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What Are the Things You Should or Shouldn't Skimp on When Starting Out?

Published: 17/01/2020

<frida, in="" las="" cruces,="" nm="" writes:="" <blockquote="">“I’ve learned so much from this site. Thank you. It’s allowed me to jump into something that I didn’t know about until a real estate agent friend of mine asked me to do a photoshoot for her last month. I loved it and I want to do more of it. I have a Nikon D5600; is that good enough? I know I need to spend $$ to get more equipment but I’m pretty frugal (Okay, I’m cheap!), so what’s the best way to spend my money? Thanks again!”</frida,>

Thanks for writing in Frida; and welcome to our community! I think you’re already ahead of the game by asking this question. I think I can speak for many people here when I share that I started out by spending way too much money on gear before I knew what I was doing--or at least, more money than I needed to spend. If I’m being honest, I overspent because I thought having better gear would make me a better photographer. I quickly found out that working hard to get better made me a better photographer! That said, you’ve also made an important distinction by asking about the “best way” to spend money, rather than “how much”. This says that you’re more focused on priorities rather than dollars out, which is a good thing.

First, I think you already have a decent camera. The Nikon D5600 model has been around for about 10 years but it will be more than enough to get your feet wet in real estate photography. In terms of priorities, there are a couple of things that I think ought to be at the top of the list: your lens and your tripod. A good lens will always be your most important piece of gear and, all things being equal, will always last longer than a camera body. A good lens will also have better optics than cheaper kit lenses. I don’t know what lens you had on your camera to do your first shoot but moving forward, you will need an ultra-wide angle lens. For a list of the possibilities, see the PFRE lens table that shows many of the major choices and the results of several reader polls on the most popular lenses in our field. The list is a couple of years old, but I’m confident that you’ll be pointed in the right direction.

The other major piece of gear that you’ll need is a good, stable tripod to make sure your camera is as still as possible when taking shots. Check, or for used equipment. The odds are that you can save quite a bit of money by purchasing used gear.

Also Frida, I’d guess that a vast majority of folks in our field use flash in their work. You don’t need to spend a bunch of money on a new flash. Many people here start out by using a “third-party” flash and trigger from a company called Yong Nuo. You can get a manual flash from them for about $60.00USD and I think you should have at least one of those.

So, what other items do you think should Frida should/shouldn't skimp on as she gets started?

Brandon Cooper

9 comments on “What Are the Things You Should or Shouldn't Skimp on When Starting Out?”

  1. My first year-and-a-half, I convinced myself that it was okay to shoot JPEG. I was scared to death of shooting in RAW. I reasoned that I had my JPEGs looking so good, there was NO way RAW could be any better. Boy, was I wrong!!! I used the RAW+JPEG option for a while until I felt completely comfortable. There will be a small learning curve to learn how to process and convert but this community has excellent on-line tutorials to remedy that! My advice: Get a decent wide angle lens and shoot in RAW! Good luck!

  2. Brandon makes some very good recommendations. A great lens on a so-so camera is going to be much better than a cheap lens on a top of the line body. The lens doesn't have to be fast (f2.8), I mostly shoot at f7.1 or smaller as I want the entire frame acceptably sharp for RE. You can get by with a lens for a crop sensor camera if that's where you will be starting. If things go well and you decide to buy a full frame camera later on, you can keep your first set up as a back up. A fast 50mm prime lens (f1.4, f1.8, f2) is a great addition for detail shots where you want shallow depth of field. Nearly every manufacturer offers them at a very good price. A medium telephoto is a good third lens (24-105mm) for some detail photos so you can get back and not reflect in a shiny faucet and for exteriors where you are backing up a good distance to zoom in to compress the scene.

    A very good tripod and geared head will last years if you take care of them. A ball head just won't let you make the precise adjustments you need. The Benro model is a pretty good deal at around $135 if you shop around although I have yet to see some long term usage reports. Manfrotto is the standard for geared heads and there are some super deluxe models that you can't aspire to get later on down the road when you have lots of money to burn.

    I use Yongnuo speedlights and they've worked very well for me. The YN560 from the model III on has had a built in radio receiver. One speedlight is a good start along with the YN560TX commander to remote control the flash. Two flashes is even better if you have the budget. Having a bunch of speedlights can be far more versatile than only having a couple larger strobes. Adding one 360-600WS battery strobe is something to have on the list if you start getting asked to photograph larger spaces. In the mean time, you can gang up multiple speedlights. The key things to look for are radio remote control and full manual control. TTL is not helpful for architecture or real estate. You don't want the camera and flashes making your lighting decisions. Stands, umbrellas and flash mounts go with your flash purchases.

    I've found that the best brand of gear is the one a good photographer friend owns and uses. You wind up with a built in tech support person. If they are pushing you to buy $10,000 worth of medium format gear, maybe it would be better to go your own way. Canon and Nikon have the biggest selection of lenses. They are also very well supported in the third party accessory market. Many people love their Sony cameras but strangely buy an adapter and use Canon lenses. Frankly, starting with Canon or Nikon may be less expensive as there is a good used market for bodies and lenses. Henry's and KEH are two more quality used camera dealers to look into. They charge a little more than an eBay seller, but they go through the gear and write up a solid opinion of it's condition. I've bought from both and have always felt I received quality for money.

    If you can stretch your budget a bit, I'd suggest getting a CamRanger and tablet. Between having the Yongnuo flashes remotely controlled and the CamRanger, I spend less time walking back and forth to the camera to check images on the LCD/histogram. I can walk around with the flash in my hand making exposures and see what I'm getting without moving. If I need to make an adjustment, I can do it from the tablet and the YN560TX in my hand (RF-605 Yongnuo trigger in the hot shoe to fire the flashes). You'll appreciate it the most with multi-story homes where you would have to climb up and down stairs and for time when you want to push the camera in a corner as far as possible and can't see the LCD or look through the viewfinder.

    A painter's pole with a camera mount is a good way to get elevated photos without a drone. I made my own, but there are parts available that screw on. A remote trigger or just using a 10 sec delay on the camera can work. If you are nervous about putting your main camera on the end of a long stick, picking up a high quality point and shoot that will record images in RAW format can be just the ticket. Canon and Sony make (have made) some nice ones. With four controlled airpots and two military bases in my area, getting authorization for the drone can be time consuming. Using a pole is also much faster and I can use it indoors. for the pole adapter and a Manfrotto tilt head along with an Arca-swiss clamp will work with any hardware store painter's pole. Mine's about 12' (2M) long fully extended. I prefer the fiberglass poles.

    Reserve some money for workshops, coaching and online tutorials. It will save you lots of money by keeping you from buying stuff you really don't need and teach you how to get the most from the gear you can afford. You also need pocket money for all of the little things that make jobs go better and faster such as clamps, gaffer's tape, door stops, bike hooks for hanging speedlights on doors, etc, etc. My "not camera" case is full of useful little items that I've made or purchased at the hardware store. You can also not go wrong with battery chargers that fit all of the different batteries you have. If you can get them that will plug into the car, even better. You should also have more than plenty memory cards. Big enough to do one job and plenty of them. Resist getting a few high capacity cards and putting multiple jobs on one card. If you ever have an issue with a card, you only want to have to reshoot one job. 3 or more spare batteries for the camera is minimum. You should also have one set of spare batteries for each flash, but you can build up to that level. I have one full set of extra flash batteries and a charger that will work from mains power or plug into the car. My drone has 3 batteries with chargers that work from the wall or car. Don't ask.

    Don't forget to get a good case(s) to put everything in. They don't have to be top of the line Lightware or Pelican, but they should keep your gear nicely organized. Every hole should have something in it. If it's not gear, stash a small towel/washcloth, plastic bag, whatever. When you pack up to leave home or a job, a quick glance will let you see you have collected all of your equipment. It also looks very professional to have your equipment neat. When it comes time to add to your gear list, be sure you prioritize having a backup camera, lens and flashes before anything else. It's so easy to kick over camera and see it bouncing as thousands of pieces on a tile floor. You don't want that to mean you can't work for several days to a week and have to call customers to cancel appointments.

  3. Great recommendations above^^^.

    I'll try to simplify my answer to just the shoot. T

    he quality lens rec is key. An ultra wide (10-24mm on your crop sensor), a shorter telephoto and a prime lens is all you need. Actually, the wide and shorter telephoto to compliment the wide is really all you need. The prime is nice for detail shots but not necessary.

    I like to use lighting so my recommendation is this: The Godox/Flashpoint(same manufacturer, different seller) trigger and speedlight combo works well together. I have the Flashoint stuff sold by Adorama. I'm not plugging them specifically, it just what I bought. I have the R2 Pro trigger and two V850ii speedlights. That's plenty to do many things and a great place to start. You can go a long way with them. There are cheaper speedlights, but I got lithium-ion battery version. Those batteries last a really long time. If you can afford that version, get them as their worth it in the long run. A light stand for one of them is great also.

    A good tripod is key. I like flick-lock as opposed to twist-lock for the legs, YMMV. A geared head is worth every penny. I do not recommend Manfrotto. I have a 405 head and it has problems in less than a year of use. Many others have had the same problems. In hind sight, I would have purchased the Benro. When I have the money, I'll get an Arca-Swiss d4.

    Consider tethering in the future. It's not necessary now but will be to your benefit. Remote release helps me a lot.


  4. Because your D5600 has a APS-C sensor, you should have a 10-20mm lens for your wide angle lens or something similar in that range. That along with a sturdy tripod and a flash and you should be good to go. Regarding software to process RAW images, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are used by many real estate photographers.

    You should also decide on the technique you want to use. I started out blending images with Enfuse, but switched to flash/ambient blending after 6 months to get more accurate colors in my photos. I also highly recommend Nathan Cool's youtube videos (free) and his books on real estate photography (on Amazon). Garey Gomez's RE Photography tutorial is also money well spent.

  5. I’ll go against the grain here and say that I shoot mostly primes these days. Yes, I know zoom lenses make a lot of sense for this business, and had for a couple years been using the excellent 16-35 f/2.8 Sony GM, but these days shoot nearly all of my interiors with the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8. I also use the 24mm Canon tilt shift, 24mm GM, and 50mm Sony/Zeiss 1.4 Planar.

    I came to realize that I just don’t like the look of the 16-35GM as much as I do the other lenses.

  6. I started with a Nikon crop sensor body and a Tokina lens. Looking at photos from when I started hurts my eyes but at least they're always tack-sharp. It's an absolutely great lens for not much money - very highly recommended.

    Yongnuo lights are super-cheap and 3 is more than enough to start. It seems like the better I get the less lighting I use anyway, so the Yongnuos still work fine for me for real estate. When they fall on a tile floor and explode (and they will) it doesn't ruin your day. I use 'eneloop' rechargeable batteries that are still going strong after 4 years and literally thousands of shoots.

    Geared tripod head; easily my favorite piece of equipment yet. Funny, I've got more expensive ones but the 'cheap' Manfrotto Jr is still my favorite for running through houses with.

    Good luck Frida, it's a fun way to make a living!

  7. I'll second David's recommendation of Eneloop batteries. All of my rechargeables are Eneloops and they've lasted years as well. The Lithium batteries in the Godox speedlights can last most of a week without recharging, but spares are expensive. You don't want to forget to charge those and be power down on a job. You can't run over to the quickie-mart and buy a pack of Duracells to get you through the job. The upside with Godox is they have a range from speedlights, to king sized speed lights to battery powered 360-600WS strobes that all work with the same remote commander. At some point my plan is to move from the Yongnuo speedlights I use now to all Godox/Flashpoint, but either system is very acceptable. I have a battery powered studio strobe (JTL Mobilight 300) that I can use with a Yongnuo trigger, I just don't have the ability to adjust the power on the strobe remotely as I would with a Godox system. Right now that's not a huge impediment. If I were doing more large commercial buildings or estates where I was using lighting bigger than speedlights more often, switching would be a higher priority. My original set of 3 Neewer flashes and a generic radio trigger system made a nice gift to a friend that was getting started in portrait photography. She got my old stands that I wasn't using any more too. That's the nice thing about a cheap rig to start out. Hopefully, you get your investment out of it and you can sell it or give it away when you move up without too much worry. If you have gone with all Profoto, giving it to somebody would be one heck of a nice gesture and selling it is harder. It's excellent gear but by the time a photographer is at a place with their business to need that level of gear, they can afford it. You probably would rather hang on to it than sell it cheap.

  8. The suggestions for lenses, tripods and geared head are all good advise.
    Regarding flash, my suggestion is Godox rather than Yongnuo. Both are good, but Godox offers a better, in my view, selection. Including manual flashes with Li-Ion batteries that will last the whole day. Maybe even two or three days and then can be recharged. They now have a speedlite with a round head that takes magnetic modifiers what can be quite useful as well. And, if you find you like using supplemental lighting, they offer a range of lights up to 1200 Ws. All controllable from the same controller on camera. Which can be a speedlite set to master mode.

    Good luck in your pursuit.

  9. Take note of Brandon's advice here for sure. 99.9% of other online / youtube recommendations are obviously driven by affiliate commissions and other types of revenue.

    People try to sell you crap you don't need, because they make money from it.

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