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Basics Of Elevated Exterior Photography For Real Estate

Published: 29/03/2016

Wanda in Virginia recently asked:

I have a question and was wondering how other photographers handle this. It just seems that the best position for photographing most exteriors is higher than my tripod will reach but not high enough for a drone. How do other photographers handle this. I have thought about bringing a different camera that is rigged to a higher pole type tripod and even considered using a platform and a ladder. Any suggestions?

Yes, Wanda is definitely on to something.

The  post on Jeffery Hogue's bucket truck  stirred up a lot of discussion about elevated shots. Clearly a large part of what Jeffery gets out of his bucket truck is advertising and visibility. Iran Watson does a good job in the comments explaining why a truck like this doesn't make sense for everyone. However, 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 than one standing at street level.

A height of 10' to 20' will nicely cover 99% of the shots you'll need to take. Nowadays there are a lot of good alternatives for getting your camera 10' to 20' above the ground:

  • Carry a fold-up ladder. That's my fold up ladder above in the bed of my Toyota pickup. These fold up ladders will fit in any trunk and get you up to 10' to 12'. I also have a pole too but rarely use it because I like to use my 5DMKII with a 24-70 for front shots. Here is another PFRE readers solution  for a ladder setup.
  • Use a painters pole (this is my solution). It's very easy to put a point an shoot camera on a painters pole. Here is a PFRE readers solution.
  • PolePixie is a very popular solution.
  • The WonderPole is also a popular solution.
  • The Polester solution.
  • Giant tripods are a very popular solution. It's easier and safer to put your full size DSLR on one of these.
  • A big mast is an alternative, but there are a very few situations that require this kind of height.
  • Of course, there are balloons and kites and UAVs that will do this too but for just simple front exterior shots they are a lot of bother when you can get good results with a ladder or pole.

What do you use? Take the poll below so everyone can see what's most popular. I'm a bit surprised that about 13% of readers think they "don't need no stinking elevated shots". Yes you do! You can't make great front exterior shots if you are always standing at the street level.

[polldaddy poll=6103058]

Larry Lohrman

15 comments on “Basics Of Elevated Exterior Photography For Real Estate”

  1. I use a painter's pole that I modified with a Manfrotto tilt head on top that has worked great for both exteriors and interiors. I still use my tripod with the legs fully extended and held up when it's more convenient.

    My area is mostly flat, but there are homes on raised or sloping lots where the only other way to get an exterior photo would be to go ultra wide.

  2. I use a 16' painters pole that I bought at Home Depot. Then I bought an attachment from Amazon so I can attach a camera (very cheap!). I use a Fuji XT1 and the Fuji app to shoot with. Works wonderfully. I also got a little phone holder that you can wrap around the pole so you don't have to hold the phone and balance the pole.

  3. Before I had a drone, I built several rigs from a painter's telescoping pole to a much higher sectional pole I rigged to attach to an 8' "A" shaped ladder. It got me up to 25'. But it took a long time to set up and I never could quite see what I was getting even with my own bulk on the top of the ladder. So not if I can't get the shot I need from the top of an 8' ladder I use the drone. I use the drone for shots from 10' up and above. I live in hill country so most of the properties I shoot are on hill sides and I have to include not just the house (if there is just one structure) but of the entire property, outbuildings, groves, pools, lavender fields, horse facilities etc. and often part of the marketing of the property is the surrounding locality as well, mountains, valley, views and so on. So while not always necessary, the drone captures all this and with the lens correction for Photoshop to get rid of the fish eye effect and the same for video from the drone, there is a seamless quality between my DSLR shots and the drone shots. No need for a curved horizon.

    Having said that, I do not use the drone out side of the property lines. And I hesitate to use it for smaller, in town locations out of respect to the neighbors and any possible dangers of the drone developing a problem and falling out of the sky onto someone or someone's property. Few drones die of old age quietly in their box. I view the drone as a very flexible, tall tripod rather than an aerial combat device or peeping Tom enabler. Its a great tool for achieving those shots impossible to get with a pole, ladder or super tripod.

  4. Over the years I continually improved my pole system. I have a 30' handheld pole, but found 15-20 feet works best. I now have a 4 to 9 ft painter's pole that when held at the base over my head, standing in the back of my pickup, I can get heights up to 20 feet with less setup time and hassle. It's easier to maneuver and no where as difficult to hold in windy conditions. Plus, I can build one for less than $100 as opposed to my 30 ft pole at almost $1,000.

  5. The tripod that I use for all photography is a Benbo tripod. It's a strange looking tripod but it's unique in that it can go as low as 0" and as high as almost 9'. I'd highly recommend this tripod "above" all others.

  6. I have a Nikon D600 and use a 20mm wide angle prime lens to reduce the weight - I've bolted together two aluminum painter's poles so I can get up to 25 ft. I set the delayed timer to 10 seconds, then take 8 shots with a 2 sec delay between shots and rotate sideways and back and forth and usually have 2-3 photos that are work. It takes practice but a quick learning curve -

  7. I love elevated images, and have 3 methods of producing them simply & easily.

    My primary method (which I picked up from Iran Watson btw), is to hold my tripod above my head & remotely trigger a 3 shot burst while "aiming" towards house. I use Gitzo carbon tripods (very light) with D4 bodies ( 11 FPS). I get fantastic results this way when processing with Enfuse (with auto align turned on). I can get shots up to @ 15' this way.

    I have another "giant" Gitzo tripod I use for elevated twilight shots (long exposures). I use Manfrotto QR plates (with their geared heads) to allow D4 to instantly shift from standard tripod, to giant tripod, & to telescopic mast. The giant gets my camera up to @ 15' with rock solid stability

    My fiberglass telescopic mast will send D4 up to @ 24'. Again, I have a Manfrotto QR plate mounted to mast to allow rapid deployment in the field.

    My remote trigger system is a 3 Pocket Wizards (is there really any other brand for professionals??). I carry one on my belt, & have the other two mounted on each of my 2 D4 bodies.

    This system isn't cheap, but I have paid for the equipment many times over by licensing the gorgeous images produced this way...

  8. I read a great tutorial somewhere online where somebody used a 13? light stand like this: I’ve been meaning to try this out. I think the tripod legs would definitely help with stability as opposed to simply extending a painter’s pole above your head.

    A lot of times I’ll just use my Phantom 3, but I shoot quite a few homes that are fairly close to the Portland International Airport and DJI isn’t a fan of letting you even take off in those spots. I also have to deal with a ton of power lines in the city and those scare the hell out of me when it’s windy.

    This was a nice-looking 12-foot tripod I saw a while back, but it appears to be out of stock. Maybe you can contact the company directly?

  9. I use a 16ft extendable painters pole from Home Depot with a Pole Pixie. My boyfriend had one of the HVAC steel fabricators at his work make a resting plate for the pole which works really well. We just had a canopy put on our truck so I do not want to damage the top by standing on it. Planning on getting a QR plate adapter to speed up the changeover between tripod and PAP.

  10. My tripod and I stand on the roof of my Jeep Wrangler. It gets me up about 11 1/2 feet. I have a couple pieces of rubber drawer liner that I put under the legs of my tripod as I am always afraid they might slip on the roof. I find it hard to hold a pole up high with the weight of the camera, and then having to repeat several times while I try to get it at the right height/ straight. I'm on the small side, so I don't have to worry about damaging the roof. One twilight shot I had to be 25 or 30' up - the client rented scaffolding for me to stand on (not a real estate shoot).

  11. Carolyn, your solution looks perfect for me, however I am not from US. If it's not too much trouble would you mind posting links to the products (I hope it's ok with the admin) so I can find similar or same items in EU. I'm really not confident in buying products thay will turn up to be incompatible or not be able to carry enough weight ect..

  12. In post cases a basic monopod is enough when taking exterior photographs. Of course, I am aware of properties than are located in extremely odd places (hills, covered by walls), but in my case (I live in UK) most houses are fairly straight forward. Long time ago when I started photographing houses I though I don't need a monopod and was always using hands to do all the photos. Nowadays, I see there is a lot of competition around, so I decided that to stay competitive I must use monopod to take photographs of houses no one does in my area 🙂

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