If you’ve ever browsed house-hunting sites online, then surely you’ve seen aerial photographs of homes for sale. Have you ever wondered who takes those pictures and how they do it? They use a drone, of course, working in a field called real estate drone photography. You may already be a real estate agent who’s thinking of buying a drone. Now you’re wondering, is this the right career path for you? How do you get started?
To succeed in real estate drone photography, you must have the following:
- A high-quality drone capable of aerial photography
- A passing knowledge of drone laws in your neighborhood and those you travel to
- A drone flying license (Part 107 Certificate)
- A real estate license (optional)
- A website, social media presence, and strong client base
- A passion and skill for photography
In this extensive, detailed guide, we will walk you through all the above essentials pertinent to a job in real estate drone photography. This is a rewarding, in-demand career path, since, as long as houses exist, someone will need to photograph them. By the time you’re done reading, you can decide whether you’re suited to becoming a real estate drone photographer.
What Types of Drone Do You Need for Real Estate Photography?
A real estate drone photographer may or may not already work in realty. They’d use a drone not only to take stunning overview photographs of a property, but to display views of the home that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. For instance, if a potential homebuyer wanted to see the condition of the chimney or roof, they couldn’t without anyone having to climb all the way up there. The drone could simplify things, showing the condition of the roof without any need for a ladder.
Thus, real estate drone photography is a great career path to consider. Before you can get into this job though, you must have a drone. Not just any drone will do, either. You want one with a camera, obviously. Also, your drone must have the capability to ascend high enough to capture the kind of aerial footage homebuyers want. A drone with a lengthy battery life will also make your job easier.
Keeping those points in mind, we recommend the following DJI drones for real estate photography.
Phantom 4 Advanced
A stunning DJI drone for beginners getting into aerial real estate photography is the Phantom 4 Advanced. Its camera can record video in 60 frames per second at 4k quality, with a 1″ sensor that captures 20-megapixel still images. If you want to switch to Burst Mode, the Phantom 4 Advanced can take these shots at a rate of 14 frames per second.
FlightAutonomy makes a return here. The version included in the Phantom 4 Advanced has forward-vision obstacle detection, obstacle sensing in two directions, and five vision sensors. With magnesium and titanium alloy features, this drone weighs less while doing more.
For instance, the Phantom 4 Advanced will fly for up to 30 minutes. It can capture footage at a distance of up to 4.3 miles, making it perfect for real estate photography. Just remember that to play along with the FAA's rules, you need to have the drone within visual line of sight (VLOS) at all times.
DJI isn't making the Phantom 4 Advanced anymore, but you can find a good deal on a used one from a third-party website.
Of course, we couldn’t talk about drones for aerial photography without bringing up DJI’s Inspire 2. We wrote about it in our post on how to start a drone photography business, and that’s because this is such an awe-inspiring photographer-friendly drone.
An upgrade from the Inspire 1, you can capture video footage in amazing 5.2k or 6k quality depending on if you use Apple ProRes (for the lower quality) or CinemaDNG/RAW (for higher quality) with the Zenmuse X7 camera.
It takes only five seconds for the Inspire 2 to reach a speed of 50 miles per hour (MPH), but that’s not even its max speed. It can zip along at up to 58 MPH. You get 27 minutes of flight thanks to the dual battery system. In fact, the Inspire 2 can even withstand those cold days with its self-heating technology to keep its parts warm.
DJI reworked its FlightAutonomy technology to increase this drone’s sensor redundancy and dodging of obstacles. You can select from several flight modes, such as Spotlight Pro for images or video with lots of drama.
Mavic 2 Pro
For the aspiring real estate photographer who doesn’t want to mess around, the Mavic 2 Pro from DJI gets the job done. You can fly for up to 30 minutes, getting views and images of properties you’re trying to sell.
The Mavic 2 Pro includes a three-axis gimbal and a camera that shoots in stunning 4k. All the details of the homes you photograph will shine with this drone. Equipped with a 1″ CMOS sensor, the camera shoots up to 20-megapixel still photos.
Register Your Drone With The FAA
The FAA mandates that all drones between .55 lbs and 55 lbs be registered. The registration is $5 and is a quick process that can be done online here at the FAA Drone Zone. Once registered, you'll label your drone with the registration number.
The registration lasts for three years, at which time you'll need to renew it.
What Type of Licensing Do You Need to Fly Drones for Real Estate?
You’ve got your drone and you’re all ready to get started, right? Not so fast. Before you get ahead of yourself, know that you should never operate a drone without the proper licensure.
Here’s what you need.
Real Estate License
Having a real estate license is not required to take photos and video of properties unless you're the one listing them. You can be a freelance drone pilot that sells your footage to the real estate agent or company.
That said, a lot of people that work in the field of real estate drone photography are already realtors. If you're interested in getting a real estate license along with your Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate for drone photography, let's go over that process.
You will have to attend a school that offers real estate licenses. You can do this either online or in person, but be prepared for a long haul. You’ll take courses on a college level that should, overall, take 60 or 90 hours to complete. During this time, you’ll learn the ins and outs of real estate, including such topics as owning property, buying and selling, contracts, deeds, and titles.
Before you enroll for any ol’ class, get in touch with the real estate licensing authority for the state you call home. These authorities exist for all states and vary based on where you live. If a real estate licensing authority doesn’t validate a school or coursework, then you end up with 60 to 90 hours of wasted time and no real estate license.
Classes don’t only take up time, but money, too. Marketing resource HubSpot mentions that, for each class, you could be charged $200 on the lower end and up to $1,000 on the higher end, sometimes more. That’s per class. Make sure you have it in your budget to pursue a real estate license, then.
Once you pass your classes, you move on to the licensing exam. Not to put you off, but this is a strenuous test. Some people can complete it in an hour and a half, others at about three and a half hours. That’s because there are 100 questions in all, and they’re multiple choice. Also, you must pay to take the test, about $15 to $60.
If you score high on the licensing exam, then you should get a certificate or transcript from your school. This official document lets you apply for your license. This again costs money, anywhere from $50 to $250. Expect to part with up to $80 more for a mandatory background check as well, says HubSpot.
In some states, you can’t go without Errors and Omissions or E&O insurance. If you get sued or take a big hit from your real estate job, this insurance would protect you. Make sure you don’t go without it.
After doing all the above, you’ll have to wait upwards of two months for your license to arrive.
Drone Flying License (Part 107 Certification)
You’re not done with your licenses yet. You also need a license to fly your drone commercially. This goes by the name Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. We covered this in the article on drone photography, so we won’t go super in-depth here. Instead, we’ll recap the most important parts of obtaining and using this license.
Your Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate comes from the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA. They mandate that you have to pass a written test before you can get your drone flying license. This test will quiz you on aeronautical skills and knowledge of all kinds, like flying laws and restrictions, radio communications, maintenance, and inspections before takeoff.
The cost to take the test is $150. After successfully completing the test, you have to enter the Rating Application System through the FAA, also known as the Integrated Airman Certificate system. There, add all the requested information to your digital Form 8710-13. Your certificate should arrive in the mail.
Part 107 certificates are good for two years. To keep flying after that, you must do all the above again.
Which Drone Laws Should You Know?
Now that you have all of the necessary licensures and have selected a drone for real estate photography per our list above, it’s time to get out there and get flying.
The world of droning is not a wide-open free-for-all. Laws exist governing their usage. This is for the safety of fellow drones, other aircraft, and passersby.
If you fly your drone commercially, there are different rules you’d follow than doing so recreationally, such as for a hobby. Here’s an overview of the commercial drone laws you must know:
- You should never fly your drone for commercial purposes until you have a Part 107 Certificate.
- If your drone weighs more than 55 pounds, including the payload, then you cannot fly it.
- You must only fly in Class G airspace.
- The limit for how high you can fly your drone is 400ft.
- Keep your droning hours to daylight only. Once civil twilight arrives, stop for the day.
- You cannot speed up past 100 MPH.
- Manned aircraft always have the right of way over your drone.
- Low flying also isn’t permitted, especially if it’s near peoples’ heads.
These laws are all strictly enforceable. By disobeying with your unmanned aerial vehicle or drone, you could face legal trouble. LiDAR News mentions you could get slapped with civil penalties or a warning letter. Now, those aren’t so bad, but they’re not the worst punishments. In some cases, you could get turned down if you apply for license renewal (remember, you have two years), get your current license revoked or suspended, or even end up incarcerated.
The National Association of Realtors or NAR does work with the FAA to ensure those doing real estate drone photography do follow the rules. Thus, there’s a chance even your real estate license could be in jeopardy if you blatantly disregard the existing laws.
What Kind of Education and Experience Do You Need for a Job in Drone Real Estate Photography?
By getting to this point, you should have a pretty good idea of whether drone real estate photography could be the right career move for you. Before you make a concrete decision, you’ll want to read this section and the next few. We’ll discuss the education and experience requirements, the job forecast, and—the big talking point—money.
In terms of education, you already know that you don't need a real estate license to work in this area of drone photography. Getting a real estate license is certainly an option, though. Now, this isn’t a degree, per se, but it does require schooling. Thus, you need between 60 and 90 hours of formal college education in real estate.
As for the photography part of the job, a bachelor’s degree in the field could take you far, but it’s not mandatory. We do want to reiterate what we said in our article about becoming a drone photographer: those with education in photography tend to have more skills, thus allowing them to do better at their jobs. That’s not universally true, of course. Others might practice for dozens, sometimes hundreds of hours to make up for a lack of a degree. More people still are just naturally gifted at photography. They can pick up a camera and capture incredible moments effortlessly.
If you feel like you’re lacking in skills or experience, then why not consider signing up for a free or inexpensive photography course? You could even do this online, completing the course in your spare time.
One such in-person course we recommend comes from DJI itself. It’s their Aerial Photo Academy. This class works especially well for those who already have full-time jobs, as it takes only a day to complete it. You’ll spend hours in the class, being led by Stacy Garlington and Randy Jay Braun, two incredibly talented and renowned drone photographers. The DJI Aerial Photo Academy currently travels to 98 cities in the US.
In this case and many others, an in-person class would offer more interactivity, as you could see a photographer in their natural habitat. Also, they can critique your technique as well as the photos you take. You don’t get that with an online course.
How Much Money Can You Make as a Real Estate Drone Photographer?
We’re sure you’ve been not-so-patiently waiting for this part: the money. What kind of salary will you earn doing real estate drone photography? Although it’s a specialty, this job still falls under the category of aerial photography. Thus, we’ll cite the same RaiseMe salary we quoted in our article on becoming a drone photographer.
Aerial photographers might make an hourly rate of $16.38, or a little more than $34,000 a year.
Now, that’s one resource and their salary listing. If you read our guide on drone photography, then you might remember that many photographers out there using drones for their jobs reported making much more than $34k. Is the same true of real estate drone photographers?
It can be. Job resource ZipRecruiter says that drone photographers could bring in as much as $48,237 a year as a national average. That’s according to the most recent 2019 data. If you break that salary down, then monthly, you’d earn 4,020 and weekly, $928.
Also, Fit Small Business mentions that, by adding video to your list of services, you could make even more money. For instance, a video that’s one or two minutes might net you $300. One that’s five minutes could bring up your project total to $1,000. That’s not too shabby.
Don’t forget that you could have a perfectly valid real estate license as well. You could do drone photography on the side but work primarily as a real estate agent. ZipRecruiter mentions how agents could make anywhere from $79,000 to $140,000 and up per year.
What’s the Job Forecast Like for Real Estate Drone Photography?
While we’ve proven real estate drone photography can be a lucrative career field, you don’t want to jump in headfirst without thinking long-term. Namely, how long will the job in question be around?
As we said in the intro, as long as people have houses that need showing, there will always be a need for someone or something to photograph those properties overhead. That much is true, but you have to remember also that real estate drone photography often gets lumped in with general drone photography and sometimes even photography period.
Thus, the expected six-percent decline that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts will occur in photography until 2026 could apply to your career as well. We say “could” because BLS also says that real estate agents and brokers will see an increase in employment opportunities between 2016 and 2026 at a rate of six percent. Thus, you might not feel the decline as significantly.
How Do You Get a Job in Real Estate Drone Photography?
Depending on your current title, the way you’d go about getting a job in real estate drone photography will differ. We will tell you methods for breaking into this career if you’re already a realtor or if you’re going solo.
As a realtor, you probably work for a real estate agency. Thus, you already have part-time or full-time employment. Does anyone at your office use drone photography? If not, then you might want to go to your boss or manager and have a discussion about it.
If your boss decides there’s a need for drone photography at your real estate agency, then he or she will probably talk to your human resources or HR manager. Various parties will have to get involved. More than likely, the job title must be officially created, then the company handbook updated, and salary information sorted as well. Your company will also probably want to review drone laws.
Have some patience, as it can take months before you can start doing drone photography for your real estate company in any official capacity.
If you're flying solo, it's up to you to get out there and find work.
Someone that hires you for a job will want to make sure that you have your Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. You’ll also need a registered drone, and don’t forget to insure it. This is another topic that came up in our article about starting your own drone photography business.
While insuring your drone isn’t cheap (setting you back about $750 a year), it protects you if you injure someone, do any property damage, or your drone gets broken, burned, or stolen. It’s definitely worth getting. That goes for if you work at a real estate agency, too.
You’ll next want to design a website to put the word out about your business. Make sure you include a portfolio of all the drone photography you’ve done before. It doesn’t even necessarily have to pertain to real estate. A showcase of your breadth of skills will impress potential clients and employers.
Now you can begin looking for openings. You can search job boards, go to networking events, or ask around for job leads. Reach out to real estate companies in the area to see if they're in need of any freelance drone photography.
You’ll probably have to interview to secure a position. Then, hopefully, you’ll get the job and can begin doing great real estate drone photography soon!
How Much Should You Charge?
If you do work in a freelance or solo capacity in drone photography, you may wonder what to charge for your real estate images and videos. As we said earlier, if you do shoot videos, you can make between $300 and $1,000 for a clip up to five minutes.
You might charge similarly for your photography. Instead of how many minutes you spend shooting, it’s how many pictures you take. For instance, if a client wants 10 pictures, you’d price that lower than one who wants 50 or even 100 images.
The types of photos you take could also help you price out your services. For instance, overhead shots take more effort than an image of a house from the front or backyard. Thus, you might request that clients pay more for aerial pictures than those lower to the ground.
Other drone photographers base their pricing on the following:
- Whether the client receives a raw, unedited photo or a polished one
- The length of time a project would take
- Hourly pricing
- A customized quote based on the expenditure the project requires
If you recall the figure from earlier, drone photographers might make about $17 an hour according to RaiseMe. ZipRecruiter has a weekly rate of $928. If you work eight hours five days a week, that’s $23.20 an hour. Keep those figures in mind as you being pricing your services.
Be realistic, too. There are two great ways to retain clients in real estate drone photography. The first is delivering quality images. The second is to price your services fairly. If you’re a new drone photographer, then don’t expect to make more than $20 an hour. The more experience you have, the better your photographs become. As you improve and find your footing, you can begin to increase your prices while building up a client base.
Software, Apps, and Tools to Make Your Job Easier
As a drone photographer in real estate, you have a tough enough job. Luckily, there exists a wealth of tools, apps, and software to perfect your shots and their quality.
Photo Editing Software
Do you take good photos that you know could be better? Photo editing software could help you achieve your goals. Whether you choose the well-known Photoshop or another piece of software of your choosing, be judicious in your use. The photos you take go online to attract potential homebuyers. You want to show the house as-is, especially because eventually, the homebuyer will see the property for themselves. If you misrepresented it, they’ll find out and you’ll possibly lose the sale.
Video Editing Software
The same rules apply for video editing software. You might use these to add brightness to a dark clip to inject some color to footage of an overcast day. Don’t morph your footage into a dishonest representation of the house, though. You’re only hurting your real estate agency and your bottom line by doing so.
The Google Maps app gives you detailed directions to properties. You can also use it to figure out the distance between Point A and Point B, making this app invaluable for drone photographers.
Another handy tool you’ll love is the UAV Forecast. This lets you track just about anything and everything you need to know about the weather before you plan a drone photography session. From visibility by miles, cloud cover, precipitation risk, temperature, wind chill, and wind speed and altitude, you’ll never go for a real estate shoot in poor conditions again.
We’re also quite fond of AirMap. This official app provides public drone flight information as well as traffic info and alerts. If you need to get in touch with an airport to ask for authorization to fly, you can with AirMap.
You can even set up a drone flight before you go, selecting the altitude and flight duration. The Can I Fly Here section covers 20 countries and counting. These include the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, and Canada.
Real estate drone photography involves you using a drone to capture aerial footage of a property for sale. You can also rely on your drone to show overhead views of a house to a possible homebuyer.
You will need a commercial drone license to get into this exciting field. You could end up earning six figures if you land the right gig and if you have years of photography or real estate experience under your belt. If you plan on entering the realm of real estate drone photography, you should now be well-prepared for all this career entails. Good luck!