $749.00. I started with the A600 but had to buy the A6300 when I broke the hot shoe on the 600. the 6300 is a way better camera so if you can afford it buy it. The 600 is my back up now. Larry, your camera table needs updating. Also, you don’t need a full frame camera. the agent or the home user will not be able to tell the difference between them.
    Yongnuo 560 MK 4 flash. $70.00. I dropped this flash 3 times and it still works like new. You can do awesome thing with it and make it part of a larger system very easily.
    Gary Fong collapsible defuser. $50.00
    Sony 10 to 18mm E mount lens. Sorry to break this to you. it will cost as much as the camera but you need it. $600.00 used, $800.00 new. You can always find a different lens that will not cost as much. Just check it out extensively.
    Manfroto Tripod. These units are built like tanks. You may find one used at a camera store. Buy what you can afford.
    Lastly, if your town has a good camera store, they are hard to find these days, look at the used section for some of the above items or accessories you may need.
    Hope this helps

    Pete Malan

  • I love that third point about the bodies Larry! Well put. I hear a lot of stuff nowadays about simply switching to some of these newer bodies upping people’s games. I personally think they believe it’s true, but the slightly different look of a new sensor does not always mean better. I think when people move from one system to another, they are biased to the positive side in their reports.

  • I’d agree with Andrew’s statement. When I first got into shooting I was told by my mentor I should get a used Canon 5d ii and 16-35mm lense because of low light abilities. For his run and gun style I can see where that come in handy, but I’ve been doing just fine working part-time with a Canon t3 that I got free doing both Enfuse and “flambient” techniques. Can i have better equipment? Sure. Do I need it in my market? Not yet really. I shoot a lot of lal2e homes and the sellers and Realtors are all extremely satisfied with the results. Can I improve? Most definitely. I’ve been doing this for two years part-time now, and I’ve spent less than $500 on my business and have turned a nice profit for a side hustle. It’s about your market and what you can do with your equipment. Perfect and then move up.

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  • There are quite a few Cameras missing from your list. For example, the Canon 70D and 80D. Neither is out of the price range of a beginner. I just purchased a second 80D with two lenses (for my niece) for only $669.00 from someone who purchased it as a first dslr and couldn’t figure out how to use it. I do almost all of my real estate photography with an 80D and a 10-18mm lens.

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