Getting Started in Real Estate Photography: Beginner's Gear List
If you are new to real estate photography, or new to photography in general with a goal of getting into real estate photography, then you may be wondering if you have the gear you need. I have compiled a list of basics that I think every real estate photographer needs in their bag. I not only believe this is the starting point for the gear you need, but in practice, I don’t bring anything else besides this when I’m on a real estate shoot.
Here’s a short list of what you absolutely need:
Wide angle zoom lens
Wireless flash trigger (to get the flash off your camera, and fire it remotely)
A backpack or shoulder bag to put everything in (except the tripod, of course)
Here are a couple of bonus items you might consider getting after you make a little money and get things going:
Geared tripod head
One or two additional flashes
Let’s jump in…
It really does not matter what camera you use. Any modern digital camera will do, as long as it has Live View, which is the ability to display the image on the back of the camera in real time. Bonus if it is able to show you a live exposure preview in real time as you make adjustments to your settings. This is an indispensable tool in my workflow, which I teach in the tutorial, Mastering Real Estate Photography. If you already own a camera, then don’t worry about it for now. You can upgrade easily when you start making money. But if you are starting from scratch, then definitely make sure the camera you are getting has live exposure preview.
I used to shoot with Nikon DSLR cameras. They are great, but in 2018 I switched to Sony mirrorless cameras and I’m a huge fan. I’m never going back to a DSLR, and if I had to take a guess, I’d say that the DSLR will die in the next handful of years and only mirrorless cameras will be available.
So if you’re buying a camera right now to get started, I would recommend looking at Sony mirrorless cameras. Any Sony in the A6000-series will be great (A6000, A6300, A6400, A6500, etc). The resolution and image quality is very good, and much more than you need for real estate photography. The tech in these cameras is top notch, and you will not likely have any missing features. That’s a cropped sensor camera in the APS-C format. It is not a full frame camera. As such, you need to apply a 1.5x crop factor to the lens focal length. More on that below, in the lens section.
You need a wide angle zoom lens. If you are shooting a full frame camera, that would be something in the ballpark of 16-35mm. That’s a common focal range for a wide angle zoom, and covers 100% of your needs for a real estate listing. All camera and lens manufacturers offer a lens in that focal range.
If you are shooting with a cropped sensor APS-C camera, then you will need a lens with a focal range of around 10-20mm. If you multiply a crop factor of 1.5x to the focal range of 10-20, you are effectively getting the same field of view as 15-30mm on a full frame camera. You can use a full frame lens on a cropped sensor camera, but when shooting interiors you will not have the wide angle of view that you would get with a wider cropped-sensor lens. Again, if you apply the 1.5x crop factor to a full frame lens, your 16-35mm would effectively be 24-52.5mm. While I recommend to shoot at 24mm or longer whenever possible, the reality is that you’re going to need to make the occasional shot at around 20mm, and that’s where the full frame lens will be problematic. Full frame lenses also tend to be more expensive, so it’s not the best choice for multiple reasons if you’re shooting on an APS-C cropped sensor camera.
Depending on the brand of camera you are using, the compatible lenses may vary in focal length slightly, but will be in the ballpark. For example, Canon makes a 10-18 and a 10-22, Nikon makes a 10-20 and a 10-24, Sony makes a 10-18. Third party manufacturers such as Tokina, Sigma, and Tamron also vary slightly. But they are all in the ballpark. Pick one that fits your camera, and do not worry about the aperture of the lens. You do not need an f/2.8 or f/4 lens for real estate photography, so the more expensive options with wider apertures do not offer any benefit.
A note on used equipment:
Cameras and lenses purchased used, especially from a reputable sources such as Adorama and B&H, can be a really great option. Good customer service, and a very generous return policy really help lower your guard when buying used gear, and I have personally felt the peace of mind buying used through those sources. I also buy from eBay when the listing has a good return policy, a thorough description, and lots of pictures. I’ve had good luck after doing the leg work and asking the questions.
Fun fact: I have never owned a brand new camera or a brand new lens. I buy used and let someone else take the hit on the depreciation. As a bonus, as I have upgraded gear over the years, I have a pretty good track record for selling my gear for the same amount I purchased it for, or very close to it. Not bad!
I like to use speedlights. They are small, powerful, compact, and portable. They can also be pretty inexpensive, so it’s easy to get two or three of them, even on a budget. Having multiple, smaller lights gives you a lot of flexibility, especially when you are compositing a shot that has another room visible in the background which needs its own light. A more powerful light might have the juice to reach that far room, but it can’t bend the light around corners, so having multiple lights is really hard to beat in my opinion.
It’s true that a more powerful light has a clear benefit when lighting larger spaces, or when you are wrestling with harsh, direct sunlight coming in a window. But again, the flexibility of multiple smaller strobes allows you to simply double them up, literally doubling its power. In this case, two 100w lights are literally equal to one 200w light.
I use the Yongnuo YN560-iv. It’s a great value for the price, it’s inexpensive, and in my experience, quite durable, and feature-rich. It has a built-in radio receiver that talks remotely with the matching transmitter/trigger on your camera, with no extra parts dangling off the flash.
Because they are cheap, I’m not worried about dropping and breaking one (it happens!), and the price makes is possible to get two or three of them. I carry three in my bag. In most homes I photograph, there are 2-3 photos that require using two speedlights. I rarely use the third, but I have it just in case, even just as a spare if another one breaks. I own 6 of them.
The best way to use your flash is to get it off your camera and fire it remotely. This allows you great flexibility in where you point your flash as opposed to having it fixed to your camera’s hotshoe. It’s important that the trigger or transmitter is a matching brand to the lights you are using. I use the Yongnuo RF-603ii. Note, it’s only available for Nikon and Canon, but either will work with a Sony camera, so you don’t need to be concerned with that. I use the Nikon version on my Sony cameras, because I previously owned Nikon cameras and I purchased this trigger back then. Works perfectly with my Sony.
With the matching lights and trigger, just make sure they are set to the same radio channel, and you’re good to go.
There are zillions of tripods out there, and as long as it is not a cheap, plastic $30 tripod from Target, almost any tripod will do. It’s hard to make any one recommendation, and prices are all over the map. In my observation, Benro tripods seem to be a very good value with reasonable prices and good build quality. I have not personally owned on of their tripods, but know many people who do and I have heard positive feedback.
Within your budget, I have a couple of recommendation for specs.
A tripod that goes up to your eye level, or higher. This does tend to rule out many travel tripods. But if you already own a travel tripod, just use it! It will work.
A tripod that has an adjustable center column, to make fast and easy changes to your camera height without having to adjust the three legs.
I prefer 4-section tripods over 3-section tripods. The reason is, 4-section tripods have shorter sections than a 3-section tripod. In many cases, you can just extend one of the 4 sections fully, and that will put the camera height in a sweet spot to be able to shoot just about the entire interior of a home without having to fiddle with the legs. Using the tripod’s adjustable center column, you can fine tune the camera height as needed very quickly from one shot to the next. Efficiency!
A geared tripod head is a game changer. They start at around $200, though, so they are not cheap. To start with, if your budget does not allow for a geared head, I recommend you either save the money, or put it into an additional one or two speedlights as I mentioned above.
But when you can - and I mean as soon as you can - invest in a geared head. It makes life so much easier when shooting real estate. I recommend the Benro geared head. It is a very good value, and it is Arca Swiss compatible out of the box, which means you can use an L-Bracket with it. L-Brackets allow you to put your camera in portrait orientation quickly and easily to get those vertical compositions. You don’t need an L-Bracket, but just like getting the geared head, and L-bracket is also a nice convenience that makes your job easier. Universal ones start at around $30-40, and you can get a custom fit L-bracket that is made specifically to fit the contours of your particular camera model.
If you want to see the exact gear that I use for real estate photography, I wrote about that here: My Gear Bag: Equipment I Use for Real Estate Photography.