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Robin, from New Bedford, MA writes:
“When I go through the Flickr group, I see some people shooting exteriors from a low camera height and others who seem to put their camera much higher--like on a pole or something like that. Do you have a suggestion about what is the best camera height for exterior shots?”
Robin, before I answer your question, I want to offer the notion that “best” is often in the eye of the beholder. At the end of the day, I think there's great value in you developing a sense of what YOU like best. Yes, I understand that some of your clients will have their own preferences/opinions that you have to take into account. However, I strongly believe that, if you explore/create your own style and make images that please you first, the odds are that in the long run, you’ll end up attracting clients who also like that style. If you combine this natural connection with some great customer service, then you’ll increase the likelihood that these clients will stay with you, long-term.
Now, getting to your observation; I'll qualify it by saying that a vast majority of the exterior images posted on the PFRE Flickr group are made up “hero” shots (i.e., the single, best exterior shot from all the exteriors submitted to the agent and the one most likely to be shown as the first shot in the listing). If these are the photos you’re referring to in your question Robin, then I’d agree with your observation regarding photographers using very low and very high camera heights for those hero shots. I'll also add that each has its advantages.
For instance, I know that many shooters like to shoot the hero exterior shot from a very low camera height because they think it makes the house feel larger; perhaps even grander. In fact, even many movie directors shoot upward from a low camera height because doing so makes a character in a given scene seem more powerful. Photographers who prefer to shoot the exterior hero shot from a higher vantage point do so because it is a perspective that will likely be unfamiliar to most people. As such, the belief is that a photo taken from a high vantage point is distinctive when compared to those that are captured from a low vantage point or even at a standard eye-level. If you were to twist my arm and ask me for my own preferred approach, I’d choose the latter. In fact, I’ve always brought an extendable ladder to all my shoots to get me that extra height. For my eye, I’ve found that a height of 10-12 feet is a good sweet-spot for creating this distinctive look (presuming the entry door is at ground level). Some shooters in our community prefer to go much higher and end up using a camera-pole or extra-tall tripods that can go as high as 25 feet. These are useful when the house is naturally elevated and the sidewalk/driveway is well-below the level of the entry door. And of course, some prefer images captured with a drone.
Robin, as I noted earlier, my advice to you is to determine what you like best. Perhaps you can experiment on your own house, first. That is, once you select a preferred camera angle, then take a shot of your house from a very low vantage point and then take another with your camera on a pole or while you're standing on a ladder... and then compare the two. I'd guess that you will quickly have a gut-feeling about a preference between the two. If you do use a ladder, then please be very careful and always heed the warnings posted on the ladder; particularly the one(s) regarding the recommended safest of the higher steps for you to be standing on.
What other suggestions would you like to offer Robin?
Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.