When you first began droning, you weren’t thrilled with the quality of your photographs. Sometimes you’d get blurry shots or chopped-off landscapes. With time, you’ve practiced and perfected your technique, and now you’re actually pretty proud of the photos you’re taking. You’re so proud, in fact, that you’ve contemplated making money off your work. How do you do this?
To get your drone photography business off the ground, you need the following:
- A drone with a high-quality camera
- A drone flying license (part 107 remote pilot certificate)
- Drone insurance
- A website and strong social media presence
- A portfolio
In this extensive guide, we will delve into all areas of selling drone photography. This includes the best types of drones for the job, drone insurance, which laws might restrict you, how lucrative drone photography is, and how to find and retain clients. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have all the info you need to decide whether you want to make drone photography your new business venture.
What Do You Need to Start a Drone Photography Business?
You’re chomping at the bit to get started with this new passion project of yours. Before you do, it’s worth it to take the time to ensure you have the right equipment. Skimping on a drone or camera will result in poor-quality work that won’t net you many clients.
Without further ado, then, here’s what you should have to get your business up and running.
A Drone With a High-Quality Camera
First thing’s first. Without a drone, your drone photography business is just photography. As you know, we favor DJI drones here, and for good reason. These are high-quality drones with equally impressive cameras.
For instance, the Mavic 2 Pro comes with a Hasselblad camera that has a 1″ CMOS sensor. You can also change the aperture and record in 10-bit HDR video quality. The Mavic 2 Zoom model lets you get those close shots you’re craving with its Dolly Zoom and 2x Optical Zoom features. When you record, you get lossless FHD quality with 4x Zoom. The photos come out in a jaw-dropping 48 MP super-resolution.
Another DJI pick you might consider for your drone photography business is the Mavic Air in a sleek Arctic White, Flame Red, or Onyx Black. This camera has SmartCapture technology. As a 4K camera, you can take advantage of the 3-Axis Gimbal and the 32-MP sphere panoramas for your most encompassing shots yet.
Even better, the Mavic Air can fly for 21 minutes straight. It folds down so you can bring it with you just about anywhere. Its three-directional environment sensing will aide even beginner photographers eager to capture some awesome landscapes.
The Mavic Air is not quite on the same level as the Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom, but it's no slouch and is a worthy option for someone looking to start a drone photography business on a budget.
If you are serious about getting the best possible equipment, you can't overlook DJI's Inspire series.
The Inspire 2 has a top speed of 58 MPH with a flight time of 27 minutes. Unique to the Inspire series is the option to choose which camera you'd like to mount. This feature alone puts the Inspire miles ahead of the Mavic 2 and Air, but not without a hefty price tag. We recommend that you start with a lower to mid-range drone, and move up to the Inspire when you've acquired some flying skills and are invested in you're drone photography business.
The above drones are four of many that have high-quality cameras built into them. Other drones may include mounts for GoPros or similar cameras if that’s what you prefer.
Drone Flying License (Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate)
If you only ever used your drone recreationally before, then you probably didn’t know drone licenses even existed. After all, for recreational use, there’s no need for such a license. Once you decide to start making money off your drone photography, though, that changes. Going without a license could sink your business before it ever really gets off the ground.
The Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule Part 107 through the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA mandates these rules. The FAA also issues drone piloting licenses. To get one, you must have maintained both your “physical and mental condition.” You must also have a strong grasp of the English language, understanding, speaking, writing, and reading it. Those 16 and older can apply for an FAA license.
Like you had to pass a written driving test to get your driver’s license, you must do the same to obtain an FAA license. There is an aeronautical knowledge test you’ll take. The FAA says it will test you on the following:
- Preflight inspections
- Drone maintenance
- Operating in airports
- Judgment and making decisions when flying your drone
- How alcohol and/or drugs can affect your flying abilities
- How to communicate via radio
- Managing your crew resources
- What to do in an emergency
- How your drone will perform
- Flight restriction rules
- Operating and classifying drones
- Limitations and laws on flying
When you’re ready to take your test, you can click this link via the FAA to find a testing center near you.
Once you pass your knowledge exam, you will be asked to fill out the FAA Form 8710-13. You will also have to go on the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system and register there. Once you do, you’ll soon receive your certificate.
Your certificate lasts for two years. To keep flying your drone after the two years pass, you’ll have to take another test.
Website and Social Media
By this point, you’ve earned your license so you can take drone photographs in a commercial capacity. You think you’re ready to take the next step and make your photography an official career plan.
The first means of doing that is putting the word out. Everything and everyone’s online these days, so you must be, too. You’ll need a website as well as a strong social media presence.
It’s easier than ever to make your own website using free or inexpensive resources. You may pay for the domain name or hosting, but even that might cost you about the same as a monthly Netflix subscription if you opt for a cheaper service. Of course, if you have a bit more money to spend, then you might pay a third party to develop a clean, professional website for you.
While it’s free to sign up to any social media platform out there, promoting yourself often comes with a cost. Facebook Ads, for instance, aren’t free; the same goes for Twitter advertising.
You may start with a small marketing budget at first, but as your company grows, you can pour more cash into this crucial area of business success.
As a photographer, you need a visually rich website as well. Take a look at all the images you’ve saved from your drone. Which ones are best? Maybe they’re not your favorite pictures, but they’re the ones most indicative of your work as a photographer.
Put those on your website and your social media as well. Instagram is a very picture-heavy social media platform that would suit you well. Make sure you keep upgrading your portfolio as you add new images to your collection.
Do You Really Need Drone Insurance?
You may have already spent more money than anticipated buying a drone with a camera and paying to promote yourself. Another expense like drone insurance leaves you weary. Can’t you skip it?
Sure, you could go without drone insurance, but do you really want to? No. What if your drone crashes and gets damaged? What if you hit a building or—goodness forbid—a passerby? You’d hate to have to pay for all these damages out of pocket, right? Yet that’s just what you’d have to do if you forego drone insurance.
Now, we’re not going to pretend it’s cheap to insure your drone, because it isn’t. Each year, expect to pay at least $750 on average. That’s per drone, by the way. If you operate more than one drone, then you should pay to insure each of them.
The types of coverage you can get under your drone insurance plan include:
- Theft and fire protection in the events someone steals your drone or it gets damaged/burnt by fire
- Commercial hull insurance, which could cover the repairs of your drone in an accident or incident
- Commercial liability insurance, which protects you if you cause property damage or injuries from your drone use
More than likely, you can’t use your car or life insurance provider to get drone insurance as well. Instead, you’ll have to find a specialized service that offers the coverage you need. Some options you can look into are the United States Aircraft Insurance Group (USAIG), Aerial Pak (which insures aerial photographers specifically), and Global Aerospace.
What Kinds of Rules and Laws Exist for Droning?
Whether you choose to stick to your current city or you branch out-of-state for your drone photography, you must stay abreast of the rules and laws governing this area of work. Further, be aware that there are separate rules for those who do commercial droning, such as yourself, and recreational hobbyists.
Per drone training resource UAV Coach, the commercial drone usage rules are as follows:
- No taking off on any vehicle in motion in most instances; only when you’re “in a sparely populated area” can you consider doing this (we suggest you stay on the safe side and refrain altogether).
- Keep your drone away from people’s heads.
- If manned aircraft pass, let them have the right of way.
- You cannot exceed 100 miles per hour.
- You should not fly your drone at dawn or after civil twilight. Daylight hours are best.
- Never exceed 400 feet in height.
- If you cannot see your own drone, then you’ve flown it too far.
- Only use Class G airspace for flying your drone.
- No drones that exceed 55 pounds (with payload) are allowed.
- You cannot fly a drone commercially without having first obtained a license to do so.
Also, just to ensure you stay in compliance anytime you fly your drone, here are the recreational rules:
- Stay away from emergency responders so as not to get in their way.
- If you plan on flying your drone near an airport, such as five miles away, you have to get in touch with air traffic control and the closest airport to let them know.
- When other aircraft enter the sky, you must move your drone away.
- Again, don’t use a drone that’s more than 55 pounds. The only exception is that some community-based organizations allow for heavier drones, such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
- You have to stay within the zones set by the AMA or other community-based organizations.
- You must be able to see your drone when flying it at all times.
- You still have to register your drone on the FAADroneZone website even though you don’t have a license.
- You cannot use your drone to make any kind of money.
What Experience Do You Need to Become a Drone Photographer?
With the laws and rules out of the way, let’s talk about experience, shall we? What kind must you possess to succeed as a drone photographer?
Well, it depends. The more you know about photography, then often the more skills you have behind the camera. This, in turn, allows you to take more masterful shots that would interest clients. That’s not to say those without a formal education couldn’t be as skilled, thus why we said it depends.
If you have at least a bachelor’s degree in photography or a similar subject, then you should find it much easier to get started in your drone photography business. There’s often no need to obtain a master’s degree, but you should have more than an associate’s.
Remember, you can always get a degree online while you work your current non-drone job. In the meantime, you can continue drone photography as a hobby. You could even start now with this career path commercially, study up, and then further your skills as you go. You have plenty of options.
How Much Money Will You Make?
The biggest question that’s probably spinning around in your head is what your income will look like if you seriously pursue drone photography. After all, making any career jump can be a scary move, especially if you’re entering what, for you, amounts to unchartered territory. You want to make sure you’ll still have money to keep a roof over your head and put food on the table for yourself and your family.
According to college scholarship resource RaiseMe, the hourly rates for drone photographers start at $16.38. That’s a yearly salary of $34,070.
MarketWatch, in an article from August 2018, notes how some drone photographers can make $200,000 a year.
Now, wait a moment. That’s quite a price discrepancy. Why the huge gap? Many factors can determine how much money you’ll make as a photographer of any kind. With drone photography in particular, where you live or travel to matters. Does anyone want to see a picture of a little local park? Probably not. If you can visit beaches, mountains, forests, and other awe-inspiring places freely, then that will get your pictures attention.
Your clientele can also shift your income up or down. The more paying customers you have, the more money that goes into your pocket. How much you charge them also matters. You can request payment in several ways, such as:
- Pricing based on the quality of drone you use and the equipment you use
- Whether you do videos and the length and quality of the video
- How many images you offer in a package and their resolution
- Whether you do editing services yourself
- Pricing based on how long it takes you to finish the project (by days or weeks)
- Hourly pricing
Droning pro Vic Moss spoke to MarketWatch and said it’s possible to bring in a weekly pay of up to $600 by doing part-time drone flying for a real estate company. If you can get with a big real estate agent, Moss says you could increase that daily rate to $3,500.
As a drone photographer, you’re essentially a freelancer. Like any freelancer, your income will rarely be exactly the same month for month. Some seasons, such as spring and summer, will be much busier. Others, like winter, may lead to quieter times with less money rolling in.
To keep things realistic, the man quoted as making $200k a year in the MarketWatch article, Andrew Dean, says he actually lost money during his first year as a drone photographer. He then brought up his income to $30,000 in year two, inline with the quote from RaiseMe. Then he increased his income to $80,000 by the next year.
Your story may or may not be the same. Few freelancers have identical experiences. We recommend saving up at least six months’ worth of income, maybe more, before becoming a drone photographer. This way, if you don’t bring in the mass profits you hoped for in your first year, you don’t end up ruining yourself financially.
What’s the Long-Term Career Forecast for Drone Photography?
Besides money, another area you must consider before you change careers is the viability of that job field. With the world of technology changing rapidly, some jobs that exist today might not in the next couple of years. Will that be the case with drone photography?
Drones are newer tech that certainly aren’t going anywhere. The field of photography should stick around as well. However, RaiseMe says to expect an eight percent drop in employment prospects in drone photography between 2016 and 2026.
It’s not just drone photography, either. The Bureau of Labor Statistics through the United States Department of Labor notes how photography prospects will decrease six percent in that same period, 2016 through 2026. That should lead to 8,300 fewer jobs available to aspiring photographers.
Whether that information turns you away from this career prospect or not, it’s data you should know nevertheless as you make your decision.
What Software Should You Use for Your Job?
Software and tools allow you to take your drone-captured images to greater heights. Make sure you have the following in your arsenal so you can please your customers and drum up new business as well.
You may take some jaw-droppingly good pictures, but that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily sell or advertise them as-is. With photo-editing software, you can change anything and everything about your images. Perhaps you adjust the color, contrast, brightness, sharpness, or you add effects.
Photoshop is among the most popular piece of photo-editing software, but countless others exist. We do recommend paying for a good program rather than getting a cheap or free one. Those tools often limit what you can do with pictures. The effects can also look just as cheap, which dampens the overall effect of your picture.
Another tool you might use is Skylum’s AirMagic. The company calls it the “the world’s first fully automated drone photo enhancer.”
Although you might feel the urge to go crazy with the sliders and buttons because you paid a lot for a photo editor subscription, refrain. You can enhance your photos with software, but don’t morph and change them until they’re barely recognizable. Go easy on the effects, too. Images that look too fake might turn your customers away.
If you happen to make drone videos as well as photos, then a video-editing software will make your life lots easier. Chances are, your computer came with a free video editor, but you probably don’t want to use that unless you’re doing very light editing.
Instead, like with photo-editing software, it’s best to pay more for higher-end software. If you prefer sticking within the Adobe family, their Premiere Pro can help you make extraordinary videos. Other top picks you might consider include Final Cut Pro, NCH Software’s Movie Maker, VEGAS Pro or Movie Studio, and CyberLink’s PowerDirector. These cost between $50 and $300.
Yet a third tool you need as a drone photographer is photogrammetry software. Using photogrammetry, it’s possible for you to determine distances and map these out. Today’s software gives you the freedom to do close-range, terrestrial, and aerial photogrammetry. Although most common in areas like agriculture, real estate, land surveying, and construction, software that can map distances might come in handy for your job, too.
How Do You Find Clients?
You’re ready to give drone photography a serious shake. You have your drone and all your equipment, your license, and even some software. You’ve got your drone insured, your website designed, and your social media accounts active. Now, you’re just missing one very key piece of the puzzle: customers.
How do you go about getting customers? Follow these pointers.
You want to scream it off the rooftops that your business exists. Advertising lets you pass the word along and draw in new business. You can advertise in countless ways, and not all of them cost money.
For instance, start a blog. Make sure it’s full of actionable tips, stories that resonate with your audience, and information they could really use. Update it every week or every two weeks and then share it to your social media.
Social media advertising can be free to a point. As we mentioned earlier in this article, you can register and post on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube for free. Once you want to get into advertising, that’s where these social platforms make their money from you.
A contest or giveaway can also get you lots of great free publicity. You would have to have something to give away, and it has to be good, too. Perhaps you offer a free photo set or an exclusive to your customers if they participate.
If you have an email list, this can act as another means of marketing yourself. An opt-in form on your website that your audience fills out will subscribe them to your email list. Then, when you have new pictures up for sale, you can email your list and let them know.
Starting a Yelp page for your business is a great idea as well. It's free to sign up, and you have the option to pay to promote your business on Yelp as well.
Old school advertising isn’t totally dead, either. If you have the cash to advertise in a newspaper, magazine, billboard, radio, or TV, then you should certainly try to do so.
Use Job Sites
Job sites can really come in handy. Remember, by working for a business (such as a real estate agent), it’s possible to significantly increase your earnings in some instances. Whether you try Monster, Indeed, or social platform LinkedIn, check job listings frequently. You might use photography job boards or join a few groups on Facebook or other social media to sniff out leads.
Keep yourself open to all opportunities. You never know who may come your way looking to buy your photos or utilize your photography services!
If you already immensely enjoy droning as a hobby, then you might try making drone photography into a career. Having an educational background in photography does help but isn’t mandatory in all cases.
While the field of photography should experience a slight decline over the next few years, it is possible to bring in six figures as a drone photographer. We hope this guide answered all your questions about drone photography and whether it’s the right career path for you.