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Inexpensive Pole Aerial Photography (PAP)

Published: 27/08/2007
By: larry

papElevated shots of the front of homes are extremely important. More important for some homes than others but an elevated view always seems to help. For years, I've been limited to standing on the top of my truck. The roof of my old 1995 Tacoma was permanently concave from this activity. For some reason, I'm having a hard time starting the denting of the roof of my new 2006 Tacoma. Besides standing on the cab roof or even using a ladder in the back doesn't get you all that high.

So my discussion with Mike Martin last week about how he does his pole photography got me going on building my own PAP rig. Today I finished the lash-up you see above with just stuff I had laying around. Well, I had to buy a 3/8x20 bolt but that was only $1.69.

I started with a window washing pole that telescopes to 16'. I'd noticed that the head on the top of my Manfrotto 3016 monopod unscrewed so I found a bolt that would screw into the bottom of the Manfrotto head and it turned out that the 3/8 bolt nicely screwed into the top of my window washing pole. Just like I had planned it that way. Now all I had to do was attach my old Nikon CoopPix 4300 (I'm not ready to put my 1Ds and 16-35 on this thing... call me a chicken) and I had a camera on the end of a 16' pole.

This is similar to the pole that Mike Martin uses. Except he doesn't use the monopod head on his. He takes the camera mounting bolt directly into the top of his pole. Also, he uses a 32' windsock pole. Something like this one. Mike said that he uses the 30 sec timer to trip the shutter. Much to my surprise using the 30 second timer works OK. I feel I could get by just fine using the 16' pole and the timer. This is a remarkably easy rig to use.

Larry Lohrman

The above is my first PAP shot in my backyard (Couldn't do it in front because of the sun angle). I'm always amazed at how little elevation it takes to appear really high. This is only 16'.

After I'd built my 16' pole rig I was reading the Photography For Real Estate flickr discussion group and noticed that Malcolm Waring was talking about a similar PAP rig that he'd built. Malcolm said that he rigged up a mechanical remote shutter release with a paper-clip and a $60 TV down-link from his camera. This sounds good to me! I think I can come up with a mechanical shutter release for next to nothing and since I only have $1.69 invested at this point a $60 portable LCD TV would make this a pretty smooth machine.

I think PAP is going to become a permanent part of my process!

Update: If you don't want to guess at what you are shooting you can purchase a small portable LCD TV and plug the video-out from the camera (many compact cameras like the CoolPix 4300 that I'm using have a video-out jack) and run down the pole with a long cable and plug in to the video-in jack of the LCD TV. I've not done this yet but Malcolm Waring talks in the flickr discussion group that I cited above about doing this on his rig. Hopefully he'll tell us how his works.

30 comments on “Inexpensive Pole Aerial Photography (PAP)”

  1. I have a similar rig. I gaff taped an old tripod to the pole and it saved my donkey last week when a home I needed views for was locked tight and no one had keys. This thing hit the bottom of the third floor deck in one swing. I agree that a 300.00 camera is all I'm willing to risk on my Rube Goldberg camera on a stick. Great post... Pun intended 😉

  2. I'd love to try this....but at 16 or so feet in the air, how do you know when you're pointing right where you want to be? I guess that's where the lcd screen comes in....can anyone explain that a bit better?
    Great idea would really be beneficial to my business!

  3. I just take 3 -4 shots 10 second timer , high res and crop down, it's not an exact science (for me at least) I have done them enough times that I can eyeball it. Thats the beauty of digital, instant results. Just make sure you attach the camera securely!

  4. For my elevated photography, I use one of these 2.5" LCD monitors that has a built-in 2.4GHz receiver;

    At the camera head, I have a small 2.4GHz A/V transmitter module. Obviously I don't worry about audio, but I do take a feed of the live viewfinder out of my Nikon Coolpix 8400, and feed that into the transmitter. This will require some skills in electronics if you want to purchase a module and integrate that into a box, ie; wire up some connectors, an on/off/channel switch, and provide a power source (rechargeable batteryies).

    You can even buy miniature 2.4GHz cameras that have a TX built in. This may be a good solution if the lens suits mounting to a viewfinder. Do a Google, there are solutions out there.


  5. As Larry says, I think PAP is of absolute importance to external RE photography. Like many others that have gone before us, you can spend thousands of dollars getting started. Or you can spend just a few dollars using available hardware store bought poles. I went the simple rout and spent most of my dollars on a great small camera. I then spent another $100 on a great windsock pole that gets me up to 32’ within my 30 second delay camera timer. So now I can stand most anywhere, raise my pole, take a burst of shots at various angles, lower the pole, and see what I’ve got. If I don’t like it, I’ll try again using what I’ve learned from the previous shot. This is simple and very effective. Later on, if you really think you need to get up higher, go ahead and order the 50’ + pole and the remote control equipment to make it happen. With such equipment, I expect you will be spending hours, not minutes getting great PAP shots.

  6. Michael, not so.
    I can be taking pictures from my remote controlled camera atop my 40 foot pnuematic vehicle-mounted mast in under 3 minutes of arriving on site. If the ground is on an incline, then make that 3½ minutes. The pole is a great idea though.

    What exactly is a windsock pole though? Never heard of that term here, down under.
    I was going to try out a swimming pool cleaner pole (two stage extendable pole that normally has a net for scooping up leaves on the end).

  7. My other hat for many years has been safety management. I know this is a no brainer but no one has mentioned looking up. Swinging a 32 foot pole up in the air can bring your fragile human body in contact with things you would never normally touch. Power Lines. Don't rush onto a site because your late etc and not pay attention. Cable lines, telephone lines, trees hiding power lines, wasp nests --- OK you get the idea. Just be careful. (I used to work for the power company)

  8. Answer to Adam:
    My pole of choice is the heavy duty telescoping 32' windsock fiberglass pole. It is item# 77932 sold by Premier Kites: It costs about $100. In its collapsed state, it is about 3'-8" long and 2" in dia. The pole weighs about 5 lbs. Inside this package there are nine more tappered sections. The smallest (top) section has a swivel mount loop for attaching a windsock. I just cut that off with a hack-saw. I then take a bolt about 6" long with the correct tripod thread size and cut the head off. I then wrap the cut end with duck tape and force fit it into the top cut-off end of my pole. Now the pole is just like the top of a normal tripod and you are good to go.

    The pole extends easily and quickly (less than 30 seconds: the max of my delay timer). The sections are held in place by simple friction fit (i.e., no screws/clamps, etc.). I don't need to extend it all the way and often don't depending on what's needed.

    I set the camera for what I think the best exposure setting is, set off the 30 second timer, raise the pole, have the camera take a burst of 5 shots, move the pole around a bit between each shot and then lower the pole and see what I've got. If I think I need to a re-take, do the same thing again with whatever changes are needed. Most times I don't need more than two attempts.

  9. Good day all. I noted that an update was added of using a small prtable LCD TV to preview the image. I do one better. I use a small and portable DVD player...why...because often I'm approached and asked what it is that I'm doing and why. Guess what, I have a preview DVD loaded inside my unit so I can explain the process and show the results. Being able to "educate the consumer" on the spot has provided more work and referrals than I can believe! The biggest hit was a local owner of a Buy Owner franchize that is now a fantastic salesman for me and FSBO homes.

    A while back, I was working a wedding and used my pole camera to get a unique view and having the disk in place was worth it. I managed to do a entire interior and exterior shot of a house before going to market for $12M complete with staging from one of the guests. Made up for the lousy wedding sales on that job...

  10. Ok, I have to share this and give kudos to this photographer that has taken the pole idea and turned it into something massive! It's a trailer setup with a remote controlled camera on a 60'(!) extended pole! I'm jealous...

    I only wish he had better photos of the contraption up on his site:

  11. You fellows are geniuses!! PAP is an absolutely brilliant idea. I had been exercising my brain on this subject when I read this article. I rushed out and bought the most humungous swimming pool pole I could find. It would extend about 7-8 metres. I had a manfrotto monopod that I wasn't using and a manfrotto head , so I drilled and bolted the monopod to the pole - Brilliant. I use my Fuji S2 on the top - focus at infinity , if it is a sunny day (as they mostly are in Australia) I set the camera at f16 @1/250 or 1/125 and max wide angle and set the timer to 20secs. It takes a bit of an effort getting it up - it really needs two people - one to hold the pole still at the base and the other to push the pole up ,but with a bit of fiddling ,one person can do it. I t is fairly easy to point the lens in the right direction and you can experiment a bit . It is great because you can offer your RE agents an ëxtra" service at no cost and little trouble, making you the photographer of choice?? In summary - BRILLIANT

  12. I did this yesterday with wonderful results! What a cheap and easy way to set yourself apart from the crowd. I had to drill a hole and run a screw through my tripod head into the pole to really secure it, and when I had to remove the head to put back on my tripod indoors, it was so stable it took some doing to get it off even on purpose! But in an older neighborhood, I did really have to be careful of those overhead lines, they were everywhere! I used a 12' pole, so I could do it by myself. Any taller and the telescoping seemed too unwieldy to control swaying. The powerlines were in the shot if I went any higher than that anyway. Thanks for the great and easy tip. Though my camera cannot do burst on self-timer mode, I had to use the delay feature on multiple exposure mode and menu-dive to turn it on for every set of shots. So either a pain at one photo at a time on self-timer, or a pain to turn on the delayed burst, but still very easy to do.

  13. comment on LongArm paint pole, in the 2/12/2010 link
    I bought this.
    it is FANTASTIC.
    it is a THREE-section pole, making it more compact.

    I hve a Canon REbel T2I camera.

    took a Home Depot Orange Paint roller ($ 2.97), cut the excss metal off it.
    the ORANGE HOME DEPOT handle fastens better to paint poles than the LOWES BLUE paint roller.

    Then, took old tripod, took the pole and head out of it, clamped that section to the Orange roller handle, and now the handle/tripod-pole-only, can screw onto the LongArm.

    Also, got a small bubble level, made a right angle piece to mount onto this pole.

    CAnon has a a remote switch, but the LCD TV suggestion is a consideration also.

    I can do some neat panoramic shots with this.

  14. @Nick, that bubble level is the real game-changer. I did the same thing after getting so frustrated trying to get a level shot without having to spend more time cropping and editing just to get a decent looking shot. PAP makes so much difference and I am shocked more people don't do this. I get some strange stares from well-intentioned neighbors but the great shots are worth it every time.

  15. I just bought Bosch's TP 320 telescopic pole and am excited about it! I have no need to get any higher than 4-5m (13-16') so I think this is the best choice for me. It has an aluminium construction and comes with a plate with a 1/4" tripod thread so I have no need to buy extra accessories.

  16. I think everyone's "inner McGiver" is fantastic. However, being a novice to PAP I have a naive question: For those not having access to pneumatics or monitors, how do you control your angle?? I can't imagine hoisting that delicate contraption up and down just to find out all I've gotten is a shot of the gutter.

  17. As an option. Try the cheap Yongnuo digital timer remote controller TC-80N30. Ideal for time-laps You could strap the controller to your camera and shoot as often as you like. Even do a time-laps, if that’s your thing.

  18. I have a similar contraption that my husband made for me, although my painters pole is quite fancy and looks great. I had a spare screw from my Manfrotto kit which he secured (erm, somehow!), and the baseboard is a small cutting board from my kitchen with a piece of off-cut carpet (clean and unused!). I do screw in my D700 but I only put the 24mm prime on it, and take off the battery pack. Also we have a a piece of wire with a D-clip that is a back up I use to secure it to the pole, so if (god forbid) it comes off the screw ("unlikely", promises Husband) it should still stay with the pole and I can catch it. Hopefully it never comes to that! I'm still new to the industry and I've only used it 4 times so far, but I'm getting the hang of judging the height and angle.

  19. Hi, I just wanted to thank everyone for throwing out some ideas on what poles to use for aerial photography. After reading through this, I'll be picking up the pole that Michael proposed. Can't wait to get some material up on my aerial photographs website I will also be doing wireless video transmission and pan tilt on the top 😉

  20. The same jib crane used on the real estate video camera can be used with timer on still camera. The perspective is everything and getting down on your knees, shooting low or using the pap or jib crane can add unique collections that are more memorable, dramatic, professional looking.

  21. I believe that the wide use of drones today will make the need for this kind of stick irrelevant. But I do think it could come in handy on shoots where they don't want to pay for a drone. With most of the latest cameras you would be able to use an app to see your shots and not be blind.

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