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Real Estate Photographer Getting Started List

Published: 30/09/2013
By: larry

WhatYouNeedOne of the most common questions I get asked is what do I need to get started as a real estate photographer or agent shooting their own listing photos?  I want to have a post I can refer people to that lists specific items. So here it is:

  1. DSLR: $200 used - The main reason you need a DSLR (as opposed to a point and shoot or SmartPhone)  is so you can put a good quality wide-angle lens on it. I recommend a Canon Xti just because there are a lot of used ones available. An equivalent Nikon would work fine too.
  2. Wide-angle lens: $340 used- I recommend the Sigma 10-20mm wide-angle lens. It is the second most popular lens for real estate photography. The Higher quality Canon 10-22mm is the most popular lens, but it only works on Canon DSLRs and cost twice as much. Get the 10-22mm if you can afford it. The Sigma 10-20mm is available for Canon, Nikon and other bodies.
  3. Manual Flash: $72 new - I recommend the Yongnuo YN-560 III. These are the Chinese copy of the SB-80dx that are so popular for real estate photography and the cost half as much. I have a bunch of YN--560s and I love them! I believe their build quality is as good as the SB-80dx. YN-560-IIIs can either be triggered optically or with a Yongnuo RF-602/603.
  4. Flash Trigger: $33 new - I recommend Yongnuo RF-602/603. For $33 you get a transmitter and a receiver. You can use one on your camera hot-shoe to directly fire the Yongnuo YN-560-III or the pair to fire any flash. I have a set of these and they are very reliable.
  5. Light Stand: $13 new - You need a stand to mount your manual flash on. You may already have something that will work, but the Sunpak SPK620520D works nicely because it can go up to 52" high and can be made to have a very small foot print... characteristics that you'll want when you start placing your flash.
  6. Tripod and Head: $445 - I recommend a Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod with a Manfrotto 410 geared head. You can save about $160 by getting a ball head instead of a geared head, but you'll find it's much easier to get your camera perfectly level in all 3 planes so your verticals and horizontals will be right on, if you have a geared head.
  7. Lightroom 5: $138  - To me Lightroom is a must have item for real estate photography and most beginners will get by just fine with only Lightroom. Sure as you become more sophisticated you may want to add Photoshop to your editing arsenal, but you can live without it when you are starting out.

Look at that! You can get setup to create real estate marketing photos for under $1300 USD. Yes, you can spend more on all of these items and you may want to upgrade as you get more practice.

How To Use This Gear
Here are some resources that will help you get started using this gear:

  1. The post right here on this blog that Scott Hargis and I put together explaining the basics. This post has been one of all time most popular posts on the PFRE blog.
  2. The PFRE flickr group. See what others are doing with similar equipment. The members will give you plenty of advice on this subject.
  3. Scott Hargis's e-book, Lighting Interiors goes into much more detail than #1 above.
  4. Scott Hargis's Video Series on how to do this.

Update Sept 30, 2013: Note that in the comments below readers make cases for ball heads for your tripod, different lenses etc. That's great, there's no one right solution, and what's great about this media is that you can get input for a lot of people all over the world. A couple of valuable resources for cameras, lenses and triggers is the PFRE Camera page, Lenses page  and Triggers page which show what percent of readers are using various products. These pages tell you a lot about which equipment is popular among real estate photographers.

19 comments on “Real Estate Photographer Getting Started List”

  1. I purchased a refurbished ($350.) Nikon D5100 to replace my Nikon D7000. It has the same sensor and processor as the D7000, but it has a swing out/tilt LCD screen. No more bending or kneeling to frame a room using the LCD. I also purchased a three axis bubble level for $15. to put on the hot shoe, this helps manage the verticals.

  2. Re: YN560's being optically triggered...

    I must be doing something wrong, but I have a couple of YN560s myself, and I have no problem getting them to optically trigger, its just when they fire, its extremely low flash power, like 1/16th. If I hook up radio triggers, I can put them in full manual mode and go as high or low as I want. I tried to do some research on this issue months ago when I first got them but never could come across anything addressing it. Is this typical, or am I just not properly configuring and setting these up? If I could save the bag space by leaving the triggers and spare batteries for them out, I'd be very inclined to do so 🙂

  3. @Roy - Thanks for catching that... I fixed it.

    @Charlotte - Yes, I'm using mine with a 5D-MkII. For Canon you get the RF-603 triggers, put the transmitter in the hot-shoe and it will trigger a 560-III directly. For Nikon you get the RF-602 trigger and do the same thing.

    @Billy - I've not experienced that... ask that question in the PFRE flickr group and see if anyone has an answer there are many people there that use YN-560s.

  4. And of course you also need a camera bag. But overal the total cost is still below $1300, which is still cheap.
    I am looking at the moment at the 70D too. Body alone $1199.

  5. There is far more "required" equipment out there than one can imagine, but what I always tell people that are beginners, the key is using what ever you decide to buy. No camera is going to solve everything for you, and absolutely none will if you buy it and put it in the closet and don't use it. The key here is to find something that you are comfortable with, meets minimum requirements, and you actually use it. You'd be surprised at how much flexibility there is with equipment, if you learn to use what you have and do it well. Left on a shelf, there is no equipment, no matter how sophisticated or expensive, that will accomplish anything more than bragging rights, but certainly not results.

  6. @Billy - I just tested the ability of my YN560s to fire at all power levels when optically triggered. Mine will fire at full and lower power settings when I set them to S1 mode. Make sure you have the slaves set to S1 mode.

  7. I just love the MANFROTTO 222 JOYSTICK BALL HEAD. So easy and quick to frame your shots. Also, I'd recommend Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X over the Sigma.

  8. You just saved me a lot of time by providing this list. I trusted your advice about the camera and the wide angle lens I bought and I have been very pleased. I have no reason not to trust your judgement. My next purchase is the flash. Thank you!

  9. @Chad - I totally agree, I too use a ball head the Manfrotto 468MGRC2 and also have the 486RC2 and 496RC2. The 486RC2 is better than the newer 496 by the way so try to find one of those used. I eyeball every shot before I take it and this style of tripod head is by far the quickest way of doing it. I have used a geared head before and sold it because it was way too cumbersome to use. Most shots need to be straightened post anyways so getting it close by eye is the quickest in MHO. My 468 is a dream to use and by far the best that I've had although probably not very budget conscious at $279.00 but the 496 is much cheaper at $89 new. I also agree on your lens choice as I had both before upgrading to full frame equipment and the Tokina was a noticeable improvement in every aspect.

  10. The use of cheap tripods for light stands works really well. I can often pick them up for $10-$15. I learned about that trick from Scott Hargis. The biggest upside is that you can fold the tripod legs much tighter than a standard light stand to set up on a narrow counter or to get the stand tucked in out of frame. It's not the most stable platform when the legs are tight in, but as long as you move about carefully, it's not a problem.

  11. I'm looking to purchase be the D5300 by Nikon once it comes out. Which wide angle lens and flash would you recommend? Also, do I need any additional item besides a tripod? I'm using it for real estate photos.

  12. @Carmella- It's unlikely that the D5300 doesn't will anything in these recommendations. The existing Nikon version of the Sigma 10-20 will fit on the D5300 and the RF-602 works on all Nikon bodies.

  13. @Mel - I have used many Ultra wides over the past 20 years and if you're on a budget I would highly recommend the new Tokina 11-16 II F2.8 Lens. The "II" version now has auto focus motor built in and will work on the cheapest Nikon Cameras.

    See a review here by Ken Rockwell. This guy really puts gear through the tests to prove what they are capable of. Of course we all have our favorites but I personally noticed a huge difference with the Tokina over the Sigma, sorry to disagree Larry.

    Review Link.

  14. Matt I used the Tokina 11-16 for several years before selling and buying the Tokina 12-24... mainly for the extra reach on the long end which can compress scenes, and to provide more flexibility with the front exterior shot.

  15. @Matt- Yes, you are right the Tokina 11-16 is a good alternative. If you notice at the poll shows the Tokina 11-16 is the 3rd most popular lens used by PFRE readers after the Sigma... probably because it costs about $100+ more than the Sigma.

    @Harold - Thanks for pointing that out... great find! I'm going to get one of these and check it out!

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