Taking Very High Quality Photographs

Suggestions from an Experienced Pole Photographer!

You depend on your equipment, so take these precautions.

DSLRs are different from pocket cameras. They are designed to take very high quality photographs, and to do that, they have substantial sensors, electronics, and detachable lenses. This results in three major differences:

WeightThe sensors, electronics, and lenses make the camera a lot heavier, ranging from 2 to 5 pounds, or more, compared to 1/2 pound or less for a pocket camera. The weight of a lens can be as much or as more as the camera back.
SizeThe camera bodies are larger, and a lens can be 5 or more inches long (more if a telephoto lens).
CostWhile a pocket camera may be only a few hundred dollars, a DSLR can be thousands.

The increased weight at the end of a pole makes handling of the pole more difficult due to the sheer physics. The value of the camera means that you might want insurance, and you certainly should put protective measures in place. The size and weight of the camera means that the protective measures need to be super-sized.

Stout Pole - We recommend the use of an exceptionally strong pole like our new five section, super strong pole that goes to 18 feet. It is made of fiberglass on the bottom section, but then very strong hex aluminum tubing. Yes, you can use an off the shelf painter's pole for $40 with your DSLR; we have done it hundreds of times. However, a really strong pole is like buying an insurance policy against a mishap. If the pole does not flex, then you will feel more secure and your camera will be safer. The 5-18 foot Pixie Pole is short enough that you can lower (or raise) the pole while in a vertical position, an put it in the back seat of your car, and this is very helpful. The cost is somewhat higher. For example, a 5-18 ft Pixie Pole costs about $140, where you can buy a 8-23 ft Mr. LongArm painter's pole for about $40. Both will work, but if you are shooting your elevated photography with a $5,000 camera rig, then the extra $100 spent on the pole is not so bad. You don't have to buy a stout pole to get started, but if you do not like the flex in your pole, you might consider moving up. Click here to go our Ordering page; the Pixie Pole is the last item on the page.

Resting Plate - We STRONGLY recommend that you use some sort of padded resting plate. When bringing down the camera, you will want some rough landing protection. Plus, you want to make sure that your camera and lens doesn't get scratched up on concrete or touch the dirt or wet ground. If you don't buy a resting plate from us, then you should make your own. There are many different types of designs (and we went through some of them before settling on our final design), but the important characteristics is that it needs both rigidity as well as shock absorbtion. Our design was intended to have some shock absorption, good rigidity so that it acts as a good resting plate, a solid approach for attaching it to the pole, and thin profile so that the wind doesn't blow the pole around once it is in the air.

Anchor weights - We STRONGLY recommend the use of anchor weights on the bottom end of your pole. These weights should exceed the total weight of your camera, lens, remote trigger, etc. We use exercise wrist belt weights (see images).

Step 1.
Tuck one end of the wrist belt underneath the other as you prepare to wrap it around the pole.

Painter Pole Safety Belt - Attaching to the Pole
Step 2.
After wrapping the weight belt around, thread the velcro strap through the loop.

Painter Pole Safety Weight Belt - Making it secure
Step 3.
Wrap the velcro around and finally secure it snugly to the strap.

Painter Pole Safety Weight Belt - Adding weight for security.

As you can see, the ones that we use have a velcro strap that you can tighten, and the weight MUST be tight around the bottom of the pole. Place the weight above the rubber end of the pole so that the end cap will keep the weights from sliding down the pole if properly tightened. If your weights don't want to stay on your pole, then get different weights. The reason why a counterweight is so important is that it will make raising and lowering your pole much, much easier to control. In general, the heavier the weight, the easier it will be, and we use 5 pounds or more counterweight for a fully loaded 5 pound camera rig. We don't usually use more than 10 pounds is because of the hassle associated with hauling extra weight from the car to the photo site. Here is the box of the 5 pound weights that we purchased for less than $20:

Remote Trigger - We STRONGLY recommend that you use either an intervalometer (a timed trigger that will continuously shoot the camera) or, even better, a remote radio trigger. We use a radio trigger for our Canon 5D. We did not buy the expensive Canon trigger, but experience with these has taught us not to buy the cheapest radio triggers. Reason: It is very frustrating if you push the button and the camera doesn't fire and you have equipment hassles on location during a shoot. A good trigger will avoid a LOT of frustration. If you are shopping for one, you can find many selections at Adorama.com or other online camera stores by searching on "wireless shutter release." TECH TIP: Carry a spare battery for the receiver that fires the camera. The transmitter battery will often last for years, but the receiver uses a larger battery. By using an intervalometer or a remote trigger, you won't be putting the pole up and down a lot, and you want to avoid that as that is the most risky work.

Insurance - If you have a camera worth thousands of dollars, then insure it before you put it up on a pole. The cost is usually 1-2% of the total cost of the equipment. Insurance is not a substitute for careful handling, but you will be able to operate your camera with confidence knowing that if an accident does occur, then you can replace the equipment.

Remote Viewing - If you are using any of the newer cameras, you will likely have video out as an option (or Live View, as it is called by Canon). If you can have live output, then you might want to consider running a video cable down the pole and plugging it into a battery-powered TV set. This will allow you to see what images you are taking as they are occurring. We spent less than $100 for a battery powered TV with a Video-in feed, cables, and connectors. To attach our TV to our pole, we simply put commercial velcro on our little panel TV and on our pole, and then we just smack the TV up to the pole, attach the cables, and we're ready to go. In the photo the equipment is as follows: 1) Viore battery powered TV with video in port; 2) Dual RCA to 8mm jack (only one channel used); 3) 12 length of RCA audio cable; a second 12 foot length with female-female RCA conector for connecting the two lengths is available for going high. 4) Female-female connector for connecting the RCA jack to the Canon-supplied video out cable; and 5) the Canon-supplied video out cable for outputting live video feed (note that only the yellow video output is utilized).

Apart from using an anchor weight and a resting plate, you should review the safety page on this web site. If you are new to pole photography, we STRONGLY recommend that you use a dummy weight (we recommend a bag of rice) that is rubber-banded to the top of the pole. Practice lifting and lowering the pole a few times at the maximum height of the pole so you get a feel for how your pole handles. Do NOT assume that all poles are the same. Fiberglass poles have some bend where aluminum poles are quite rigid. (Note: Aluminum poles won't give much warning before they break, and we have watched aluminum pool poles break like matchsticks with a heavy weight on the end.)

Do NOT rush. If you take things slowly, you will think through every decision like where to raise the pole, where to lower it, where you are going to stand, etc. If you rush and miss something, you may regret the speed. Once you have experience, things will go pretty quickly, and we often get perfect photos within 15 minutes - 5 minutes to setup, 5 minutes to shoot, and 5 minutes to disassemble.