How to Start a Drone Photography Business
Drone technology has changed the business landscape in more ways than one. It has changed the way that things are done in construction, agriculture, security, disaster response, and much more. One field that drones have influenced in a huge way is photography. You have probably seen aerial photos of beaches and cityscapes in company websites or on your social media feed. You may even have seen video footage shot by a drone in a movie without knowing it.
Today, drone photography is the biggest clientele of the drone-based service industry. The continued growth in the demand for drone photography has attracted entrepreneurs and drone pilots who are eager to get a piece of the pie. If you belong to this group, then we have a few tips on how to start your drone photography business.
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Assess the market
Before you even think about starting a drone photography business, you have to know for sure that you have a stable market in your area. Demands for drone photography services can be very localized – after all you would not want to have to travel several hours to get to your client. It may be worth your time to look through classifieds or ask your friends if they know of people or organizations within your city or town who can be looking for drone photography services.
At this point, it may also be a good idea to decide what type of service you are going to offer. This can be determined by two things: what the demand looks like, and what you think you are good at.
The first part has to do with finding your place in the market. Do you become one of hundreds of drone photographers, relying on your superior skills and portfolio to stand out? Or do you buck the trend and do something more niche, such as providing advertising services for real estate agents? There may be a small, unfulfilled demand out there that is just waiting for you to grab it.
This part may involve a lot of research and generally just putting yourself out there. You can check classified postings, ask your friends or your immediate network, read up on local job forums, join a local drone community, or attend UAV-related conferences. Although there is a ton of information out there, not all of it will be useful – it’s entirely up to you to scour for the best opportunity.
The second part has more to do with reflecting on your skills. If you are already an experienced photographer, then all you need to do is extend those same photography skills using a drone. If you love being outdoors, then perhaps you can specialize in taking shots of nature spots such as beaches or mountains. If you are already in the advertising or filmmaking industries, then there are very clear paths that you can take. The point is that you should not have to build up a skillset or a professional network from nothing.
Know your competition
Before you commit to anything, take the time to look at who your potential competitors are and what they are doing currently. Take a look at their portfolios, their list of clients, and even the hardware setup that they are using.
Ask yourself: can you offer something that your competitors cannot? Perhaps you can specialize in covering certain events such as concerts or sports competitions. If you have very good video and photo editing skills, then you can market your service as a complete coverage and editing package.
This also gives you the opportunity to take stock of how much your potential competitors are charging for their services. Of course, they have the advantage of experience, so you will have to set your rates a notch lower. We have an excellent article on how to price your drone service which is also very applicable in this situation.
Buy your drone
Deciding on your first drone is a tradeoff between your business needs and your budget. The features you are looking for in a photography drone should include ease of use, portability, durability, a long flight time and range, a good gimbal, and – it goes without saying – a high quality camera.
Many professional drone photographers started with a variant of the DJI Phantom series. Right now, a good choice is the Phantom 4 Pro. It features a 20 MP camera with 1-inch CMOS sensor supported by a 3-axis gyro-stabilized gimbal. This setup allows you get very sharp images with low noise, no matter how aggressively you fly. It has a couple of automatic camera modes and intelligent flight modes that you can play around with to get unique shots and footages. The Phantom 4 Pro is an incredibly stable drone with a sophisticated obstacle avoidance system that makes the flight learning process relatively easy.
If the Phantom 4 Pro is a little beyond your budget, the next best thing would be to get the DJI Mavic Pro. The Mavic line of drones are designed to be incredibly compact and portable, making them perfect to bring along on out of town trips. Despite its small size, the Mavic Pro packs a proverbial punch: it has a 12 MP camera with 1/2.3” CMOS sensor and has the ability to capture videos in Cinematic 4K. Learning how to fly the Mavic Pro is very intuitive, but its size makes it less stable in extremely windy conditions. However, its small size means that its battery can support it to stay in the air longer. The Mavic Pro has its advantages and drawbacks, but it is a solid choice overall.
If you are not quite ready to commit to a high-end drone in the beginning of your drone photography business, then you can even opt to get the DJI Spark. This is an entry-level DJI drone made for more casual users. It has a 12MP camera with 1/2.3” CMOS sensor which can capture videos at 1080p – not impressive but nothing to sneeze at, either. It also has a couple of automatic camera modes on top of gesture controls, making the Spark an exceptionally fun drone to play around with. Still, the DJI Spark is not quite the kind of drone that comes to mind when talking about professional-grade drones. If we’re being honest, getting a DJI Spark for your drone photography business means you will outgrow it rather quickly.
The Best Choice: If you have experience in drone flight, then you can get one of the higher end models such as the DJI Inspire 2 or the Yuneec Typhoon H Pro. Both of these models are very powerful and are jam-packed with flight, stability, and camera features. If you feel that using one of the lower range models is seriously limiting what you can do with your drone, then you cannot possibly go wrong with either of these high-end recommendations.
When you start a drone photography drone business, you are going to need to get two types of insurance: drone insurance and liability insurance. Both of these serve the same ultimate purpose of protecting you form unexpected financial obligations.
A drone insurance protects your most important asset: your drone. Should your drone get damaged in an accident, a drone insurance policy can cover the costs of the drone’s repair or replacement depending on the circumstances behind the accident. There are more than a dozen independent companies that offer insurance policies for drones such as AVION Insurance or UAV Protect.
If you have a DJI drone, we recommend getting the DJI’s very own drone insurance policies called DJI Care and DJI Care Refresh. DJI Care was the first insurance policy introduced by DJI and is now only available for the older drones. If you are getting a new drone, you will most likely need to sign up to the DJI Care Refresh program. You basically only need to pay a one-time fee to be covered by the program for 1 year. DJI Care Refresh provides a replacement drone unit should your drone get damaged beyond repair. The replacement drone is not free, but you only need to pay a small fraction of the drone’s retail price.
A liability insurance policy is a crucial element in running a drone business. It protects you from expenses that can be incurred should you have a drone-related accident that results in personal harm or damage to property. Liability insurance is so important that some clients may decide not to hire a drone business without this type of policy. You can get liability insurance with coverage of $1 million or higher – this will depend on how risky you think your gigs are.
Both types of policies cost a good amount of money, so make sure you consider them in your financial planning. As with all types of insurance, you might never need them but if things turn bad, you will be glad to have spent a little money for financial security.
Learn to fly
With your brand-new drone in tow, it’s time to start flying! Although most modern drones can basically fly themselves, it would still be better for you to get a feel of flying your drone manually. This way you can sense how it responds to strong winds, different altitudes, and changing weather conditions. Although the FAA does not require any sort of professional training for commercial drone pilots, it may still be worth your time and money to check out any of a huge number of drone flight schools.
Learning to fly is not just knowing how to move your drone in the sky. It also involves knowing the best safety practices, such as doing a regular pre-flight check of your drone and having a visual observer at all times. Take note that while you are not yet flying for business, recreational drone flight is still covered by the “Special Rule for Model Aircraft” that restricts flight only to within visual line of sight, and dictates that all drones must give way to manned aircraft.
As of August 2016, all commercial drone pilots are required to get a remote pilot certificate or drone license according to the FAA Part 107 regulations. Since you are on your way to start a drone photography business, this is the best time for you to get this license. The certification process involves a 60-item multiple choice knowledge test, of which you must correctly answer 70% to pass. The test covers a wide array of topics related to drone flight such as aeronautical charts, meteorology, radio communications, drone flight restrictions, and drone pilot behavior among others. In any case, the scope of the test goes way beyond practical knowledge.
Passing the knowledge test on your first take will take a serious commitment to preparation. You can choose to study for the test using any of a number of free resources online, or you can sign up to paid online training courses or in-person training sessions. Any of these methods can be effective, as evident with the hundreds of thousands of commercial drone pilots who have already secured their drone licenses.
You can apply for the drone license once you have passed the knowledge test, after which the FAA will perform a background check before the license will be granted. Keep in mind that being a licensed drone pilot means implicit agreement to all the Part 107 regulations. There are pros and cons to being a Part 107 licensed drone pilot, but there is no skirting the fact that it is a requirement for all commercial drone pilots.
Now that you have your business up and running, it’s time to let the world know what you have to offer. For any photographer, the most effective marketing tool is a nice portfolio. You can do either or both of two approaches – make a professional website and market on social media.
Making a professional website means paying for web hosting – an expense you need to consider in your finances. However, this means you have full freedom to design your website. There are a number of web hosting solutions that are made specifically for photography portfolio such as Wix, Zenfolio, or Pixpa. You can also build a custom site on WordPress and use a special portfolio plugin like Envira Gallery. With just a little technical know-how, you can build your own professional-looking website that reflects who you are as a photographer.
A professional website is nice, but don’t ignore how powerful social media can be in marketing your service. You can make an Instagram or Pinterest account that showcases all your best aerial shots and have your close friends and contacts share them. It would be much better if you can convince some of your clients to let you share the work you have done for them, along with a few testimonials.
The most successful entrepreneurs don’t wait for the clients to come to them. Rather, they are the ones going out of their way to look for clients. Have a business card ready to give out on those odd conferences or special events. You can even try sending cold email advertisements to potential clients. Old-school methods still work every now and then, and you never know what opportunity you could get by just trying to reach out.
Drone photography is undoubted the biggest application of drone technology today based on the number of clients and service providers. It may be technically simple, but it requires a creative eye – something a few people are born with. If you believe that you have a natural predilection for photography, then perhaps drone photography is a sensible next step for you.
Before jumping in, take the time to do a little due diligence and ask yourself a few questions. Is there a stable market for this service in your area? How much will it cost to start the new business? Do you need to take any trainings to learn how to fly the drone? How much should you charge for your services? Heading into a drone photography business all willy-nilly is a sure formula for failure.
We firmly believe that we have only barely scratched the surface of what drones are capable of. Drone photography has certainly come a long way since the days when the best option was to strap a GoPro to a drone and hope for the best. Drone technology and camera technology continues to get better, and so should the drone photography industry continue to grow.
Should you quit your day job and do full-time drone photography? We suggest trying to do it on the side first, just so you still have your day job to go back to should your new drone business not kick off. However, with a lot of skill and some smart marketing and networking, we don’t see why a budding drone photography business will not be lucrative. If you have any other tips or questions on how to start a drone photography business, then just sound off below. Best of luck!