Real estate photography is big business! It offers the working photographer a fantastic way to make money and also increases market visibility for the photographer’s other services. Seriously, make a Realtor happy with your work and you will get referrals.
Real estate and other architectural photography present their own unique set of challenges, even for experienced photographers.
In this article, I cover the Best 5 Tripods for Architectural and Real Estate Photography, plus some of the issues in regards to technique and equipment.
5 Best Tripods For Architectural & Real Estate Photography In 2023
1. Manfrotto MK290XTA3-3WUS 290 Xtra Aluminum Tripod (Editors Pick)
Weight: 5 lbs
Collapsed Height: 24″
Extended Height: 58″
Maximum Load: 8 lbs
The Manfrotto MK290XTA3-3WUS 290 is my number one choice for this list because of its versatility and affordable price tag. Manfrotto is a high-quality manufacturer of fine photographic tripods, camera stands, and other accessories.
I have been using their products for many years and have always been pleased with them and this tripod is no exception.
Manfrotto tripods can be purchased in various combinations of legs and heads, or the legs and heads can be acquired separately.
Furthermore, the legs of this tripod are metal (aluminum), so the tripod itself has a considerable weight compared to carbon fiber legs, around 5 lbs with the head attached.
In the circumstances for which realty and architectural photographers would use it, the weight can be a point in its favor.
The included carrying case makes transport comfortable, so while the weight is noticeable, I didn’t find it to be a great concern.
The legs are adjustable to four different angles, allowing versatility of setup, especially for exteriors on uneven or sloping ground.
At its smallest height while shooting it compacts down to 24 inches and a maximum height of 58″ not including the head.
The legs of this Manfrotto MK290XTA3-3WUS 290 lock securely adjustable locking levers. Some force was needed to unlock the levers at times which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In some other tripods, the levers become loose over time, but I can’t see that happening with this model.
When it came to the three-way head on this kit, it was a joy to use when shooting on site. The handles fold for easy transport and have a comfortable rubber grip for easy tracking and setting up of the shot.
However, I did notice some jerkiness when moving between shots with this head. Personally, this wasn’t a big deal for me but if you plan on doing a lot of film work, it is worth noting.
Overall this tripod was a joy to use for both real estate and architectural photography. I have used tripods from all price brackets and this Manfrotto MK290XTA3-3WUS 290 stacks up to some of the best. Highly recommended!
2. Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head
Weight: 3 lbs
Maximum Load: 11 lbs
Next, I tested two different tripod legs with the Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head attached. The head alone costs as much as many full tripod legs and headsets.
For some users, the geared movements are vital, and this head is still far less pricey than some other geared heads I’ve tried.
What situations would require using a geared head?
The first one that leaps to mind is panoramic photography. For real estate photography, panoramas have become an intrinsic element of tour packages. Panoramas can be a post production nightmare if you don’t get a good set of original images.
How does a geared 3 way head help?
It enables the photographer to precisely position the panoramic camera rig.
Here’s how I do it:
I set up the tripod to what looks pretty level and get the height adjusted. Then I use the micro-movements of the geared head to fine-tune to a camera position that is perfectly level. Only then do I capture the images.
The Manfrotto 410 head has a completely smooth geared movement. The knobs are easy to grip and move readily.
Moving the head can also be done with rapid large movements to “rough-in” the camera position, as opposed to slowly gearing through a large movement. There is also a bubble level to minimize the post-production process.
Using the calibration marks on all three axes of movement was extremely useful for precise movement.
However, I wished that the pan marks were on the outside of the mounting plate. It would’ve been easier to see with my larger rigs blocking the inside view. Still, a great tool.
This is a go to piece of kit for any professional seeking the highest amount of control and functionality.
3. Manfrotto MKBFRC4-BH Befree Carbon Fiber Tripod
Weight: 3 lbs
Collapsed Height: 15.7″
Extended Height: 56.9″
Maximum Load: 9 lbs
Since the head itself is almost 3 pounds, I combined it with a couple of carbon fiber tripod legs to keep the weight down. The Manfrotto MKBFRC4-BH Befree Carbon Fiber Tripod with Ball Head showed up at my door first.
The ball head that came with this tripod is perfect for most uses, but I wanted the geared head on it for the realty and architectural photography I was doing these tests for.
The ball head comes off by loosening the set screws from under the tripod mounting plate and then simply unscrewing the head from the 3/8 inch mount.
Then, reverse the procedure and tighten the set screws and we’re good to go with a new head and leg combo.
This lightweight tripod has a maximum extension of around 56 inches, with the geared head adding a little bit more.
So, it’s just in my usable range for real estate and architectural photography.
To be honest, I wanted a bit more heft and stability for my pano rig, but I was happy with this combo for the ultra-wide-angle lenses and any long exposures.
The leg’s angle positions are quickly adjusted with a unique and easy-to-manage control that seems pretty well suited to active photographers.
Additionally, the legs lock with levers that are adjustable for wear and tear. Besides architectural use, this carbon fiber tripod is a versatile tool for many different uses.
With the 410 geared head, this combo is one of the best tripods for realty and architectural photography.
4. Sirui T-025X 52″ Carbon Fiber Tripod
Weight: 3.4 lbs
Collapsed Height: 20″
Extended Height: 58″
Maximum Load: 9 lbs
Next, I mounted the geared head to the Sirui T-025X 52″ Carbon Fiber Tripod.
This tripod came to my door with the C-10X ball head, a very fine head for most photography, but I replaced it with the Manfrotto 410 geared three way head for this test.
This tripod’s full extension falls just a little short of my height wants, but it is still completely usable for real estate and architectural photography.
These legs are extremely lightweight, which is a good thing, but it also makes the setup a little top-heavy when fully extended and with a large heavy rig mounted.
The round carbon fiber legs are released or tightened with twisting sleeves and are very secure for most photographic uses.
Using this Siri and the 410 geared head was a solid combo that allowed me to shoot with extreme precision in many circumstances.
However, I was mainly using this setup for the internal shooting of kitchens, rooms, and baths. All round a good setup.
5. Manfrotto MKCOMPACTACN-BK Compact Action Tripod
Weight: 2.5 lbs
Collapsed Height: 18″
Extended Height: 53″
Maximum Load: 4 lbs
Next, I tested a smaller tripod with a little different use in mind. The Manfrotto MKCOMPACTACN-BK Compact Action Tripod is one of the best tripods for realty and architectural photography from a Realtor’s point of view.
Why did I look at this from the point of view of someone other than a professional photographer? Because sometimes a listing may have to be done on the fly, very quickly. If we’re in that position, we still want the best results possible.
This compact and very lightweight tripod coupled with an iPhone mount becomes the perfect tool for getting good results out of a rushed realty job.
This tripod extends to a very usable height of about 62 inches and has a great trigger action head. You can also learn more about Manfrotto tripods here.
Additionally, this tripod would also be great for a smaller DSLR or ILC for shooting video of the realty or architectural subject matter.
Even with its limitations, I would consider this tripod a fine addition to my list of the best tripods for realty and architectural photography.
Why a Tripod is needed for architectural and real estate photography
If you read my blog regularly, you know I’m not a gear head. In other words, I’m not into equipment merely for the sake of having more stuff.
Sometimes, a particular piece of equipment, a photographic tool, will end up giving me better results in a particular situation.
There are certain tools I find are virtually indispensable, depending on what I’m trying to accomplish.
Tripods find their way into my lists often. Because they are extremely useful and allow me to get top tier results. Especially is that true in architectural and real estate photography.
Certain procedures and methods, while not completely dependent on tripod use, are better and more easily accomplished with the aid of a tripod.
What situations in real estate and architectural photography necessitate a tripod?
- Panoramas. Whether a full 360 degrees or just stitching together two images, trying to make a professional-looking pano without a tripod is an exercise in futility. To make an excellent pano, the camera and lens need to pivot on the lens nodal point, and that means having a nodal mount attached to a quality tripod.
- Extreme wide-angle lenses. While there isn’t a great need because of camera shake, using extremely wide lenses adds a need to be careful with being level. The ultra-wide-angle of view exaggerates anything off level. Sure, that can easily be fixed in post, but getting it level for the original exposure is the better way.
- HDR photography. The most basic form of true HDR (as opposed to simulated HDR), involves at least two images of different exposures. Most HDR programs do better with 3 to 5 exposures. One company I shoot for specifies 9 exposures for its own in-house proprietary software. For proper registration of the multiple images, a tripod is a vital tool.
- Natural light and twilight. Whether morning or evening twilight, exposure times are longer than in full daylight. Same with interior images in natural light. Since we’re often using smaller apertures for greater depth of focus, our exposure times increase. All of those situations are best handled with a tripod.
- Ghosting out people or automotive traffic. Many stitching programs used for either panoramic or HDR photography include a mode that enables a photographer to remove, or ghost out, crowds of people or vehicles (provided that the traffic is moving). End results can be amazing images of crowded, popular sites without a bunch of tourists mucking up the view.
How we found the Best tripods for architectural and real estate photography
The specific needs of real estate and architectural photography necessitate a distinct set of features. How did I chose what tripods to include in my list of best tripods for architectural and real estate photography? I looked at a variety of essential features:
- Stability. Since many of the situations unique to real estate and architectural imaging are related to keeping multiple exposures registered, having a stable platform is one of the most important features I examined.
- Height. A natural eye-level point of view is appealing in this avenue of photography. Some of the companies I provide images for have height requirements. A lens height in the range of 56 to 66 inches looks genuine and correct.
- Precise adjustments and movements. An exceptional 3-way head makes a great difference in ease of setup. I like 3-way heads that are smoothly adjusted. Geared workings are nice, too, but can add a considerable expense. For certain uses, I think it’s worth it to spend extra if one has the need.
- Ruggedness. Similar to any essential tool in any field, a tripod that gets used a lot needs to be able to stand up to possible rough use.
Realty and architectural photography is a bit of a specialized field, but it’s accessible to any experienced photographer. Using the right tools will end up with great results.
If there is anything you think we have missed, please let me know as I will be happy to update this article in the future. To learn more, you can also check out this good guide here on how to capture great shots.