2014 Camera Guide: Get the Right Gear

If you want to have the best materials for shooting quality listing photos, know what you can and can’t go cheap on.

July 30, 2014

The Lens: When investing in new camera equipment, the lens is the most important component, says real estate photographer Noah Hayes. If you want to save money, an APS-C sensor DSLR would be sufficient, such as the Nikon D5200, which retails for around $600. (Nikon’s term for this sensor size is DX.) But Hayes cautions not to skimp on the lens. “A high-quality wide-angle lens will help make the room look as big as it is and gives the potential buyer a better idea of the layout of the room and the home,” Hayes says. He estimates a quality lens will cost between $600 and $1,800, depending on how wide and how sharp it is. Nikon’s 10–24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S DX Nikkor lens retails for about $900, for example.

If you’re shooting with a camera that has a full-frame 35mm sensor (FX sensor in a Nikon), the base focal length is longer than an APS-C sensor; thus, a lens like Nikon’s 18–35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S FX Nikkor at $750 would be more than sufficient. Most modern DSLR cameras have great low-light performance, Hayes says, but a high-quality lens also impacts how good your photos are in low-light settings. (Here’s a great explanation about the difference between DX and FX sensor cameras.)

The Tripod: Hayes also highly recommends using a tripod, especially since many interior spaces require a longer exposure to let more light into the camera. A lightweight carbon fiber or aluminum tripod (three to four pounds) with a quick release plate would work well for a real estate professional on the go. Make sure the tripod is at least 60 inches tall, ideally with a ball head so it swivels 360 degrees. Manfroto, Vanguard, and Promaster are all great brands. The Magnus VT-400 Aluminum Tripod System, for example, retails for $130.

The Flash: A mountable or wireless control flash is just as important as the tripod. That’s how appealing photographs get that smooth, evenly lit tone. The built-in flash creates a harsh direct light with dark shadows, Hayes says. Compact, lightweight, mountable flashes start around $150.

The Memory Card: When it comes to your memory card, opt for a class 10 for speed, especially if you’re shooting 1080p HD video. The SanDisk Ultra 64GB SDXC Class 10/UHS-1 Memory Card retails for about $38.

The Bags: Camera gear is a significant investment, and you’ll want to protect it with a padded shoulder bag. Lowepro and Tamrac both carry a plethora of bags and cases in various shapes and sizes. The Tamrac 5502 Explorer 2 Camera Bag, for example, fits a camera body, lenses, flash, and accessories for about $40. Don’t forget a tripod bag, too. The Vanguard PRO Bag 80 fits tripods with a folded length less than 30 1/8 inches for $27.

The Mic: If you’re using your DSLR to shoot video, a microphone will make all the difference. Australia-based Rode produces a quality shotgun/directional microphone for $99. For on-camera client testimonials, you might consider investing in lapel/lavalier microphones or a handheld mic. The Azden WMS-PRO VHF Wireless Lavalier Handheld Mic System includes one lavalier and one handheld microphone for $147.

The Software: If your photos need a few tweaks after the shoot, Hayes recommends Adobe Lightroom editing software. It’s one of the most popular apps photographers use today to tweak color, cropping, and more. Various plans are available starting at $9.99 per month.

In total, you can expect to invest upwards of $2,000 for quality DSLR photography gear for your business. That number can vary more or less depending on your goals.

Pro Pointers

Once you’re outfitted with the appropriate camera gear, it’s time to put some lessons from the pros to use.

If a home has attractive landscaping, you want to highlight that in your listing photos. Try to include as much as possible in the wide shot of the home without letting objects like trees block important elements of the home, such as the front doorway or garage, Hayes says. If you’re photographing a townhome, be sure to frame your exterior shot so that at least part of the neighbors’ space shows on either side to put the property into perspective.

To show off a backyard, Hayes suggests taking a photo from the deck or home looking out, as well as another photo looking back at the house from the end of the yard to give an idea of space available.

Make sure the sun is your friend when photographing a listing. “Any photographer will tell you the most attractive light of the day is the hour after sunrise or the hour before sunset,” said Hayes. “This is commonly referred to as the ‘golden hour,’ and you’ll notice a warmer color to the light and you’ll see long and interesting shadows, which make the image pop out more.”

The worst time of day to photograph: solar noon, when the sun is directly overhead. “For much the same reason as you shouldn’t use the on-camera flash, the photos will look flat and boring in most cases,” Hayes says.

Lastly, when you’re in the midst of shooting a listing, don’t go overboard by taking hundreds of photos. Think about how much time it will take to go through them all. Instead, slow down and carefully think about what will make the best view or angle of a room, Hayes says. Careful framing will actually save you time in the end.