Real Estate Photography Equipment Guide | Cameras, Lenses, Accessories, & Editing Software
This is the third article in our series about real estate photography; how to shoot the photos, process them, and how to be successful in business.
In this article, we will go over all of the equipment you’ll need to achieve professional results, including cameras, lenses, tripods, flash, and other accessories. Of equal importance, indeed, we will discuss the editing software required for professional real estate photography.
The good news is, you just don’t need a lot of expensive gear! Real estate photography isn’t a fast-action sport or another highly demanding genre, therefore, the equipment is rather straightforward. Even a modest budget can get you started and deliver professional results.
Similarly, you don’t need to master complicated processing techniques, although a basic understanding of exposure, raw processing, bracketing, and layer masking will be helpful in many situations. We’ll cover the final post-production in a future article.
First and foremost, focus on practicing your craft. Focus on creativity, and working efficiently, and of course, making sure your customers are happy. Get to know each piece of equipment, so that there are no surprises or frustrations whenever you’re with a client.
A big thank you to HDRsoft, creators of Photomatix, for sponsoring this education and helping our community of photographers.
The Right Tripod for Real Estate Photography
A good, sturdy tripod will make it easy to capture sharp, clean images inside dimly lit rooms, where your shutter speeds are often measured in seconds.
Whenever photographers ask for tripod recommendations, they usually ask which tripod is cheap, lightweight, and portable, most likely to be used for travel and casual landscape photography.
However, for real estate photography, a flimsy, lightweight tripod is not the best idea! Your camera’s support system is going to be your companion for many of the jobs you do. Therefore, the absolute best tripod for real estate and architectural photography is a big, tall, sturdy one.
Furthermore, having a solid, heavy tripod will really help to keep your images framed perfectly from one shot to the next, which will minimize your need for using alignment functions in post-production, whenever you need to create an HDR or other composite images.
Here’s the good news: big and heavy tripods can still be affordable! Name brands such as Manfrotto and Slik offer decades of experience making dependable quality tripods, at a relatively affordable price. Our top recommendations are the Manfrotto 190X series or 055X series, or the Slik 500DX or 700DX series. These tripods can all be found for around $100-200 new, or even less if you shop used.
Of course, if you travel a lot, or walk very far with your gear a lot, then it might be helpful to have a lightweight travel tripod, too. There are numerous options in the $200-300 range that weigh just ~2 lbs; one favorite being the Slik Lite series. (Either way, just avoid cheap/generic brands!)
Tripod Heads: Ballhead Versus 3-Way Head
Many tripods do come with both legs and a head, however it is also not uncommon to buy them separately.
If you do get a ball head separately, the question becomes, what type should you buy? Ball heads can be quick to set up at first, however, precision is difficult. A 3-way leveling head, or even a geared head, offers the highest precision, and is actually faster to achieve perfection once you get familiar with it.
Unfortunately, high-tech geared heads are a bit more pricey, whereas ordinary ballheads abound in all price ranges, and are often included together with legs. At the high end, a geared head such as an Arca Swiss C1 Cube, D-4 Monoball, or L60 Leveler are precision professional tools. As an affordable alternative, a Slik Leveling Unit, or any tripod with a leveling center column, can be a good way to quicken the pace of your workflow.
If you happen to buy tripod legs without a head, there are plenty of ordinary ballheads on the market, from name brands such as Slik, Manfrotto, Gitzo, and Really Right Stuff, to affordable alternatives such as Oben and Benro.
The Best Lens for Real Estate & Architectural Photography
While having a solid foundation to shoot from is essential, having the right focal length lens is equally important. Real estate photography involves shooting a range of subjects, from vast exteriors to cramped interiors, therefore, one job could require medium, ultra-wide, and telephoto focal lengths.
Exteriors of a home or commercial property are often easy to photograph with a normal (mid-range) zoom such as a 24-70mm f/2.8 or 24-105mm f/4. On APS-C crop sensors, the common mid-range zoom lenses are 18-55mm or 16-50mm.
However, for interiors or anything where space is tight, you’ll likely need a lens that goes even wider. On full-frame, the two most common focal ranges are 14-24mm and 16-35mm, or on an APS-C crop sensor, 10-20mm and 10-24mm are common.
Here is the good news: the lens’ aperture doesn’t need to be very fast, because you’ll be shooting with your aperture stopped down to f/8 or so for depth of field almost anyways. Therefore, affordable ultra-wide lenses such as f/4 zooms or even variable aperture zooms are great choices, saving you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Similarly, both name-brand and third-party lenses are great, especially when stopped down just one or two stops.
The ultimate “exotic” ultra-wide lenses for real estate interiors are currently the Canon 11-24mm f/4 L, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Sony 12-24mm f/4 GM, and Sigma 12-24mm f/4 Art.
On the affordable end, there are plenty of ultra-wide lenses that are almost as good as the exotic options, when their aperture is stopped down: Consider a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, or the Tamron 15-30mm f/2 VC, Irix 11mm, Laowa 12mm f/2.8, …or a 16-35 mm f/4 from any brand. One of the most affordable full-frame ultra-wide lenses for DSLR shooters is the Tokina 17-35mm f/4. 17mm may not sound like it is that much wider than 24mm, however it can make a huge difference when photographing indoors!
Great crop-sensor lenses include any of Tokina’s DX lenses that go as wide as 11mm or 12mm, or other lenses that get to 10mm even. (Canon, Nikon, and Sony all make multiple options which are extremely affordable; Nikon’s 10-20mm AF-P is just $250 when it’s on sale!)
Tilt-Shift Lenses for Real Estate Photography
(Note how all vertical lines in the image are actually vertical)
Any ultra-wide lens will get the job done, but there are also specialty lenses which are made primarily for architecture and real estate work: tilt-shift lenses. The question is, do you need one?
(Un-corrected, vertical lines may appear to “slant” even though they should not)
A tilt-shift lens is an incredibly useful tool that allows you to shoot images of buildings/rooms and have all the vertical lines (walls, doors, pillars, etc) stay vertical, instead of “leaning” up or down whenever you angle your camera up or down.
The most common architectural tilt-shift lens is usually a 24mm focal length; Canon, Nikon and Rokinon all make a 24mm tilt-shift lens. Canon also makes a 17mm TSE, and Nikon makes a 19mm PCE, and both also make mid-range and telephoto lenses if your job has a particular need.
So, how badly do you need a tilt-shift lens? The honest truth is that it’s not critical. There are ways to work around the problem of your vertical lines leaning. You can of course try to correct this in Photoshop or Lightroom, however, you can also achieve a similar result in-camera by shooting the image perfectly level at an extremely wide focal length, and then in post-production just crop the final composition.
If your lens goes as wide as 11mm, 12mm, or 14mm, (on full-frame) then you can heavily crop your images and get roughly the same perspective as a ~24mm tilt-shift lens. If your camera has 30-50 megapixels, and especially if your client is only doing low-resolution online listings or small printed ads, then you’ll have plenty of image resolution left after a severe crop.
In short, getting a tilt-shift lens is mostly a matter of in-the-field convenience and perfection, and although it’s a fantastic tool, in our opinion it’s not truly necessary unless you’re shooting a lot of very high-end work. (Consider it a reward that you treat yourself to once you’ve achieved much success in business, and not a tool that you absolutely need for your very first job.)
The Right Camera Body For Real Estate Photography
We’re going to be totally honest here- as far as camera bodies are concerned, you just don’t need an “exotic” camera body. Why? Because real estate photography doesn’t require features like extremely high frames-per-second, (FPS) or advanced subject tracking autofocus. Your main priorities are simple: a camera that provides great image quality from its raw files, plus good bracketing features and a flash hotshoe.
Thankfully, even beginner cameras these days have great image quality at their lower ISOs, as well as basic bracketing features and of course a flash hotshoe. Higher-end, professional cameras do offer more resolution, greater dynamic range, and more advanced bracketing functions, of course, but using proper shooting technique (and the right lens) will be the most important factor when it comes to the final image. Also, many wireless camera control apps offer remote control for exposure and image preview.
In fact, you should probably pick your camera based on the other types of photography you do, such as portraits, action sports, or landscape photography.
Crop-Sensor Versus Full-Frame Cameras for Real Estate Photography
In many genres of photography, owning a full-frame camera and lenses can offer significant, game-changing advantages.
However, with real estate photography, we’ve already made the shooting method very clear: you’re going to be using a tripod a lot, and shooting at a relatively low ISO such as 100-400 whenever possible. You’re also going to want everything in focus, instead of having a blurry background or foreground.
Because of these shooting conditions, an APS-C or even Micro Four Thirds camera system will adequately get the job done, as long as you have the right focal length for the job, and practice correct technique. So, nail your exposures and bracket for more dynamic range whenever necessary!
Whatever sensor format you choose, the important thing is the lenses! Be sure to pick a camera body that has enough wide-angle lens options for real estate photography, and are within your budget.
Wireless Flash for Real Estate Photography
This piece of equipment may be the most intimidating for a photographer who has not photographed portraits or similar subjects, but it is still quite simple! When working with flash in real estate photography, the professional results that you can achieve are worth it, specifically when using wireless flash off-camera to either bounce off a ceiling or directly illuminate subjects in a room with a diffuser such as an umbrella.
Our basic, beginner recommendation is both affordable and simple to use: one or two Yongnuo 560III or 560IV hotshoe flashes, and a Yongnuo 560TX radio transmitter/controller. It’s an all-manual flash system that lets you wirelessly control the power (brightness) of the light output. This flash isn’t built very tough, but it still makes a great starter flash for the money. if you ever upgrade to something else, it can stay in your bag as an emergency backup. Paid professionals should always have a backup!
If you do also shoot things like portraits or weddings, then of course you might want to consider a hotshoe flash that offers features such as HSS and TTL. In this realm, there are both name-brand wireless flashes, and more affordable models from Yongnuo and others.
Our medium budget recommendation is still relatively affordable: A Godox AD-series flash, such as the AD200, AD400, or AD600. Each of these offers a lot more flash power in a single flash, without breaking the bank. The AD200 is a more portable sized strobe, almost the size of a hotshoe flash, while the AD400 and AD600 are true strobe flashes which offer even more power.
Our high-end recommendation is, of course, the best in the business: Profoto strobes offer extreme reliability and durability, and significantly more power than any hotshoe flashes. They’re pricey, but they will absolutely last far longer, and will be far more reliable, whether you get one of the more affordable models such as the Profoto B2, or the cadillac of strobes, the Profoto B1.
Other lighting equipment you may need: a light stand, either heavy-duty or lightweight, is really helpful, especially if you ever work alone. You may also want a simple Shoot-Through Umbrella for illuminating a room or specific subjects with soft, diffused light.
Is Wireless Flash Too Complicated For a Real Estate Job?
Bounced flash is the easiest way to begin adding illumination to a room
(The flash is pointed at an area behind the camera that is not in the image)
If you’re afraid of even trying wireless flash, the easiest thing to do is to just dive in and play with it! With manual power (brightness) flash, it’s as easy as setting your camera’s exposure: just start shooting, and if the flash is too dark, or too bright, dial the flash power up or down and see how the lighting improves.
The hardest part is simply getting to know the interface of the flash itself, but this is one of those times when the only thing to do is get out the user manual and go through it.
Keep in mind that if you go down the path of using wireless flash in your photos, it will add time to both shooting and post-production. Some jobs are super quick, with only a few minutes to shoot, and require rapid turnaround time.
Often times, you may discover that you can perfectly illuminate the room with a single light, but there is a window or mirror which betrays the flash’s presence and brightness. Or, you may realize that you need to illuminate two or more different parts of a room separately. Sometimes, you may even have to stand in the photo in order to perfectly illuminate something.
So, what many photographers do is capture multiple photos with the various parts of the image lit perfectly, and then layer them all together in Photoshop. Using layer masks, you can “erase” any flashes, light stands, bright reflections, or people from the final image.
However if you’re not careful, you can wind up spending an hour or more on a single image! So, try and keep the use of wireless flash and composite frames as minimal and simple as possible.
Wireless Image Review & Camera Control Tools For Shooting Remotely
If you’re shooting from a tripod and walking around a room to trigger a flash or change the ambient light, (getting images with lights switched on and off) it can be extremely frustrating to have to walk back and forth to your camera repeatedly for just one final image. It can also be rather frustrating if your lens isn’t wide enough, and you realize that to get the shot you need to put your camera right up against a wall, or even in a corner where you simply can’t see the viewfinder or rear LCD at all. (Unless you have a fully articulated LCD!)
What some real estate photographers do is, use a wireless camera control tool such as a CamRanger, or if the camera has it, the built-in wireless functionality that pairs with an app on your phone. Some apps even allow you to change your exposure or focus wirelessly, in addition to clicking the shutter and reviewing photos. No more walking back and forth across a room five times just to get one photo!
Aerial Real Estate Photography Equipment | Drones & Camera Poles
Drones have become incredibly popular lately, and almost every genre of photography has realized the benefits of being able to put a camera up in the air. Real estate photography is definitely one of those types of photography that can greatly benefit from aerial photo and video.
Thankfully, all of the latest popular drones from brands like DJI, such as the Phantom 4 Pro, Mavic Pro, and Mavic Air, include both raw image capture and auto-bracketing, for epic aerial photos of a property even in tough light, resulting in beautiful images if processed correctly.
The Right Processing Tools for Real Estate Photography
Of course, even if you have a solid tripod, a great camera, and the perfect lens for the job, you still need to know how to edit the images you take, and what tools to work with.
A raw processing program is a must-have for all professional work, and real estate work is no exception. In many scenes, indoors and outdoors, dynamic range can be extremely wide, requiring heavy edits to your shadows and highlights, or bracketing and merging of an HDR image.
You may also need to process HDR images in large batches for certain jobs that require multiple, similar images of a room or property.
Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop can get a lot done with raw files by themselves, as well as a basic interface for bracketing exposures and panoramic stitching, but they’re not always enough, and batch processing is not practical.
HDR software such as Photomatix Pro offers professional control for managing the dynamic range in both single and bracketed images, as well as full batch processing for jobs that require numerous bracketed HDR images.
Real Estate Photography Gear | Recap & Conclusion
- You need a solid tripod. Heavier is a not a bad thing, because any photo shoot could involve slow shutter speeds, and likely bracketing or composite blending.
- Almost any camera will do. Remember, the body is only part of the equation; the right lens is just as important, if not more so!
- The right ultra-wide angle lens for the job. On full-frame: 16-35mm, 14-24mm, or similar ultra-wide lenses are extremely useful. On APS-C crop: 10-20mm, 10-24mm, or similar lenses are great. On Micro Four-Thirds: look for 7-14mm or similar range lens.
- Camera settings: Shoot at a lower ISO such as 100-400, with the aperture stopped down for sharpness and depth. Then, vary your shutter speed to achieve the correct exposure, or if bracketing multiple exposures is required.
- A remote trigger or wireless app is very useful. You can use self-timer too, but the remote operation is really worth it, and sometimes free!
- Use wireless flash for illuminating interiors or exteriors, but only if you like the look it gives compared to bracketing natural light, and if your job schedule allows the extra time for shooting and processing.
- Bracket multiple exposures when necessary to ensure detail in highlights and shadows. Most cameras offer bracketing of 3-7 frames, in 1-2 EV increments.
- Post-processing software: Lightroom, Photoshop, and HDR software offer a seamless workflow for preparing raw files, merging bracketed exposures, or creating composite images in tricky situations.
In our next article, we’ll actually get on-location, shoot some photos, and post-produce them, covering all the important details to ensure great quality, a quick shooting workflow, a rapid turnaround time, and last but likely most importantly, a satisfied client!
Be sure to read our previous articles that give a brief introduction, and help you to get started with the pricing and business side of real estate photography. Also, stay tuned for more tutorials in the future!