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Every Real Estate Photographer Needs A Way To Get High

Published: 18/03/2014
By: larry

There's been a lot of talk recently about using RCMA (Remote Control Model Aircraft) for real estate but the total costs of equipment and insurance and time practicing etc. all add up. It's not for everyone. It's mostly a upper-end real estate photography tool. There are many of the old standby approaches that will take care of 90% of the real estate situations. But I think every real estate photographer needs to have a way to get the camera 10' to 15' in the air for a great front shot.

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. There's always someone who wants to argue about this but I submit if you don't believe me try it. The results are obvious. Also note that in poll below about 89% of real estate photographers agree with me.

A height of 10' to 15' 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 15' 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.
  • Fold-up your tripod legs and hold your camera and tripod over your head holding on to the tripod legs. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes.
  •  Use a painters pole: It's very easy to put a point and shoot camera on a painter's 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. You can use a CamRanger to control the camera when it's up in the air.
  • Big masts that go up to 30' or 50' are an alternative, but there are a very few situations that require this kind of height.
  • Of course there are balloons and kites and RMCA 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, pole or giant tripod.

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]

9 comments on “Every Real Estate Photographer Needs A Way To Get High”

  1. Besides using my 40’ Mast for my elevated images, I carry a 4’ ladder. Almost all of my ground level images are shot from this with my camera held either over my head, or on a monopod while standing on the ladder. The images from 8-10 feet truly make a difference and gets rid of some bright sky area.
    But, if I go too high, like 20 feet, I feel the image difference that the agents see; between 20’ my 40’ mast will not make them want to spend the extra $75 for the Mast shots. I try to show and sell the value of a 40’ft elevated image. Especially when the property is on the water, golf course or has beautiful landscape that needs to be seen from above. Many of my agents request the 40’ mast images, when I explain the advantages. For those who are undecided, I will shoot on speculation and tell them if they like the shot I will add $75. If not, I will not put the elevated image in the tour and not charge them. I have never had an agent not pay me for a shot on speculation. Mast images are a nice way to add additional income to your tour. But a 40’ mast is not cheap. I have approx $3500 invested in the mast, air compressor, inverter, battery and a mounting rack. But it has paid off many times over. I first started my elevated images with a heavy Manfrotto 15-20 foot light stand. it was a bit heavy but it worked very well.

  2. While I use a hand held 18' pole I made as a DIY project, I find that 12' for a single story house is high enough with 18' for larger, otherwise showing off more of the roof. What I really like is showing off the landscaping and front entry path that just is not possible with street level photo. Probably the biggest advance and time saver was Camranger where no longer have to blindly fire off a bunch with minor adjustment of camera angle between shots , reviewing and repeat as necessary.

  3. I have a 15 foot pool cleaning pole I bought on sale at Home Depot 15 years ago for 7 bucks. I used it for a background hanger for photographing elementary class groups in my former life. In my junk box of photo stuff I've collected over the years I found a round adapter with a plate that slides in a hot shoe. On top of the plate a short 1/4 inch screw. This adapter is the same size as the pole and it fits perfectly. All it needed was some glue to hold it in place. My 6 foot ladder has a hole it the top step that my pole slides into. I use a bungee cord to hold it all in place.

    I have used this pole system on every house I've photographed and as far as I can tell by looking at thousands of MLS listings here in Albuquerque, no other photographer raises their camera any higher than eye level. And because of that the driveway is a half or more of the picture. Also, I use a Sony camera, it has in body anti-shake and a flip down LCD. I lineup the camera at the low level, flip the LCD down, raise the camera up and use my RF shutter release. If the wind blows and the pole moves a little, the anti-shake takes care of that.

  4. For most of my elevated front shots I extend my tripod to max (7') and then hold above my head and trigger with $10 chord release cable; this is my standard method for shooting the front of tract homes and makes a huge difference in perspective. The next solution is a 16' painters pole with $20 manual trigger duct taped to the pole. Anything higher is the is the DJI RMCA (er, uh, d-r-o-n-e , , )

    In response to Larry's comment about cost and time of RCMA, here is my story.

    With the DJI, I find that I can setup, launch, shoot a few elevated views, land and pack it all away in well under 20 minutes and post in less than 10 minutes. I sell this as a low cost service add-on to existing shoots and many realtors are buying. The other end of the spectrum is an expanded aerial + ground shoot with video that can take 6+ hours to shoot and process, with 70% or so of the time going to video editing. I sell 5 or more low cost "add-on' shoots for each expanded shoot, and while orders are climbing far more steeply for lower cost aerials there is increasing interest in both ends of the price range.

    My Cost; $2,750 invested in the DJI v2, Zenmuse gimbal, FPV system, extra batteries and chargers, and GoPro Hero 3+ black, pelican case to carry the system, "toy" quadcopters and PC based quad simulators. Add in $500+ per year for extra insurance and video software (ex; adobe cs.) Add 100+ hours of logged flight time on simulators and toys before I flew the DJI as well as time to learn video editing, and you can see this was a sizable investment in time and money.

    I am happy with my rate of return, but each photographer will have to make their own return on investment decision. I did not discuss price as each market is different. The time and costs that I experienced are similar to other photographers in my network, so are probably a reasonable expectation to others considering entry to this line of work.

    Every day I hear stories of crashed quadcopters and the common thread is lack of up front preparation. Recently a San Francisco photographer watched as $25,000 system few away on the first flight over the city (we waited for a news story but none came , , , .) A few weeks ago I tallied up over $25,000 in lost aerial equipment by watching a few youtube videos.

    I am an instrument rated pilot so was ready for a training regime with quadcopters. I am also reminded of an old plaque hung on the wall of our flight ready room. The plaque contained an old photo of a fatal crash and a quote"

    "Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect." Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. c. early 1930's.

    And one of my favorite quotes, this one is for politicians anxious to legislate solutions to RCMA Photography:

    " That is very fine; but it is impossible to make the men perfect; the men will always remain the same as they are now; and no legislation will make a man have more presence of mind, or, I believe, make him more cautious; and besides that, the next time such an accident occurs, the circumstances will be so different, that the instructions given to the men, in consequence of the former accident, will not apply." Isambard Kingdom Brunel, chief engineer of the Great Western Railway, evidence before the Select Committee on Railways, paragraph 567, Parliamentary Papers, 22 March 1841


  5. Small fold up latter +4 ft.+ 12 ft. Painters Pole w/ metal pixie adapter to Manfrotto Ballhead. D800 w/17-35mm lens on intervalometer 10 shots at a time (1 every 2 sec.) + my height with arms raised = Camera 22-24ft off the ground. A world of difference.

  6. Looking into creating a custom rig, but ladders have worked wonders in the past. Like this shot:\

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