More than anything, the advent of modern drones has fundamentally changed the aerial photography industry.
Not too long ago only those with the budget to hire a big and noisy helicopter for a few hours could have the privilege of creating aerial photos or videos.
Now, for a tiny fraction of the cost of a helicopter or airplane, almost anyone can get the necessary equipment to make professional content from a bird’s-eye view.
Is it really that easy though?
It turns out that starting your own drone photography business is a little more complicated than buying a drone online and waiting for it to arrive.
So let’s look at the most important considerations you have to take into account to realize your drone business dreams.
Before You Buy
Before you spend any serious amount of money, you need to do some preparation to help make the early days of your business as smooth as possible.
The last thing that you want to do is commit a serious amount of money to the idea without doing your homework!
The Law of the Land
The most important bit of homework that you have to do is getting a clear idea of the legal status drones have where you hope to run your business. This can be trickier than it sounds because drones are still so new. Different countries and regions within countries are coming up with very different regulations governing drone ownership.
That’s why it’s difficult to list specific legal requirements, because they can be wildly different in the next state, much less the next country. You also need to take note of zoning issues, since there may be specific places (such as near airports) where you may not fly a drone no matter what. The law around hobby drones and commercial operations are also usually different.
For UK drone users, refer to the Civil Aviation Authority website,
You can find more general info here on where you can fly your drone.
Scoping the Competition
The next thing you should confirm is how many other commercial drone photography operations are in the area you want to work. What services do they offer? What’s the quality of their equipment?
It may turn out that too many other companies are doing it for it to be worth the effort. Alternatively, it may be that there’s a gap left by the competition you can fill.
Perhaps they only offer very high-end services, leaving the mid-range open. Perhaps they only do photography and not video. If you can identify a gap it’ll influence the type of equipment you’ll initially buy to get things started.
Learn to Fly
This cannot be said enough: learn to fly properly! Yes modern high-end drones basically fly themselves, but you still have a responsibility to have the skills for complete manual flight.
Not only is it a way to save your drone from an otherwise catastrophic crash, it’s also a way to protect people and property.
Even if there may be no legal requirement in your area to complete a professional drone flight course, it makes perfect sense to do it anyway. It’s better to have the skills and never need them, than to need them and not have them.
Flying a drone is a risky business even under the best conditions and most people don’t have the sort of capital to simply replace a $5000 drone at a whim, so it’s worth investigating whether any of the insurance companies that operate in your territory offer commercial drone insurance.
Because of the risks involved this can be quite pricey and they may have special requirements (such as certain permits or flight courses) before granting you protection.
Check out this guide to drone insurance.
The Time to Buy
Once you have done your due diligence, you’re in a position to make a decision about the type and grade of drone you’ll need to get started. By now you should know which drones are legally eligible for commercial use where you are. You also know by now who is operating a similar business close to yours and what they offer. Which means broad details are set.
The next step is to figure out what you should budget for the drone itself and the support equipment. While it’s true that most decent commercial drones hover (get it?) around the $3000 dollar mark, you can get some really good prosumer drones at around $1000+.
DJI has some high quality commercial drones that are used by professional photographers and videographers, that come highly recommended.
The DJI Inspire 2 is a recently released drone that offer tons of possibilities for someone who wants to go pro. It has a flight time of around 27 minutes, and it can shoot videos 5.2 K in RAW format.
They also have the more prosumer focused DJI Phantom 4 PRO that has 30 minutes flight time and it is a drone that can follow you with active track. It has 1’’ CMOS camera sensor shooting in 20 M pixels. Unlike the Inspire 2, the main camera is included in the price.
It’s incredibly important to know whether the included camera system will produce the content type and quality that you need. If you need to mount a third-party camera system it could be a significant additional cost.
The good news is that you can find real footage from just about any system you’re looking at on sites like YouTube. This means you don’t have to go in blind when it comes to knowing what you’ll get out of your investment.
Don’t forget to cost the other important bits! Extra batteries, fuel for your car and common spare parts such as propellers should all factor into your numbers.
Check out our list of the best drones for sale 2018 here.
Time to Fly!
Now you have your drone and you’re ready to go, but you need paying customers. So what now?
The first thing to do is figure out how you’re going to price yourself. It usually makes the most sense to charge a client per hour rather than per video or per photo. After all, every minute you’re working on their project costs you something.
Which is why you also need to have an accurate idea of how much it costs you to provide the service. If you don’t have that figure you can’t include an adequate profit! It’s also a good idea to get out there and create demo reels and images you can use to market your business.
Marketing can be tough in this day and age, but approaching local businesses that are likely to need aerial footage (e.g. construction companies, sports stadiums, etc) is a good place to start.
That’s the cliff notes crash course to starting your own drone photography business. Obviously there’s much more to it than can be squeezed into an article like this, but these are the fundamentals.
Well, except for one more. Remember that the “drone” bit is only half the story. In the end it’s still about photography and videography. What clients pay for is good footage or imagery, if you can provide that consistently you’re set for greatness.
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