Pole Aerial Photography (PAP): An Introduction

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PAP SampleThere are only a handful of reasons why anybody these days would erect a 30′ pole into the sky. It could be that they suffer from nephophobia and they’re merely protecting themselves from perceived danger, or more realistically, they might just be partaking in a process called pole aerial photography or PAP. PAP is the process of using a long, telescopic pole to elevate your camera for the purpose of shooting down on your subject. Listing photos benefit from this angle as it makes for a better view of the yard, surrounding area, and home structure. They also tend to be eye catching as it is a view most of us are not used to seeing on a regular basis. For real estate agents, pole aerial photographs can make your listings stand out in busy, monotonous marketplaces, generating more interest from prospective buyers. As the number of agents who offer this type of service is relatively small, PAP is also a great way to further stand out from the competition.

There are a number of solutions available for those looking to offer PAP as part of their real estate marketing efforts, but nothing that has really monopolized the industry as of yet. In addition, many of the solutions out there are exorbitantly expensive and intricately complicated. However, if money is of no concern to you, than by all means have a browse of some of the current providers of this technology:

HiVue – Aerial Photography Telescopic Mast Base Kit £3995.00 ($5917.43 US)

Photo TowersTelescoping Masts and Tall TripodsStarting at £1580.00 ($2340.31 US)

Survey SupportHiView25 Remote Inspection System £1795.00 ($2657.90 US)

If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer and/or budget-conscious, there are a few ways that you can assemble your own pole aerial photographic system that’s much easier on the pocketbook. I’ve devised a couple of options here as guides, but with a little bit of research and some old-fashioned ingenuity you will likely be able to improve upon my concepts by a fair degree.

OPTION A: EASY ($420 + Camera)

The “easy” system is for those who tend to avoid high-tech gizmos whenever possible, who like to do a little manual labor, and who don’t mind learning by trial and error.

Required hardware:

1) Camera with intervalometer or time-lapse function

2) Telescopic Pole – $390.00 (approx. 30’ length)

3) Flash bracket – $22.95

4) Long thumbscrew (or wing nut), washers, and soft rubber washers

Process:

Drill a hole through the flash bracket handle and through the top end of the telescopic pole. Attach the bracket to the pole using a long thumbscrew, or wing nut so that it can be loosened to adjust the tilted angle. Consider using a couple of washers and a rubber buffer to ensure the bracket attaches more firmly to the pole. Thread the camera onto the flash bracket securely.

Set your camera to the widest angle (i.e. 18mm is roughly 70-80 ° wide), and adjust the tilt accordingly (based on lens type, height of the pole, distance from the object, and size of the object). A little trial and error may be in order for those who wish to avoid the math. Activate the interval shooting mode – the camera will keep taking pictures in succession so feel free to modify your positioning every couple of shots. Elevate the pole to the desired height, and make regular adjustments so you get your framing just right.

Further Tips:

  • The heavier the camera, the more the pole will sway. Wind will also have an effect on the results.
  • You may feel more at ease with a camera that does not cost a lot of money, just in case the pole falls over.
  • Only raise the pole to the height you feel comfortable supporting.
  • A painter’s pole will also work, but may be difficult to find over 16’ in length.
  • You can try and use your camera’s proprietary, wireless remote to activate the shutter if one exists, but most wireless remotes are limited to 16’ so it may not work.

OPTION B: COMPLICATED ($1105.87 + Camera/Lens)

The “complicated” system is for the more advanced photographer who loves gadgets and gizmos. All of my equipment recommends can serve dual purposes, so consider these things as a flexible part of your gear collection. For instance, the motorized tripod head can also be used for video productions; the Pocket Wizards can also be used for off-camera lighting, etc. The package is more expensive, but it gives you way more control.

Required hardware:

1) SLR Camera with Live Preview

2) Wide Angle Lens (18mm or wider)

3) Pocket Wizard Set$184.94

4) Manfrotto Giant Camera Stand$650.00

5) Portable Monitor$165.00

6) Motorized Tripod Head (Wireless) $79.95

7) RCA Video Extension Cable (50’) – $21.99 with Coupler$3.99

Process:

The Manfrotto Giant Tripod can be elevated to 24’ and is secured by three reinforced base legs. Use Pocket Wizards to set of your camera’s shutter via remote; Pocket Wizards use radio transmissions that range up to 1600’ so you won’t need to worry about them not working. The motorized tripod is also wireless but with a range of only 30’ – it should still work fine with the tripod suggested as the range surpasses the 24’ height. A length of RCA video cable will connect you to your camera, and with “live preview” you will be able to keep a close eye on your framing with the portable monitor.

Simply attach the camera to the motorized tripod head, and the tripod head to the tripod. Attach your Pocket Wizard receiver to the camera’s hotshoe, and connect it. Plug in the RCA cable to the video output, while attaching the other end to the monitor’s input. Elevate your camera manually, and use the tripod head remote to adjust your framing. When you have it framed just right, use the Pocket Wizard transmitter to set off the shutter.

Further Tips:

  • If you already own a portable DVD player, you can use it instead of the monitor.
  • You cannot control an SLR camera’s zoom from a distance so you will need to adjust it first (Wider is usually better).
  • Set up on sturdy ground and avoid bad weather.

So if you’re the type that likes a challenge and loves photography, give PAP a try.  Lee Jinks over at Activerain has been tinkering with this technology for a while; you can have a look at some of his innovations here. And again, take my concepts as mere suggestions and feel free to modify in accordance with your needs. I should also mention that Point2 takes no financial or legal responsibility for equipment failures, damages, and/or injuries caused while using the recommended equipment; in other words, “PAP” at your own risk. Take care and have fun!

20 Comments

  • Carey says:

    Awesome post Bryan.

    Not something I’m ready to tackle :-), but this is *great* information.

  • Norm Fisher says:

    Bryan,

    Very cool. You’ve given me a little project to work on and “Option B” looks simple and manageable. I’ve been wanting to try this but most of what I’ve found online involves building or modifying stuff myself. Your solution is one that I could actually manage.

    Thanks.

  • Bryan says:

    Surely if anyone can make it work, it’ll be you Norm – best of luck. Keep me posted if you get a system pieced together. I might just have to invite myself along to one of your shoots and do a follow up post that takes this concept and makes it a reality.

    Take care.

  • Norm Fisher says:

    “Surely if anyone can make it work, it’ll be you…”

    Bryan,

    With your simple instructions I was thinking any idiot with access to a thousand bucks could make it work. 🙂 Thanks again. I appreciate this fairly simple solution and I already have some Pocket Wizards.

    I’m trying to order a stand today and will gather the rest of the goods over the next couple of months. I’m thinking spring would probably be a better time to take on a new outdoor project. I’ll be in touch when I’m ready to try it. You’d certainly be welcome to come along if you’d like.

  • Bryan says:

    It’s a deal. I also like this “Spring” you speak of… sounds nice.

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  • Monday Q&A: How Do You Take Pole Aerial Photos? | Online Real Estate 101 says:

    […] really take a great amount of interest in I recommend reading about more advanced options including adding an LCD tv to your camera so you can see what you’re shooting and vehicle mounted masts to get an even higher […]

  • I’ve bought my self a painting pole 16feet tal and put my D90 with big lens on it … 🙂 the pole took it well 🙂 now I’m looking into a wireles Live View LCD 🙂

  • We now have an adapter that you can attach to any standard painter’s pole to easily convert it to a camera mount. Very reasonable cost. There are before/after photos on the site to give some examples at http://www.PolePixie.com. Cheers. John H.

  • G’day, It is nice to stumble upon a good site like this one. Would you mind if I use some of the info here, and I’ll leave a link back to you?

  • Those are some extraordinary photos, wish mine were that good quality!

  • Bryan says:

    Link away Renaldo! Glad you found some useful tips here. As for you Ailene… practice makes perfect!

  • berkshire wedding photographer says:

    Marvelous! I’m very jealous of those photographs, I wish I could do as well.Those pictures took a lot of aptitude to produce, well done. I’ve bookmarked this site.

  • Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic article post. Fantastic.

  • Paul Jamieson says:

    The real picture is higher than any pole. Not representative of what most can do with a pole, should you decide you can do this.

  • Reappeared» Blog Archive » pole photography says:

    […] Pole Aerial Photography (PAP): An Introduction | Point2 Agent Real … Jan 7, 2009 … There are only a handful of reasons why anybody these days would erect a 30' pole into the sky. […]

  • jeff says:

    Thanks for the article, can you elaborate on the motorized tripod head. What model works best and why?

    Thanks again, jeff

  • Bryan says:

    Hi Jeff, I realize that this post is a couple of years old now and some of the items I recommended are no longer available. If you’re looking for a motorized tripod head I would look at these specs first: size/weight, maximum possible distance between controller and head, mounting mechanism, and tilting/panning mobility.

    One possibility is the Hague Pan/Tilt Power Head: http://is.gd/Xo6I5C with an optional correction plate ( http://is.gd/ZQdJ26 ) if you need more tilt. You’re limited to 20m as the remote mechanism is tethered, but that’s not too bad. Keep me posted on your findings!

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  • Mike says:

    I’ve bought the MagicPole + Camranger from AerialClick.com. It’s a not expensive solution and it’s possible to take photos from 5 meters also with my camera. My camera is a Nikon D3200 and I could say that, despite the wind (it was not a lot but there’s was some wind), the pole was very stable and well fixed on the ground.

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