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Alternatives to Drones for Elevated Real Estate Photography

Published: 20/05/2017

Jack in Florida recently asked:

Is there an alternative to using a drone for real estate photography? In my local area there hasn't been a huge demand for drone images/video. I have used an extended pole to capture some elevated images but it is very awkward. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

For many years real estate photographers have used a variety of alternatives to shoot elevated shots.

Here are popular alternatives used long before drones were available:

  1. 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' or 12'. I have a pole too but rarely use it because I like to use my 5DmkII with a 24-70mm lens for front shots. Here is another PFRE readers solution  for a ladder setup.
  2. Use a painters pole (this is my solution). It's very easy to put a point and shoot camera on a painters pole. Here is a PFRE readers solution.
  3. PolePixie is a very popular solution.
  4. The WonderPole is also a popular solution.
  5. The Polester solution.
  6. Giant tripods are a very popular solution. It's easier and safer to put your full-size DSLR on one of these.
  7. A big telescoping mast used to be an alternative, but had to be hauled around on a trailer and with modern alternatives are not worth the effort.

If you have a drone, you don't have to use it to fly around in the traditional way. Many photographers report that drones are a quick and easy way to grab an elevated front shot and much easier than struggling with a big pole.

Larry Lohrman

16 comments on “Alternatives to Drones for Elevated Real Estate Photography”

  1. I trade services with a local building contractor. I borrow equipment in exchange for pictures of his projects. One piece I borrow frequently is a Genie personnel lift. It is a small single person vertical lift that elevates over 20 feet. It operates with a car battery, motor and chains. No hydraulics so it's easy to maintain. Just position the lift, climb into the cage and press the button to elevate. These have been around for decades so they are fairly easy to find. I see used ones selling for $1600 to $3000. If I weren't able to borrow this one, I would buy one of my own. They are also useful for pictures of large groups of people like at reunions and maintenance around the house.

  2. Once you get the hang of it a pole is easy. I use a simple remote most of the time, not the phone or iPad app. I pull up and get my front shot first thing. I use an older Nikon D5100 just in case something stupid happens. Watch out for wires, no shot is worth getting electocuted. If is a condo complex it's a great way to get a community shot. I generally include a pole shot free versus a billable drone shot. As we all know everyone wants a drone shot they just don't want to pay for them.

  3. In regards to what Larry said above, "If you have a drone, you don’t have to use it to fly around in the traditional way. Many photographers report that drones are a quick and easy way to grab an elevated front shot and much easier than struggling with a big pole."

    Can you do this without be certified? Frankly, an elevated shot about 100' up would be all that I would want a drone for. I just do stills and not video.

  4. How feasible can a truck-based or industrial lift be on an incline, unpaved landscaping, or in back yards? Rentals for such equipment seem practical only for big budget shoots.
    I would rather invest a Gitzo, despite its limited height. It's stable enough to support pro equipment, it can handle uneven terrain, I can cross-utilize it as an everyday tripod, and it can reach a height range that I would need most all of the time.
    How often do others need to get above 14'? 2% of shoots? 5% of shoots?

  5. If I can't get the shot I need with the 6' ladder I take everywhere with me, then I use my Phanton 4Pro as my taller tripod. In fact 50% of my drone use is just to get a camera up to level with the front door. I live in a valley with most of my shoots on some kind of incline and most are beyond the reach of even a 20' pole. I have a pole set up I used before the advent of drones but with the P4P being able to bracket exposures and with the ground radar as well as GPS being able to hold a hover very accurately even with a breeze, I am getting excellent 5 bracketed images of which I just use 3.

    And the drone can often get to places for the shots where I simply cannot get a pick up or ladder. Hillside gardens and grounds are not conducive to stable ladder footings. The last time a ladder sank into soft soil or it could have been a gofer hole giving way and I tore a rotator cuff, I only use a ladder these days on a solid base that is level.

  6. @Terence - Legally you must have a Part 107 certification if you are only going up 20 to 30 feet for hire. And from what I've heard the biggest enforcement going on is getting turned in by upset neighbors.

  7. When I starting, shooting real estate we purchased a huge Bogen light stand which went up about 20 feet. it was heavy and cumbersome. later, I purchased pneumatic 12 meter pole that I mounted on my Van. on it, I used my Nikon D-70 with a 10.5 fisheye lens and triggered it with my Pocket Wizard radio. The initial investment was about $3,000, which paid for its self. The good thing, was I was able to get shots that many real-estate photographers couldn't, which was a great selling feature. (I often shot elevated images for some of my competitors for $100) The down side was that you couldn't use it anyplace that your van did not fit, and the ground had to be fairly level. once drones became available my pole sat (and still does) in my garage. Besides using the drone, I often use a tall monopod and can get shots from about 10-12 feet, which gives a little more depth to the shot than shooting ground level. and now that I shoot Fuji mirrorless, the camera is lightweight and easy to hold, not to mention the exceptional image quality form Fuji lenses. I think a pole is the best alternative to the drone if you need it.

    Its usually not too hard to talk an agent into a drone shot when the property is sitting on the water, or on a beautiful piece of land or near a golf curse, and at about $125-$150 for the drone shot, the drone pays for itself. you don't always have to fly around the neighborhood, many times it's fine to just go up about 75' and rotate the drone to show the property and surrounding areas.

  8. Per Terence's comment, '...Can you do this without be certified? Frankly, an elevated shot about 100? up would be all that I would want a drone for...' and the close of Larry's opening comment.

    A drone, requires certification, anything above surface is if it for profit (commercial).

    I put in the effort to get licensed, insured, and prepared to be ready for the market before it arrived. Turns out it arrived just as I did ;). The only clients I've had pay the extra freight for aerial images have been commercial. Often, they're make a sales prospectus and want an image of the surrounding area to set context for their commercial property (e.g. surrounding neighborhoods, or lay of the apartment complex).

    For 'my' benefit, I've started using it instead of a pole or other elevated means. With a Mavic Pro, I can have it out, set up, check B4uFly, and have the image, before I could do any other approach. Short of an already mounted point'n'shoot on telescoping pole perhaps. Its really quick, easy.

  9. Interesting remarks about the commercial use of the drone. Could you write a little bit about what it took to get the commercial license and how much effort it required to get it. Also, please mention total cost to get it and insure. Thanks!

  10. Gotta agree with JT, same experience and while I get the occasional newbie agent that wants all the whistle and bells, most back out when they see the price tag.

    Now I am starting to get some blow back from offices that don't want the headache of complaining neighbors....since they are potential clients of theirs down the road... They have started to have their agents notify the manager for permission. Also, I am seeing a lot of the gated communities, explicitly ban the use, just like agents sale signs etc.

    Fun to fly, feel like a kid again, but investment is a bust

  11. I still have a 12' painters pole but have not used it in over a year. With the advent of the P3, I am much quicker with a drone to get a couple of aerial shots.
    The cost of aerials for agents who work in waterfront, golf course or land properties is a no brainer. But, sometimes one or two quick drone shots work great for a tract home, especially on corner lots. Often I don't charge for the quick aerial shot because I often get way more out of this shot in word-of-mouth advertising than I would for a small add-on charge. Also, this opens the conversation that it is possible for agents, sometimes, to get an aerial shot in a tract setting.
    The key is to be fast an efficient. I am often up and out before anyone notices. Also I fly the Mavic Pro which has a much smaller visual and noise footprint.

  12. I use a 8'-16' painter pole with my CamRanger because its easier. I only fly now if the property had acreage. Had a few neighbors come out but never a complaint, only curiosity.

  13. Just received this from a broker friend.

    Following from StuNews laguna beach digital newspaper.

    Police Files
    Drone drives resident to distraction – and worse
    Drones are a contentious topic, and on Friday, one resident in the 1300 block of Skyline Drive decided to take matters into his own hands – literally.

    “After a thorough investigation, officers found a resident had taken a drone that belonged to a professional videographer, who was filming for real estate purposes,” said LBPD spokesperson Sgt. James Cota. “The citizen refused to give it back to the owner.”
    According to the police log, the man also punched the videographer, who declined medical attention.
    Eventually, officers were able to get the man to come out of the house with the now-damaged drone.
    Joshua Radwan, 36, Laguna Beach, was arrested for robbery and transported to Orange County Jail.

    While this citizen certainly lost control, the fact is that everyone else understands and sympathies with him.
    So, note to all that want to pursue this line of photography, public reaction is going to get worse and you should factor the trouble it is going to cause into whether it is worth it or not in your area.

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