How to Start a Drone Photography Business in 2022 (Complete Step-by-Step Guide)
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So I was trying to figure out how to make money with a drone and starting a drone photography business really appealed to me? But where do I even start?
Starting a drone photography business can be highly lucrative. Depending on your country, you will most likely need to be certified or licensed for commercial drone use, like the FAA Part 107 license in the United States. You will also most likely need insurance, for your drone as well as liability insurance. You will need a high quality drone built specifically for taking high resolution images and videos. Lastly, you will need to pick a niche or vertical, like wedding photography or real estate, to focus your efforts. A solid marketing plan will be necessary to continuously bring you clients for your drone photography business.
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Is there a market for drone photography?
The short answer is YES. It is an absolutely massive market that is continuing to grow year after year!
Aerial photography has always been around. Filming from helicopters or taking pictures from planes, there has always been a market for high quality images and videos from the sky.
With the rise in popularity in drones (especially with how affordable they are becoming), aerial photography is now an option for a lot of industries where before it just wasn’t cost effective.
Drone photography is being used in tons of industries. From real estate drone photography where drone flyover videos provide that extra wow factor when marketing homes to wedding photographers taking unique group photos and videos of their clients’ big day, drone photography businesses are on the rise!
How much do aerial photographers make?
The amount of money that a drone photography business can make is dependent on a lot of different factors.
What niche are you in? Real estate? Weddings? Corporate events?
What sort of value do you provide? Package pricing? Hourly rate?
There are a lot of variables that will go into how much money your drone photography business can make. The good news is that whether you are charging an hourly rate or you have fixed price packages, the profit margins are insane. After the cost of the drone and software, you really are just trading your time and skills for money.
And with hourly rates from $100/hr and up, starting a drone photography business could be the best way for you to quit your 9 to 5 and be your own boss!
What are the exact steps to start a drone photography business?
The steps to start a drone photography business are mostly the same steps to start any business. There are, however, a few drone related business specifics that need be addressed.
As much as your mind will try to over complicate the process of starting a drone photography business, it really boils down to two steps: find clients and find more clients.
I’m 100% serious! There are a few things to do before you can start focusing on the most important part of any business, finding paying customers. So let’s take them step by step.
Pick your niche
One of the best things you can do when starting your drone photography business is to pick a niche market to focus on.
What is a niche? It’s an industry, a vertical, a specific use case. Still confused?
Instead of being a drone photographer that does everything from weddings to kid birthday parties, you focus on one specific client. So, instead you want to be a real estate drone photography business. Or you focus on just wedding photography.
But won’t you be limiting yourself and the amount of money you can make? Not really.
I am not suggesting you pick such a small niche that you have trouble finding clients. Like you wouldn’t want to only provide drone photography services for people who want aerial video of their poodle. But something like action pet photography might be a good niche!
The trick here is to work in one niche so that you become an expert in that one niche.
If you focus on wedding drone photography, you will find out what works, what people pay for, and how to price your services pretty quickly. And you can just rinse and repeat with client after client.
If instead, you had a wedding shoot one weekend and a real estate photography gig the next, you would have to adjust your prices, the sort of work you would provide, etc.
Imagine you are a real estate agent and you want some aerial photography and video of your listed homes. There are two drone photography businesses in the area. The first does it all. They are a jack-of-all-trades, if you want pictures or videos from a drone, they got you. The second one is the areas premier real estate drone photography business. Which company do you think the real estate agent is going to call first?
That is the power of picking a niche. You want your company to be the expert in a very specific niche in the drone photography world.
What industries are paying for drone photography services?
So what are some good niches to start a drone photography business:
- Real estate
- Corporate events
- Family photography
- Commercial (Hotels, Golf Courses, etc.)
- Action sports (especially things like bungee jumping where you can buy the DVD of your jump!)
- …and many more!
If there is an industry that uses photos or video to capture memories or to use in marketing, there is an opportunity to start a drone photography business.
So, choose 2-3 different niches that you may be interested in and now it’s time to do some competitor analysis.
Who are your competitors?
So now that you have 2-3 niches or industries that you are interested in pursuing. It is time to see what companies already exist in your market.
A quick trip to Google will help you find out. Search for things like:
- Real estate drone photographer near me
- Wedding drone photographer for hire
- Aerial photography business near me
Try to find as many drone photography businesses within a reasonable driving radius from you. This is your competition. You may have to dig deeper into some photography businesses that may offer drone photography services but don’t make it a focal point.
You may find a lot of wedding drone photographers but not many real estate photographers that offer drone services.
At this point you are trying to get a feel for how many competitors are in the niche you chose. A lot of competition may not be a good thing, but zero competition is also a red flag (because there might just not be any demand in your area).
If you are starting a business, there will be competition. This is a good thing. This means that there is money to be made.
You can always pursue another niche later down the road but for now, it is important to just pick one that looks and feels good to you.
What are your competitors charging for their drone services?
Now that you have an idea of who your competitors are, we need to find out what the going market rate is for drone services in your area.
If you can, try to get pricing for your specific competitors either through their website or calling and asking for a quote.
If you are having a hard time finding pricing information, broaden your search to surrounding cities until you find 2-3 company prices to compare.
This is a good starting point for your pricing analysis. I say starting point because I don’t want you just undercutting the competition. That’s no good for you.
You can probably charge way more than you think. How can one company charge $300 for a pair of jeans and another just charge $30? Once you break through all the nonsense about materials and craftsmanship, it comes down to one thing: people are willing to pay $300.
Pricing should be based on the value you provide. Period.
You don’t have to settle on pricing for your drone photography business just yet. Just make a few notes of your competitors and the going market rate and set it aside until we get to that step.
Pick your drone
When deciding on which drone you should use for your new drone photography business, there are two important factors: a high quality camera and autonomous flying functionality.
Obviously if you want to get paid the big bucks for taking pictures with your drone, you are going to need a drone with a high quality camera. The best drones for photography on the market today are capable of taking 20 megapixel photos and 4K videos.
If you are looking for some of those professional angles and videos, you are going to want a drone with the latest in autonomous technology like active tracking, point of interest flying and draw a path. These will allow you to easily capture incredible shots that are sure to impress your clients.
My top photography drone for starting your business is definitely the Mavic Pro.
It has all the desired features above like 20 megapixel photos and 4K video. It comes with Active Track which allows you to set the drone to automatically follow a subject while avoiding obstacles. For the price, there is not a better drone for your new drone photography business on the market today. You can check it out here.
Learn your drone
Now that you got your top of the line photography drone, you need to learn everything it has to offer.
You need to learn the basics of flying and taking pictures and video. You need to experiment with all of the autonomous flying functions.
If you want to appear professional at your first drone photography gig, this is no time to be “learning on the job.”
I recommend spending at least a week learning everything about your new drone and taking lots of pictures and video. Research some cool tips and techniques for better drone photography.
After a week of “practicing”, you will have lots of footage and photos to work with. You’ll now want to pick some photo editing software to turn all those photos into top-notch, professional images. Let’s pick out the best drone photography editing software.
Pick your software
So taking pictures with your drone is only half the battle. Most of the time, your photos are going to need to be edited, enhance and finalized using some photo editing software.
There are a ton of different pieces of software built exclusively for professional photo editing. If you are already proficient in one, you can use it for your drone photography without problem.
If you don’t already use photo editing software, you can’t go wrong with either GIMP or Adobe Photoshop.
Adobe Photoshop is a staple in the professional photography world and with its new subscription based pricing it has never been cheaper to get started. If you are serious about pursuing a drone photography business, you are going to want Photoshop.
If you want a really good free software for editing your drone photography, try out GIMP. It has a lot of the same features as Photoshop and it’s free so you can get started and upgrade later.
Learn your software
Now that you have settled on which drone photography editing software you are going to use. It is time to learn how to produce professional photos!
There are literally thousands of tutorials and guides online for both Photoshop and GIMP. It is easy to get sucked into a rabbit hole of fancy techniques.
For now, you need to focus on the absolute basics:
- Importing your drone photography into the software
- How to use the levels adjustment
- How to adjust brightness and shadows
- How to adjust colors with hue and saturation
- How to fix blemishes
Basically, you just need to find some easy to understand tutorials on how to enhance and improve your image quality. Take all the photos you took last week practicing and start working with them!
Most countries and places will require you to have a certification or license to fly a drone commercially. And yes, if you are getting paid for drone flying, you are flying commercially.
You will have to do some research for your particular country and area as the law varies. If you are in the United States, you will have to obtain a Part 107 license from the FAA.
It costs $150 per attempt to take the test so make sure you study up. To guarantee you pass, you can take this awesome Part 107 Made Easy video course by Pilot Institute. They guarantee you will pass on the first try or they will not only refund you the cost of the course but they’ll also cover your $150 test fee. Pretty cool!
In addition to being a licensed drone pilot, there may be other legal requirements to start a drone photography business. You may be required to buy insurance.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and take no responsibility for the legality of your drone photography business. Do your own research and consult with a lawyer to make sure you are operating within the law.
Starting a drone photography business requires the purchase of a high quality camera drone which is a HUGE investment!
You are going to want to purchase drone insurance to help cover any repairs or replacement in case you crash or damage your drone. Your drone is your money maker and you need it flying perfectly to keep your business running smoothly. Check out our list of some of the best drone insurance companies.
In addition to insurance covering your drone, you may be legally required to purchase liability insurance. This will provide you with some protection in case of injury to people or damage to property that may happen during a job.
This is extremely important because accidents do happen and you don’t want one accident to force your drone photography business to close its doors!
Set your prices
Pricing is an art! It will take lots of trial and error, but if you took the time above to do some competitor analysis in the area, hopefully you have a pretty clear picture of what other drone photography businesses are charging in your area.
If you remember what I said before, your pricing should reflect the value you provide.
I would avoid charging hourly rates because it doesn’t take into account all the work that happens after the photo shoot. Instead, I would put together some pricing packages.
For example, if you were starting a wedding drone photography business, you may have two packages:
Package A: 2 hour photo shoot, all digital downloads and choice of 20 printed images. Price $1000
Package B: 4 hour photo shoot, all digital downloads, choice of 50 printed images and a custom slideshow video. Price $2500
These are just examples, but as you can see from the two packages above, there are lot of options to build in more value and thus charge higher prices.
Here a few ways to build in more value for your drone photography business:
- Increase the length of the photo shoot
- Provide image enhancement for a set number of chosen photos
- Provide digital copies of all photos taken
- Provide printed versions in different sizes (just use a print shop)
- Provide custom photo books
- Provide a custom slideshow video
- …and many more!
The one great tip I heard a long time ago about pricing was this: take whatever you feel “comfortable” charging and multiply that by 3. You can almost always charge more than you think. Just focus on providing more value!
You got a drone, you got photo editing software, you are licensed, you are insured and you got your pricing packages picked out. Now we need to find some clients!
The success of your drone photography business is solely dependent on your ability to find and sign clients on a regular basis.
This comes down to marketing, specifically lead generation. You need to find a few ways to consistently find new leads.
This is where the majority of your focus will need to be, and it is where you will spend the majority of your time.
There are two main ways to get clients for your drone photography business:
Partner up with another photography business
How to partner up with another photography business
Find some existing photography businesses in your area that are already serving the niche you are pursuing. Make sure they don’t already offer drone photography. Contact them directly and offer your services as a value-add to their business.
It is a great deal for them because it gives them more value to market and offer to their clients, and it is a great deal for you because they do all the heavy lifting finding clients and pay you to complete a job.
The downside is that you don’t get to control your pricing as much, but you can also pursue your own clients with direct outreach at the same time.
How to conduct direct outreach
Doing your own marketing and acquiring clients is the next big step for starting your drone photography business off on the right foot.
Marketing and client acquisition is a massive topic in and of itself and could warrant its own future article. You can do your own research into some of the techniques as most marketing tactics will apply to your drone photography business.
Don’t make the mistake of spreading yourself too thin though. Pick on strategy and pursue it fully before switching to another. If you don’t give each strategy your full attention, you will never find out which works best for you.
Here are a few things to try out first:
- Contact businesses who provide complementary services. For example, if you are starting a wedding drone photography business, email wedding planners in your area and tell them about your services. They may pitch your service to their clients.
- Start an Instagram page to showoff your work.
- Run facebook ads
- Run google ads
The hardest thing to overcome when starting a drone photography business is getting that first client. You will have to get creative and work hard. Tell everyone what you do. Tell your friends and family. Tell the guy sitting next to you on the airplane. Offer a free photo shoot in exchange for a testimonial.
Once you do get that first client, make sure you go above and beyond to provide the best drone photography you can so that they are quick to refer your service to their friends in the future!
Tips to start a successful drone photography business
Starting any business can be challenging but especially a drone photography business. You are providing a highly technical service.
The biggest tips I can give you to be successful are:
- Have top of the line equipment
- Become an expert in your equipment, your technique and your software
- Marketing. Marketing. MARKETING.
- Always ask for testimonials and REFERRALS.
It may be slow going at first, but once you really nail down your marketing strategy, it won’t be long before you are going to have to turn people away because you are so busy. That’s when it is time to hire more help and scale!