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The Bare Essentials to Get Started in Real Estate Photography

In: 
Published: 30/04/2008
By: larry

I've talked to and met a number of people recently that are just getting started in real estate photography. Many of their questions center around what equipment and software do you need to get started. Here is my current recommendation assuming that you want to spend as little as possible:

  • Body: Canon XT or Nikon D40 - about $450 - Don't get the 18-55mm kit lens unless you are going to use it for something other than real estate photography.
  • Wide-angle lens: Sigma 10-20mm ultra wide lens - $479 - If you are getting a Canon body and can afford it go for the Canon 10-22mm lens - it's a gem but its closer to $700. If you are getting Nikon body go for the Nikon 12-24mm if you can afford around $900.
  • Flash: Canon 580 EXII or Nikon SB-800 - Get the same brand as your body.
  • Photo-editor: Adobe Lightroom - $299
  • Straighting Vertical and correcting barrel distortion: Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0 - $79 at Costco.

When you have extra budget spend it on the glass because that's something you will keep for a long time and in real estate photography the wide-angle lens is the most important piece of equipment you own.For flashes I recommend getting the top of the line (most power) and the same brand as the body you buy because this will be the flash you use on-camera and you will have the option to use in either manual or automatic mode. As you purchase more than the first flash purchase SB-26,  SB-80s since they have optical triggers.For photo-editing Lightroom is far and away the easiest to use and best choice but you will need something in addition to Lightroom to straighten verticals and remove barrel distortion. There are others but PSE 6.0 is a very good choice.Unless you spring for the more expensive glass I recommend above, all of this adds up to around $1650 whether you purchase Canon or Nikon. I think this list is a rock bottom that you will need to get into real estate photography. Don't try to do it with a point an shoot camera. $1650 is a pretty small equipment investment to get started in a business.

54 comments on “The Bare Essentials to Get Started in Real Estate Photography”

  1. Excellent suggestion/post! That is exactly how I started. I bought a Canon Rebel XT and I found a very little used 10-22mm Canon Zoom on the Recycler.com for only $600. I later moved up to the new Canon 40D. The only thing I would add to your list is a good tripod. I purchased a Bogen Manfrotto and a Manfrotto head for around $300. I guess you could start with a cheaper unit, but in the long run, I found that it is great to have a very good sturdy tripod that I can count on in every situation.

    Cheers!
    Gar

  2. Reasonable suggestions - but your list is not complete!

    How about a Tripod? A decent tripod and head as already noted will set you back around the $300 mark. Now, A tripod should (ideally) be at least 6' tall - so you can get the camera 1/2 way between the floor and ceiling.
    What about a remote shutter release? (both wired and IR) - If you need to shoot from the corner of a room, once the tripod is setup you will lose quite a bit if you have to get behind the camera for the shot.

    So, the Basic kit is closer to $2000.

  3. The reason I didn't include a tripod is that if you are using flash you don't need one. Flash sync speeds are 1/60 to 1/250 so a tripod is not essential. I think the freedom you get from not using a tripod gives pays off in the speed and ease of composing. No tripod means you have to take extra care in keeping verticals vertical but it's not difficult.

    If you are going to shoot HDR then forget the flash and get a tripod instead.

  4. I second that a tripod is essential. Although I agree that when shooting at 1/60th or 1/250th a tripod isn't as important, I find that when shooting at ISO 100 I still need to shoot at 1/15th sometimes to balance the flash and ambient light.

    Also, an inexpensive way to make a hot shoe flash infinitely more flexible is buy purchasing an off shoe cord (about $70). However, unless you have an extra arm the tripod is very handy for holding the camera while you direct the flash.

    Finally, there are some cases where a flash can't help you but you still need to hold the shutter - for instance outside shots at dusk.

  5. @Eric - thanks for the correction.

    @Joe - No reason to shoot at ISO 100. It's better to use ISO 400 which has the effect of giving your flash more power. Look at the work of http://www.Scotthargis.com/new and http://www.tgrubbaphoto.com. They both shoot ISO 400 for interiors. The results speak for themselves.

    I'm not saying you never need a tripod... I just don't believe that is must be on a bare essentials list. I agree, it's probably the first thing you want beyond the bare essentials.

  6. well, if we're getting technical here, iso400 won't give *any* flash unit more power. 🙂

    flash units will simply have to do less work when a camera is more sensitive to light.

  7. Larry,
    I agree with you about the tripod. I started out using one, but enjoy the freedom of making quick changes in composition allowed w/o the tripod. I also shoot at iso 400 for interiors with multiple flash units triggered by Pocket Wizards.
    Larry G

  8. I love my Manfrotto Monopod with retractable legs. It offers you the flexibility of handholding your camera, but it gives you added stability for shooting scenarios that require slower shutter speeds.

    But, other than the tripod/monopod, I think that your list is right on the money. You can easily start with these options, and end up with really incredible results.

  9. If you like to use the "slow sync" feature on your flash, then you have to have a tripod. It seems like you get a lot more natural lighting with the "slow sync" although it has a tendency to blow out light fixtures.

  10. What about the new Canon Xsi? I know the Xti was not a hit but some of the new features seem worth waiting for. Especially the larger LCD monitor, live view, and the fact that it takes SD cards. Thoughts?

  11. Seems that LR isn't essential if you have PSE. At least I hope, as I'm about to get started here with only PSE5.

  12. @Sara - Absolutely, the XSi is a big improvement. I think it cost a little more but I think the new features are worth it. I used the XT just for cost reasons.

    @Jake - If I had to choose between LR and PSE I'd take LR. It saves massive amounts of time. You can surely get by with just PSE but from a business point of view where time is money I consider LR essential and PSE non-essential-- if you don't have PSE you need PTlens ($15) or something like it with LR to remove distortion.

  13. @Karen - a 18mm focal length on a small sensor DSLR is equivalent to a 1.6x18=28.8mm for Canon and a 1.5x18=27 mm for Nikon. This is just not wide enough to shoot interiors. This effect is a result of the sensor on low-end DSLRs being smaller than a 35mm frame. This effect doesn't happen on a "Full-frame" body like a Nikon D3 or Canon 1Ds MKIII. On full frame bodies 18 mm is really 18mm. See my description at:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kL4NCIZQjo

    for more details.

  14. I also use the Tokina 12-24mm on a 30D - effectively makes this a 19 to 38. The Canon 10-22 does make quite a difference in what you can capture - even over the 12-24 on the same camera.

    The Canon 5D will also give you a 1 to 1 on the lens used as it is also a full frame sensor.

  15. Another option for lenses is the Promaster 11-18mm Wide Angle lens, as it is made by Tamron. The retail is about $579 or so, and works well for interiors. For Tripods, I found that the Promaster Pro2 series tripod is a real super buy. I think it is made by Bogen, it's super sturdy construction, and costs only $100 w/out the head. Promaster is just a re-branding company, and doesn't really manufacture any of their products to my knowledge, but you can get some pretty descent stuff to get you started with that brand.

  16. Any tips. Im a Real Estate Agent and just bought the EXi a month ago. I havnt purchased a wide angle lens or a flash yet. But trying to get by for a few months before I buy the wide angle lens. When I take the pictures (beginer in auto mode for now) the lens only pops up when it is darker inside the home and gives me a good picture. But when light is coming in it wont pop up and I get a dark picture. Will buying a flash (cannon 580 EXII) change this? Can I get around it with the built in flash? Any ideas or recommendations would help. Thanks.

  17. @Brett - the built-in flash on your XTi has very little power and is not good for shooting interiors. Built-in flashes are intended for close people snap shots. It's best to find the option (check your manual) that turns it off so it won't pop-up. The 580 EXII has much more power and is suited for interiors. I'm going to do a post later today describing lighting options for people starting out shooting interior.

  18. Larry, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for this timely blog article. I only discovered RE photography a few months ago. For a number of reasons, I have not actually made any real steps into this business, but it is definitely on my list.

    In the meantime, one of the main questions I had rumbling around in my head was about what equipment (beyond whatever talent I might possess) I minimally had to have if I was to find any success.

    And then you came out with this wonderful article. I now know what I still need to purchase, so I have that as a solid goal.

    Thank you, again.

  19. Bret, I just read your post above, about the pop-up flash on your XTi. Yes, you can make it flash as there is a button on the front of the camera that forces the flash to fire when you shoot. However, if the camera's metering doesn't "see" any need for the flash to fire, then it is likely that the results of forcing the flash will not be good.

    Besides, as Larry has already pointed out, this flash is limited in power and usefulness, not to mention range.

  20. I’m interested in opinions why “Lightroom is far and away the easiest to use and best choice”. For example, what essential (basic) photo editing does it do easier than Adobe Photo Elements? Since we need Elements for fixing verticals and distortion, spending hundreds more for easier doesn’t sound right. Elements 6.0 has a new “Full”, “Quick” and “Guided” user interface. Isn’t that easy enough?

  21. @Mike - Excellent question. This is a good subject for a complete post and screen capture video. But the short answer is that Lightroom was designed from the ground up for photography and to simplify photographic workflow. Where as, the design of Photoshop and PSE (PSE is of coarse a downsized copy of PS) evolved over years for use by graphics designers. Only in the last few years have PS and PSE been heavily used by Photographers. Bottom line is Lightroom has a fast and easy interface. You can see for yourself by trying it out for 30 days for free... http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/ .

    BTW, I'm not getting paid by Adobe:) Philip Meadows (the Certified Photoshop Trainer we had at the Seattle workshop) did a demo of Lightroom to folks that had not seen it before and there were a lot of jaws that dropped.

  22. Hi guys, I'm interested in your opinions on the Canon Flash system. The 580EX II was recommended above.. I have a 430EX, I realise the benefit of more power, however my question is relating to the slave flashes... can you get away with using cheaper ones or should you stick to the same model as the on camera? What are the cheaper alternatives for the canon variety ( or can you use Nikon as slaves with canon master ?)

    I'm running a Canon40D with BG-E2N battery grip, 430EX with lambency diffuser, 10-22 EF-S, Phottix shutter release, Velbon video tripod, WhiBal whitebalance card. I haven't started commercially yet but I'm gearing up, am leaning towards HDR.

    I'll quickly give my take on Lightroom. Totally understand the concerns on price, but the key word here is workflow. If you have outstanding workflow features, you will save time - therefore letting you either shoot more or work less, which I understand to be a better way to make a buck.

    Oh love this forum by the way, it's been incredibly useful.

  23. @Josh - "...can you get away with using cheaper ones or should you stick to the same model as the on camera?" If you are using the Canon E-TTL method to control flashes Only the 580EX can be the master, 430EX etc can be slaves. If you are using manual (recommended method) then 430EX will do fine on camera and then use Nikon SB26 or SB-80 or Vivitar 285s as optical slaves setting their power manually. Scott Hargis recommends the SB-80 as a slave because it has built-in optical slave, can be manually set to many power settings... not so with many others. More 430EX's could be slaves but you'd have to add optic triggers.

  24. If you are interested in beautiful colours, and a wide dynamic range, then you could also look at the Fujifilm S3 or S5 cameras. Both of course work with Nikon glass

  25. I really do think that a Tripod is essential - regardless of the use of a flash.

    2 minutes to set up a tripod correctly will eliminate most of your Post Processing of an image. If you set the tripod to be 1/2 way between the floor and ceiling and also get it level, then the only PP you will need to correct is barrel distortion. Doing it right in-camera can save you hours of time later in front of the computer later on.

    Sure, a flash will give you useable handheld speeds, but it will not keep your camera level like a tripod will.

  26. Hi Guys
    I'm a real estate agent who loves to do his own shots and have learned alot from you pro's. Have not moved to DSLR yet as have been using Sony with raynox dcr-fe180pro and raynox dcr-cf185pro. Love the raynox fisheye for VT (only need 3 shots)
    Because of the learning curve between cameras was wondering if Sony Alpha could be a choice for me and which of the wide angle lens mentioned would work with this camera. Am not specific on which alpha just want a good match if possible. Or am I wasting my time and should move to Nikon or Canon. (Will still keep my existing setup for VT only)
    Any advice would be really helpful, I just want a good match. Price at this time is not important.
    Thanks

  27. @Michael - If you purchased a Sony Alpha you could not use any of the lenses on the list. With a Sony you can only use Sony lenses. The only Sony lens that would be appropriate for real estate would be the SAL 11-18mm f4.5. If you purchased a Alpha you would minimize your future choices in lenses and upgrading bodies in the future.

    I don't believe there is any thing compelling enough about the Sony Alpha over the Canon XTi or Nikon D40 that warrants locking yourself into the Sony closed system that requires you only by Sony lenses.

    I stand by my recommendations in this post.

  28. Hi Larry
    Thanks for taking the time to reply. I had no idea that Alpha was not compatible with the best lens. Hence my problem.
    As I will be going from ground up and agree that the camera should be built around the lens. If you were going were going from scratch which system would you recommend?
    I like the reviews of the canon 10-22mm lens, but which would be the best canon body to go with it. Nikon also looks good. My main worry is, after picking lens which camera body is best compatible.
    As I am new to DSLR, I don’t want to pick the right lens with the wrong camera. I would appreciate your personal recommendations.
    Thanks
    Mike

  29. Hi Sabrina - There doesn't appear to be a problem with the wide-angle lens. But it's not clear to me how the flash hot shoe works.

    One of my points with this post is now days for RE photography (Realtor or REP) I think you need a DSLR and a wide-angle lens and a high powered external flash. There seems to be for or five point-and-shoot cameras like this every week and most of them are week in the area of either wide-angle lens and flash triggering or both. It's really hard to tell what quality they are. That's why I recommend that for RE shooting people use the equipment I listed in this post.

  30. Any Mac users out there that have compared the use of Lightroom and Aperature 2.0 for real estate photography editing? I am not sure which one to get.

  31. Also wondering which Bogen Manfrotto tripod and Manfrotto head would be good? Gar, you mentioned you got a system for about $300. There are so many model numbers... Which one would you recommend?

  32. @Tracy - I'm a Mac user too and I've used both Lightroom and Aperture although I used Aperture 2.0 evaluation just to see how it compares to Lightroom.

    Many features of Aperture are similar to Lightroom. There are two issue with Aperture that to me are big negatives:

    1-Aperture is very weak in the area of being able to create online slideshow quickly and easily. The online slideshow feature of Lightroom can easily be considered a major money making feature for real estate photographers.

    2-Aperture has a history of being very slow a getting updates so it works with new cameras. I'd don't know if Apple has done anything to fix this problem in 2.0 but in the past it has been a serious problem.

    For these reasons I recommend Lightroom to real estate photographers and Realtors.

  33. Another very good lens to consider:
    The brand new Tokina 11-16mm f2.8
    Critiques are really good for this lens and the price is even better, around 575$

  34. Michael Gillon:
    Do you usually buy a set of wheels/tires first and THEN get a car and hope it would be a good match? Probably not.

    Choose your camera body FIRST. THEN get a good lens.

  35. I agree with Alex, you actually buy a system once you get into DSLR cameras, so choose wisely. To me there are only two sensible systems, Nikon (and or with Fuji camera's) or Canon. Once you have your system chosen, then come the lenses, the flash systems and other accessories - filters, batteries, cables, and so on. A busy photographer could be shooting 50,000 photos a year so reliability is paramount as is the ability to get gear serviced quickly if necessary. Another consideration, do you have access to back up gear if needed.

  36. Larry:

    Did I miss one of your posts? I've been looking for your interior lighting recomendations (from a May 1 post). I have a 40d with a 430ex and have been expirimenting bouncing flash around. It seems that I could use at least one more flash unit. Do you have a recomended setup?? Have you used a 580ex master with a 430ex slave? Any problems with the infared signal?

    Thanks for your great forum!

  37. @Brian,
    My last lighting post was:
    http://photographyforrealestate.net/2008/05/01/beginners-guide-to-lighting-choices-for-real-estate-photographers/

    Yes, you can use a 430Ex as a slave but the problem is that Canon infra-red system is meant for studio situations... in real estate most find that the infra-red system is too easily blocked and the off camera flashes don't fire reliably.

    There are to setups that work better:

    1. Cactus triggers: see: http://www.gadgetinfinity.com/product.php?productid=16766 these are radio frequency and work through walls and around corners. The downside for these is they are plastic and fragile.. have some spares. They are also cheap.
    2. The simplest triggering system for multiple flashes is optical triggering. If you find some used Nikon SB-26 or SB-80 or new Nikon SB-800 they have optical triggers built in... optical triggering is simple and reliable.

    Note that both of these techniques assume you use flashes in manual mode.

  38. Larry:
    Love the site and recommendations! Truly wonderful!
    I think the recommendations for Nikon/Canon as gospel should be reconsidered. I am a Canon glass guy who has been given (for shame!) a new Sony DSLR. Sony glass is Minolta glass and I've recently been enlightened to the reality that the Sony A100, A200, A350 and A700 and soon A900(?) along with the full complement of Sony/Minolta Lenses (along with Sigma, Tamron, Tokina and of course Carl Zeiss) give you a ridiculous variety of glass for whatever you want to do. You should, perhaps rethink your position here.

    Once again, great and informative site.

  39. Sean- perhaps you are right. Several weeks ago when I was building my lens page I noticed that Sigma, Tamron etc made lenses for Sony. I've also promised to expand the lens recommendation table to include Pentax, Olympus... I should add Sony as well. It's on my list.

  40. I find that Gimp is a more powerful editing program than Photoshop Elements. It does however have a steeper learning curve. Worth looking at for the budget minded....

  41. Larry,

    Thank for the input! I am a Realtor, I have been thinking about getting a DSLR to improve my photo quality. You have give me very good guideline.

    This is a great website and I learn lot from it.

  42. I have a Fuji Finepix S5200 and I love it. I know that it says Canon, but with the market the way it is I can't afford to buy one. Anyway I can make my Fuji work for the moment. Here's my problem I purchased a wide angle lens---Opteka from ebay. Well my flash gets in the way of the lens so I have a semicircle of dark at the bottom of my pictures. So I was told to buy an external flash. I did that but the semicircle is still there because my camera has to flash for the external to flash. I'm a realtor. I'm not trying to be cheap, I might would hire a professional if we had any in my area---but the closest are in Nashville which is 4 hrs. away. I am closer to Memphis. But no matter what I would LOVE to learn how to take good pictures myself. I want to learn. Any advice on how to fix my problem? Could a more expensive wide angle lens work better. I just googled wide angle lenses for my camera and the Opteka come up. I'm not a pro by any means so I don't know anything. Please help!!

  43. Hi Candice,
    As I understand your problem, you are using the built-in flash on your camera to optically trigger your external flash and the built-in flash causes a shadow because your wide-angle lens makes the shadow.

    In the past, I've encountered exactly the same problem with the Nikon CoolPix 4300 so I understand the issue. I've done some searching on the net and from what I've been able to find the S5200 has no way built-in to trigger other flashs except optically (like you've tried). If the S5200 had a hot shoe or sync cord jack (which I don't believe it does) you could use Cactus radio triggers (http://www.gadgetinfinity.com/product.php?productid=16766) to trigger your external flash.

    Here is another alternative that would eliminate flashes all together. Use HDR (High Dynamic Range) where you shoot 3 shots(underexposed shot by 2 stops, correctly exposed shot, overexposed shot by 2 stops) from a tripod, then afterwards you combine the three shots with software like Photomatix (http://hdrsoft.com/).

    For more information on HDR see the following posts that I've done on my blog:

    http://photographyforrealestate.net/category/hdr/

    Since your current camera will not sync other flashes other than optically, I don't see any other alternative.

    hope this helps.

  44. For HDR, you need the exact same framing, so for stability, I :

    - Use a cheap and strong tripod : Velbon CX540 for 70 US dollars
    - pre-lift the mirror (lift the mirror 0.4 seconds before taking the shot to eliminate any vribration),
    - because I haven't found any remote control from the shops around me (south of France), I use the 10 seconds delay.

    I do not use any flash. Maybe if one day I can find a wide-angle diffuser for a SB800, i will use one.

    I found home owners and realtors to like it when you ask for the best time of the day for the best light available in the house. Looks professional.

  45. I just stumbled on this site and have been looking through the various nuggets of information -- thanks for maintaining this resource! As a Sony Alpha user, though, I do want to correct your earlier statement regarding Sony's system, which I will grant that in 2008 was more limited than today. However, every manufacturer has a "closed system" because they all have specific mounts -- critisizing Sony seems a tad misguided to me. Sony's lens lineup is increasing every year, and their glass runs the gamut from mediocre to world-class, just like the other manufacturers.

    Sony's Alpha series utilizes Sony, Minolta, Konica-Minolta, Sigma, and Tamron lenses designed for the Alpha or the Minolta Maxxum. Sony's ultrawide is the 11-18mm, both Sony and Tamron versions (and older Minolta), but there are also the Sigma 10-20mm, the Sigma 12-24mm, and the Tamron 10-24mm for the Alpha. If one is using a full frame camera like the A900 or the recent A850, the KM 17-35 or the Sony Carl Zeiss 16-35 are options along with several others from Sigma and Tamron. Further, the Carl Zeiss lens is at the very least a match for anything in Canon's or Nikon's lineups.

    One significant advantage of the Alpha system, inherited from Minolta, is the ability to use the onboard flash as a flash controller for wireless use of Sony or Minolta flashguns, with even the lowliest of bodies from Sony. With the purchase of one flashgun, you have the ability to do wireless flash. If you want to use an external flashgun as a controller (or have the full frame cameras without onboard flash), you can get the HVL-F58AM which can do ratio control of the latest flashguns.

    I don't work for Sony, incidentally! Just don't discount them as amateur or professional photography tools.

  46. Hi guys, I just wanted to have your feedback on Olympus E-410, I bought this camera years ago, now need to use it for interiors shooting. May you indicate optimal parameters as I haven't been happy with outcomes till now. Thanks for any advices. Mike

  47. Sounds like a great camera. I am in the market for a new one and the reviews I find on here are really helping.

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