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How High Should Your Camera Be When Shooting Real Estate Interiors?

June 13th, 2018

CameraHeightKen asked the following question:

What heights do you set your tripod/monopod at? Do you shoot kitchens and bath lower or higher? Do you shoot from an average height – 5′ or do you shoot higher? Do you change shooting heights throughout the property? What is a comfortable height for the viewer? Any advantages from shooting higher or lower?

Below are my camera height rules. I have to admit that I’ve learned most of these rules of thumb from Scott Hargis so more accurately, these are Scott’s rules of thumb:

  1. In rooms where there aren’t large surfaces you generally keep the camera between 36″ and 48″ off the floor. Composition considerations will determine the exact height.
  2. In kitchens or bathrooms, you have the camera height 15″ to 20″ above the counter (the primary surface) height and you keep the camera high enough so you can’t see the surface of the bottom of the cabinets. Frequently, there are lights and other stuff under there you don’t want to show.
  3. In bedrooms, where the primary surface in the photograph is the bed, you have the camera height 15″ to 20″ above the height of the bed. The lower the bed the lower the camera goes.

In #2 and #3 above, this means the camera will end up generally from 36″ to 48″ off the floor unless you have a very low bed.

The reason you typically don’t have the camera above 48″ is that you always have the camera leveled, ideally, with a geared three-way head. So raising or lowering the camera (as well as how wide you are shooting) controls how much of the ceiling or floor is in the image. 36″ to 48″ gives you about the right amount of ceiling and floor.

I’m sure others will have different points of view on this.

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18 Responses to “How High Should Your Camera Be When Shooting Real Estate Interiors?”

  • That’s where I keep my camera too (also learned from Hargis) and it works great. But with the tilt/ shift lens even better. Ceilings= bad (usually). Floors and counters surfaces are good. Inside of sinks and surfaces behind surfaces even better yet.

  • I find the wider you go the lower you need to go. If I use my 16-35mm, I often need to lower my tripod to remove ceiling in my frame. I use my TS-E 24mm most of the time where its easier to frame where I want the picture to be.

  • What does everyone do for rooms with very high ceilings – I shoot a lot of new builds here in the Vancouver, BC area – many with big living rooms
    and two story high ceilings – and entrance areas with high or two story ceilings and chandeliers that are important to show?

    I always raise my camera for those – usually decide on the height by looking through the lens and raising until it looks right and gets in important
    aspects without getting too much ceiling. Then there are many new houses with a lot of molding and detail on the ceilings. My unfavourites are
    those big rooms with multi level ceilings – I don’t usually zoom through those too quickly. Shooting get-in-the-camera style as much as possible.

    I’m looking forward to getting a tilt/shift lens before too long – is it worth using for real estate or only my builder and other higher paying clients?

  • It really depends on the room, the ceiling height and the furniture. I high 4 poster bed is going to have a different camera height than a low, single mattress bed. 14’ ceilings will be different from 7’ ceilings.

  • When I got my first digital camera in 1999 (yep it was a Kodak), i figured out that the 4′ mark was the sweet spot. I shoot our leased homes, so they are always vacant and this works great for empty rooms. Shooting higher almost always leads you to a “looking down” into a room shot that just feels odd.

  • All of the recommendations are the ones I use except using a much higher POV for rooms with high ceilings. If I did, I’d wind up not seeing the floor until far into the room. The combination of not seeing the ceiling and the difference in the quality of light opens up the top of the image well enough for me. The exception might be a two story room with large windows and a great view. If that’s the case, I’m composing for the view and part of that might be getting over a deck railing outside. I’ve even used my pole inside on one occasion to be centered on the beam between the upper and lower panes of glass.

    Another key for me it to not be looking straight across a large horizontal surface or below “the horizon” of one. I see this a lot from local picture takers that are trying to avoid being seen in a bathroom mirror (I’m undead, so it’s not a problem for me).

    Sometimes it’s advantageous to get the camera up higher and tilt down slightly and correct the geometry in software (fake Tilt-shift). If a kitchen island has a back splash, it might hide what’s behind too much and the technique will work if it’s not pushed to an extreme. I’ve never come a across any situation where I want to be below around door knob height (35ish inches). It’s a strange view point and the image starts showing everything under the bed, end tables, etc. The young kids and family dog aren’t the ones making the buying decisions. I occasionally see agents trying to be artistic with low angles or a Dutch Tilt and, frankly, it just doesn’t work.

  • For most rooms, 1/2 the height of the room. 8ft ceilings = 4ft. 10ft ceiling = 5ft. For higher ceilings, or if you have a vaulted ceiling, you rise up until just before you screw up the way the furniture looks, which might be as high as eye level. There are some exceptions that have to do with high backed furniture, or the ability to see over a kitchen island, in which case you might go 12″-16″ over the height of the obstacle.

  • I don’t have rules. I don’t like rules very much since I find rules make my photo problem solving limited by what are such often arbitrary thinking. The right hight is determined by the room you are shooting, where you are shooting from, and what works best. Just as what angle you shoot at. If you have a boring white ceiling and great floors, then I aim down and fix the verticals in post. I am not selling empty white ceilings but I am selling great tile floors or wood plank. I let the marketing sales points and the room itself tell me what I need to do in all ways including height off the floor. If anyone remembers shooting interiors with view cameras, we always aimed the camera up or usually down and corrected verticals with the hinged back. The height often was determined by our ability to actually see the fresnel screen and how high or low we could get the large tripod to go. Some of us had an arm that attached to the bottom of the column so we could get the camera down at floor level which made for dramatic images. I do the same today if the wood grain of a fine wood plank floor.

    Which brings up another point. If you shoot all rooms from the same height, your gallery will be boring. But if you shoot from different heights, it will create a variety of views so each photo does not share quite as much as the last one and the next one. Boredom is the enemy of todays attention deficit internet surfers of today.

    When I was teaching photography at Books Institute in Santa Barbara, I had a lot of students who wanted everything nailed down in a book. Others were delighted to work things out for themselves. So I do understand that many people at minimum want a starting point to start a room shoot. Some will stop there and others will then see it that works best or some other set of solutions would work better. We are all different. So that means to me that one set of rules will apply to some while leaving others out. Sort of like whether to use or not to use flash. To me the only rule I do adhere to is get the best shot you can however you can.

  • @Shane Kelly – For high ceilings I switch to a wider-then-normal lens. I usually shoot a 16mm FF, and then position the camera to frame the shot. For high ceilings, I switch to 12mm FF, and a higher POV. The extra few mm’s allow that higher then usual POV without sacrificing furniture cut-off because of the raised height, but allows more ceiling to show. This is a common situation we find ourselves in, which makes you wonder about the folks who advocate just showing up with a 24mm lens. Maybe they will stitch frames together later 🙂 ew.

    But, rooms also have width length height dimensions that simply don’t work sometimes. I find myself in rooms where to longest width/length is less then the height – entryways for instance, with a 16′ to 20′ height, and a 12′ length. I have to decide if I will just aim up at it, which I don’t really like, or employ the discipline of level camera shooting and ignore everything above 12′, which the client will probably complain about. There has to be something pretty interesting up there for me to be persuaded to point the camera up.

  • I agree with Kelvin. I like the 1/2 the room height as a general rule. But always bump up a little bit in kitchen and go down a little bit in bathrooms to see more floor/vanity.

  • I agree with Keven — half height between floor and ceiling for most rooms — a bit above for counters. But, for two-story spaces, especially two-story grand foyers with ornate staircase, I turn the camera to portrait orientation to capture the feeling of the space. I do the same for small bath or powder rooms where the only shot is of the vanity cabinet.

  • I am with Peter on this. However I find that I have gravitated towards guidelines similar to those outlined above.
    As for rooms with high ceilings I have to make a determination as to what are going to be the important features of the room. I also have to account for where I can stand. For many rooms I will be at about 50 inches high and use a 17 TS and shift the lens up to show the ceiling. Lately I have switched to the 11-24 zoom and can compose on the level and the results beat a shifted and stitched 17.

  • Camera height? It depends on several things. In general, if the ceiling is more interesting than the floor, I tend to shoot about 5 feet off the ground. If it’s a boring textured ceiling… I go down to about 4 feet high.

    It also depends on how tall the elements are in the room though. If a kitchen counter is taller, I raise my camera height. If I need to photograph a small room behind a chair with tall backrests, I will shoot higher, irregardless of how ugly the ceiling is. If I need to photograph a small bathroom and can’t get out of the mirror reflection, I may shoot lower to get the image.

    I find that there is no set height formula… it all depends on the room and elements within the room.

  • “…If anyone remembers shooting interiors with view cameras, we always aimed the camera up or usually down and corrected verticals with the hinged back….”

    No, you didn’t. You leveled the camera and used rise (or in rare cases, fall) and shift to move the field of view to your desired composition. It’s what we all do when we’re shooting architecture with view cameras. It’s what “TS” lenses emulate for 35mm cameras.

    Tilting the rear standard would result in [EDIT: too long to explain here, just Google “Scheimpflug”. Not kidding, Google the word ‘scheimpflug’.]

  • Scott, I think Peter has not explained himself well. There are certain technical and field medium- and large-format cameras that do not have wide range of movements. Thus, it is sometimes necessary to tilt the camera and the tilt the front and rear standards back to vertical alignment, along with maximum shift, in order to achieve a degree of “shift” that is beyond the actual shift movement alone.

  • “…shooting interiors with view cameras, we always aimed the camera up or usually down and corrected verticals with the hinged back.”

    This did not sound like an ambiguous statement to me. And I don’t see where it contains any mention of “shift”.

    I’m not going to get into another discussion that ends up being relevant to only 1% of practical reality, but in general (by which I mean “almost all the time”) if you don’t have enough shift available then you need to back up, and/or use a wider lens. Tilting the camera body, and then shifting, and then tilting the front and rear standards will not work, when you tilt both standards you’re effectively reversing at least part of the shift you achieved — and very likely exceeding the coverage of your lens.

    Regardless — a statement like “We always aimed the camera up or down and then tilted the back” is patently absurd. That’s not how it was done in the past, and it’s not how we do it now.

  • Sorry, Scott, I know this is getting into the weeds here and it is highly unlikely that the majority of readers of this blog have ever used a view camera or are likely to use one, but I think it is still necessary to have clarity about this. After all, you did challenge Peter’s comments. Regardless of whether Peter knows what he is talking about or how well he has expressed himself if he does, there is a valid technical reason in some instances to tilt a view camera and then tilt both standards back to vertical, sometimes combined with actual shift and sometimes not. This is sometimes referred to compound rise or fall (if the movement is vertical), and could apply to horizontal movement in the same way, except it applies to angling the camera horizontally instead of vertically.

    See the example near the end of this publication on view camera movements, which shows the use of compound fall: https://sites.evergreen.edu/politicalshakespeares/wp-content/uploads/sites/131/2015/09/CalumetDigitalGuide1.pdf
    Also, see the section of this publication that deals with rising and falling movements: http://www.properproof.com/largeformat/Guides/Camera%20movements%20chapter%202.pdf Note that this example uses an illustration of a field camera, which has relatively minimal movements compared with the sort of monorail view camera with a full range of movements, which is the preferred type of view camera to use for architectural photography. That said, with the preferred type of monorail view camera, for the vast majority of architectural photography, keeping the camera level and using front or rear shifts, or both, should be all that is needed to maintain parallel vertical or horizontal lines.

  • Typically about belly height, if I’m in a room with 8 foot ceilings. Higher obviously in kitchens and baths to clear the surfaces. In high ceiling homes, I shoot a lot higher. In 1960s homes, where the ceiling is often not even 8 feet, I go lower.

    I also tend to shoot the living room, and all bedrooms first, then raise the camera, then do the baths and kitchen.

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