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Do Real Estate Photographers Need To Carry A Separate Pole Camera All The Time?

Published: 11/02/2016

ElevatedShots2Matt asks:

I'm about to buy the equipment for PAP (Pole Aerial Photography), curious how most folks do it- keep a second camera, lens, battery, etc in the car every day for when the need for PAP arises? Since we don't want to put our 5DMk2 up in the air, was planning on using a Rebel with wide angle Sigma lens for the PAP work.

My experience has been until you see each property how do you know when you're going to need a pole shot? Perhaps you could use Google Street View to decide ahead of time. Some properties look like awful when shot from the level of the street when the property is elevated and require a pole shot just to look reasonable.

Being ready to take a pole exterior shot all the time is just another reason to use a camera like the Sony A5100 for a pole camera. It's small, takes up very little space but is high quality.

My approach is since I have a pickup, I carry a fold up ladder that I put up in the bed of my pickup that gets my camera about 20' above the ground. I take the ladder to every shoot and use it almost every time because an elevated shot may not be essential but elevated shots always look better than shooting at street level. With this approach, I don't have to carry a special pole camera, I just use my 5DMkII standing on the ladder.

Over the years, others have described heavy-duty tripod solutions that are stable enough to handle the weight of full-size DSLRs with no problem. For example,  here and here.

Larry Lohrman

16 comments on “Do Real Estate Photographers Need To Carry A Separate Pole Camera All The Time?”

  1. I use a Fuji XT1 for elevations and also use it for most of my exteriors/interiors. It, along with my Nikon gear, are always with me. I have a 16' pole (I rarely need to go that high) that goes down to 8' which fits nicely in my Rav4.

    You should always have a back up camera and lens for professional work anyway. I've had cameras die on me 2x during professional shoots (shutters both times, different cameras).

  2. I have been using my bicycle stand, to support a 15' painter pole. This is one of those stands bike repair shops use to hang the bike while they do repairs. Just turn the clamp to the vertical position and the pole clamps right in. They're about 50.00 at your local bike shop. It's also nice to carry into the back yard or other tight places, and get elevated shots of those high decks, and it can be leveled pretty easily in you're on a slope.

  3. I use 2 paint poles bolted together to get 30' of height and just attach my Nikon D600 with a 20mm Nikon prime lens - this cuts down on the weight considerably -- it takes a while to have confidence to use this set-up but it eliminates getting a second camera just for pole photography (I do have a Nikon D90 as back-up). Just be patient and raise and lower your camera very slowly. Then I switch to a 16-35mm Nikon for any other exteriors and interiors.

  4. I would submit that you might want to consider a GoPro camera, for several reasons: 1) you're not going to find a camera and lens combo that is smaller, 2) generous wide angle capability, if you need it, 3) remote control iphone app that works well, 4) very affordable versus buying a second DSLR and lens, 5) very good picture quality. I have a GoPro but have not personally used it for PAP (yet) but I think it could be a real contender.

  5. Matt,
    when I started in real estate photography, I used a 40' pneumatic pole, which fits inside my van, and built a special mount to hold it when extended. The downside besides the hi cost (more than a drone), was that it had to be on level ground and could only shoot with no wind, and from the front rd. I shot with a Nikon D-5200 and fisheye lens, but recently changed to a lightweight Fuji X-E2 and Rokinon 12mm lens. this was the only solution for hi elevated images until drones were affordable. Now, I use both. The Fuji with the 12mm lenses is very sharp and so light, it can be mounted on your painter pole and held quite easily. I fire it with an in expensive Vello radio trigger. I've use my Fuji on a 12' stand/pole if I needed a shot from the back, or if there are too many trees to use a drone. But once you go up to 30-40' on a pole, or 100'-200' from a drone, you can charge your client and extra $75-$150.
    I don't charge for a pole shot so I try to show my agents the visual benefits of adding an elevated or drone photography.

  6. I have an 8' painter pole that telescopes to 4'. I use that for all of my shoots and it stays in the trunk of my car. A shorter pole keeps me in full control and I don't worry about putting my expensive camera up there.

    If a customer orders pole aerials add-on, I have a Mr. Longarm 23' pole. That one telescopes down to 8', so yes, it's difficult to fit in the car. I have to pass it through from the trunk and it nearly goes all the way to the dashboard. I do not carry that around with me and just go home and get it when I need it. I DO NOT attach my expensive camera to that one. I have a Sony QX1 with a wide angle pancake lens. I attach a cell phone near the bottom of the pole and that's how I frame each shot and hit the shutter.

  7. Sony mirrorless with wifi and playmemories is the best choice right now. The A7, a6000, and the new a6200 are all good lightweight choices, and if you can get the pole to be stable, multiple exposures and HDR are possible.

    While the Rebel is a light DSLR, it's not as light as mirrorless, and you'd be surprised what gravity and physics can do with an additional 1/2 lb of gear on a pole.

  8. I give Rich Baum all the credit for this design. I built one using an 8-16' Wooster Sherlock painters pole. I bought a cheap Beike ball head ($15) off Ebay and then built an adapter using 1"PVC, a 1" PVC FM slip to male 1" pipe thread, and a bronze 1" FM pipe thread cap. Drilled a hole in the top of that for a 1/4" bolt that would thread into the ball head. The 1" PVC pipe then slips tightly over the threaded end of the painter pole. Entire cost was around $50.00. I shoot a Canon 70D and made a bracket on the painters pole that holds my iPhone 6+ and use Canon connect to run the camera. With that all said I haven't used it yet, but look forward to trying it out. Only problem I can see so doesn't fit in my Mini Cooper and will have to be sticking out the sun roof...

  9. I use a 8'-16' Painter's pole with a billet attachment that is bolted to a manfrotto base plate. With proper counter weights I have no issue raising and lowering my regular dslr setup. With the wifi feature on the 6D, I can remotely control the shutter from my tablet. I suppose I'm extra careful but just in case I do have insurance on my equipment.

  10. I have been investigating the Sony a6000 after hearing so many good things about it. Right now I am using my 6D on a painters pole and it works fine, but I wouldn't mind having a dedicated, lightweight camera for the pole. I wish the kit lens included was a bit wider though--with a crop factor of 1.5 the 16-50 can only get 24mm wide.

  11. i have two different systems. A fibreglass tree pruning pole, pretty much the same as a painters pole. Then i slip a Manfrotto mooned inside it and attache a fuji x-t1 triggered by the remote iPhone App. If i don't need to go that high I use a sturdy manfrotto light stand with my D800 on it and the CamRanger remote. The light stand fits in the car easily, the pole needs to go through to the boot (trunk) and reaches up the the passing footwell! I don't charge extra.

  12. @Bruce. I too was thinking about using my Hero 3+ Black GoPro for the elevated images, but didn't want to un-mount it from my drone. The issue I had was the distorted super wide lens, and the image quality does not come close to the Fuji X system. Many of my agents need hi quality images because they often use the elevated images for the covers of real estate magazines, like welcome home, or homes of Venice /Sarasota and the magazines request hi res images. But, I've heard the new GoPros have better image quality and no longer have the super wide/fisheye look.

  13. @Eric. I only bought my first GoPro (a 4 model) a couple weeks ago so I am certainly no authority on it. I have not used it in a pole situation. Yes, there can be quite a bit of optical distortion in the wide angle mode. But there are 2 other settings available (medium and narrow?). Many other reviewers (e.g. B & H Photo) are reporting the image quality is quite good, more than good enough for the web I am sure. Good enough for real estate magazines and other printed material? I am not sure. Another nice feature of the GoPro is that you can produce some nice "walk thru" videos if you use the GoPro in conjunction with a handheld gimbal stabilizer. They do not look super Hollywood professional but personally I prefer them to the expensive ($4K) interactive solution that was discussed here about a week ago (sorry, can't remember the name; begins with an "M"? Matterport?). Just my personal preference; others may reasonably disagree 🙂

  14. I have a painters pole that extends to 18' that I use when my stepladder cannot get me high enough. I don't use a separate camera. I remove the battery grip from my 5DMK II, attach a 16-35 F2.8L, or 24-70 F2.8L lens, and attach it to the top of the pole adapter along with a Camranger. Even fully extended, I can manage to hold the pole and my iPhone, to get the shot. Most of the time, the base of the pole is on the ground, but recently, I had to hold it with my arms extended above my head to get the camera even higher. Not sure why so many people, are so reluctant to use a large DSLR on a painters pole. It's completely manageable, even in windy conditions.

  15. @ Bruce, thanks for the information. I was thinking of replacing my Hero 3+ with the Hero 4 as I think it will fit on my large Tarot 810 Drone with a GoPro Gamble and give me better results. but for a few $ more than the Hero 4, , B&H had a sale on the Typhoon Drone Kit, which had a 4k hi res camera, mounted on the drone. and, it removes and attaches to the included hand held mount to do walkthroughs. when comparing the images from the GoPro3 to the typhoon camera, the Typhoon camera quality is better (But heard the GoPro 4 has nicer quality). I have not shot any video yet, which I am now getting requests for and will have to learn.
    last week two of my agents had a 3D tour shot and asked if I was going to get a 3D Matterport. at this time, I am sticking with stills, but will learn Video and editing. Don't think I want to invest in 3D at this time unless it becomes a very requested tour.

  16. I have a pole that extends to about 14' and I have had no problem using it with my Canon 50D and either the 17-40mm or Sigma 10-20mm lenses. Since the most important image is usually the front exterior, I'm not going to put up a cheap camera/optics like a GoPro. I haven't come across any homes that make me wish for a taller pole. Past a certain point all one winds up with is more of the roof which is a big complaint I have about most RCMA images.

    If I only need to raise up 3-4', I extend the legs on my tripod and use it like a pole.

    I use my pole fairly often inside two story homes that have portions open the full height. It's been great at getting photos of upstairs open areas that can't be taken any other way.

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