Drone shots have become a phenomenon in virtually every industry. Flyovers, panoramic, and hard to reach shots are in high demand. If you are an avid drone pilot, there could be a nice career at the end of your hobby.
How can I sell my drone photography? Online sites like Getty Images, Shutter Stock, and Pond5 have sites to post your pictures and video for sale. As a career, drone photography jobs start at $25/hr with some industries paying as much as $100k/yr.
Drone photography has taken off in the last few years. The amount, of drones and available pilots are on the rise. If you think that drones might be the future for you, read ahead and find out all the ways to make money from your drone photography.
How Does Selling Drone Pictures Work?
There are two paths you can go with your work, royalties or royalty-free. Royalties are an agreed-upon percentage that the creator gets every time they use the work. Royalty-free, though deceptively named, means that a flat fee was paid to the creator to use the work in perpetuity.
What Kind of Drone Photography Sells?
Now that your drone is licensed, your Photoshop game is on point and your eye for the lens is top-notch it is time to take some photos! But what kind of photos should you take?
- Real Estate Photography
- Construction Photography
- Drones In Filmmaking
- Public Safety
- Drones In Insurance
- Journalism Drones
- Farming With Drones
- Transportation Drones
- Drones In Energy
- Telecommunication Drones
- Drones In Education
1. Real Estate Photography
In Real Estate showing the homes available online is one of the most important parts of the job. Realtors will pay upwards of $25/hr for sessions involving their properties. If you take this kind of job you can expect to edit video as well. Flyovers of large portions of land or homes are becoming more prominent.
2. Construction Photography
Over 30% of survey work is done with drone technology. One of the hardest parts of any job is doing the land survey. In the past several workers were needed to walk the job site to determine the composition of the ground. This job would add several hours to any project. Drones operated by one person and can do the job in half the time.
The drone piloting industry is very lucrative in construction. Operators with excellent qualifications can start out at $50/hr with a ceiling of ten times that much. If you are lucky enough to land a drone piloting job with a major construction company the national average for the position is $50,000/yr.
3. Drones in Filmmaking
A favorite shot of most directors is the helicopter shot. It is called that because before drone photography a helicopter was needed to get the shot. More and more these shots make it into:
This shows their value to a drone operator.
Living in an area where films are produced is almost essential for these types of positions. An insured, accredited pilot can expect to make $1000/day and more dependent on the shots needed, etc.
4. Public Safety
Almost 1000 public safety agencies use drones in their efforts to control:
- Fire Protection services
The skill required to work in public safety is usually controlled by their agency. The mean income for police is just over $60k/yr and as of yet, there are no jobs as a drone operator being offered. Drone skills may be incorporated in an existing role.
5. Drones in Insurance
After fires, storms, and other natural disasters drones are a valuable tool for insurance agents. In the good old days, the insurance person would have to leave the office, drive to your property, climb on the roof, take photos, all before being able to return to the office. The programmability of drones makes the inspection process take less than an hour.
The typical payout for a house inspection is $70. A huge downfall of taking this job is it follows the storm season and natural disasters.
6. Journalism Drones
Today journalists have the ability to use drones to cover areas they couldn’t. In warzones, the drones are used to search for survivors, provide the effects of a natural disaster, or show the size of a crowd. The type of job you take depends on the traits you will need as a pilot.
The amount of money you can make depends on the size of the city you live in. Larger cities have a greater need for journalists with drone skills but the national average is around $30k/yr.
7. Farming With Drones
Agriculture is an unexpected area for drone photography. Farmers can use photography related to their crops to:
- Determine problem areas
- Infested areas
- Locate livestock
The biggest hurdle to drone farming is convincing the farmers. That means you will have to be able to show them proven results by using the drone and software to improve crop yields.
It is hard to gauge the hourly rate for agriculture drone photography. There are estimates beginning at $40/hr and scaling up to more than $100/hr. The unpredictability of this industry makes it a difficult one to pin down.
8. Transportation Drones
The infrastructure of our bridges, roads, and railways are under constant repair. The usage of drone photography allows the DOT officials in each state to determine which of these is in dire need of repair. As with all other jobs, the drones make this one much quicker and cheaper.
The major requirements for this position would be a working knowledge of engineering and studies of load-bearing equipment. Working with transportation drone photography is moderately priced with the typical job costing about $100/hr.
9. Drones in Energy
The number of:
- Solar panels
owned by each power company is staggering. Drone photography is cheap, fast, and safer for operators. This allows the company to address problem zones, inspect storm damage, and determine the workability of solar panels.
The requirements to fly drones for an energy company also must include knowledge of electronic maintenance. These jobs usually go between $70k – $100k/yr.
10. Telecommunication Drones
The precious cellphone tower wouldn’t be such a powerful tool without drones to inspect them. Climbing the towers for routine maintenance could be the deadliest job of any communications worker. Drones provide the needed date while the worker remains safely on the ground below.
High skills are needed for this job as some towers emit waves that could cripple the drone. Jobs flying drones for telecom companies range anywhere from $150 – $300/hr. Also essential is the ability to diagnose potential problems in the equipment being photographed/videoed.
11. Drones in Education
Across the country, drones are being used as a valuable teaching tool in:
- High schools
In the college sector, drone operation, photography, and survey are all accredited courses.
Drones aren’t viable in the education field as a profession. Typically, teachers who begin drone clubs or tournaments could make extra money in private instruction.
Where Can You Sell Drone Pictures?
You’ve got the drone skills, the camera skills, and a portfolio bursting with great shots for potential clients. Where can you sell the pictures and videos you have curated?
- Getty Images – They are one of the largest places to post your work for sale. They offer fair royalty rates and the through traffic of their page alone will get eyes on your work. A majority of the images you see on the major news networks come from Getty Images.
- Shutterstock – The users on Shutterstock closely resemble the numbers on Getty Images. They also have a creative monthly service that allows you to charge a monthly charge to clients for using your pictures. In addition, the more sales you make the higher your percentage will be.
For instance, when you begin you make 20% of your sales. After crossing the $500 sales threshold the amount raises to 26%. The rate tops out at 36%.
- Pond5 – Pond5 has a 50/50 split rate package that far outstrips the others. When an image is sold you get half of what the price was. Isn’t that simple? Their users number in the millions meaning if an image of yours makes it to Netflix you will need a larger bank account. Here are some of their clients:
- Online streaming companies
- Recreational television channels
- State-owned television stations
are among their clients
- Aerial Entertainment Studios (AES) – Used by film studios and tv stations AES concentrates on exotic footage from professionals. These guys don’t play around and will only accept 1080p videos that are extraordinary in nature. They provide the best compensation split with 70/30.
- DroneStock – DroneStock offers a 50/50 split on content and accepts video and pictures in many formats. Their page is chocked full of awesome content and they do an excellent job of catering to the customer.
Top 5 Drones for Photography
- Autel Robotics EVO – A steady and versatile drone with an excellent camera and ability to store in several formats The Autel is worth the price of admission. It is also foldable making it easy to pack away amongst all the included gear.
- DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone Quadcopter – The most awesome thing about this is the obstacle sensing. If you maneuver through buildings, trees, or mountains the DJI informs you of possible danger. The camera shoots at 20mp and is made by the exquisite Swedish camera company Hasselblad.
- Snaptain SP700 – The most affordable on the list, the Snaptain also boasts a strong 2K camera with 5G WiFi capability. Ease of operation is also a plus with this model. A blushless motor keeps the drone stable in high winds.
- 60 Mins GPS Drone – The longest lasting battery on the list is a steal at under $300. Normal drones last about 30 minutes meaning constant battery changes or delays in production. The GPS makes the unit programmable to run whichever angles are needed for your job.
- Snaptain SP510 GPS – This foldable drone sports GPS and 5G connectivity. The number of hands-free modes available with the Snaptain SP510 is its biggest draw. Setting waypoints, programming patterns, and follow me mode all have industry-specific usages.
What Kind of Drone Do I Need?
A market flooded with drones is a good and bad thing. Good because there are several options to choose from. Bad because there are so many you don’t know what you need. So I’ve compiled a list of things to look for when you begin your journey to becoming a drone photographer.
Pick a Drone on Your Skill Level
Drones are one of the most rapidly evolving inventions in recent memory. They come in all sizes and shapes with a virtual smorgasbord of:
- Video cameras
If this is your first time out, pick a drone with cheaper and easily replaceable parts. Learning to fly can be a learning experience for some. There will be crashes. Practice patience and err on the side of caution.
The most important thing to pay attention to is the camera. Some come with built-in cameras, which could be fuzzy and low tech. Others come with a slot for placing your phone or a GoPro. (GoPro video is my personal favorite!)
Study the User Manual
It sounds like a no brainer, but if you want to learn something, read the book. In my industry this is known as RTFM. Like other manuals, a drone manual will provide you with priceless information regarding:
In addition, the information regarding how to repair, where to buy parts, and general troubleshooting information make the reading of the manual essential.
Knowing what your drone is capable of is very important. The bells and whistles that come with some drones offer a wide array of modes that can improve the desirability of the art you produce.
A few of the awesome abilities that might come with your drone are:
- Phone Streaming – attaching your phone to the controller allows you to see what the drone sees. This makes it easier to get the shot you are after and produces more clear photos.
- Smart Mode – If you are lucky enough to have this mode on your drone, I highly suggest you use it. Smart mode ‘dumbs down’ the more advanced controls making this a great tool for the beginner.
- Tracker – Sometimes you will lose the drone. It happens more than you would think. Most systems come with a tracker that allows you to find the missing flying robot using your phone or a series of noises emitted from the drone.
- Tethering – It has also been called Geo-fencing, which is just a fancy term for keeping your drone in the safe operating distance.
Any drone between a half pound and sixty pounds must be registered with the FAA. The FAA has to police the number of drones in service just as they do with cars. A simple $5 registration will last for three years.
The regulations are still a rapidly growing area. Take time to study the FAA regulations and be mindful of other airborne vehicles. Stay away from:
- Landing pads
A drone could cause a crash of smaller airplanes and helicopters.
Prepare for Flight
Now that everything has been studied and checked, it’s time to check again. Flying your drone should take the same steps as any pilot who flies commercial or personal. Having a ‘preflight’ list is always a good idea. This list should include:
- Weather – Flying in high winds, rain, or snow isn’t advised. The weather should be clear with little to no wind, depending on your drone.
- Clear Fly Zone – Wherever you fly should be studied and you should have permission to be there. No trespassing with drones.
- Battery – Your session will be short-lived if you don’t have a good charge in your battery. It’s a good rule of thumb to have three batteries on hand. One for operation, a back-up, and one charging.
- Props – The propellers should all be free turning and unbroken. Replace any broken pieces, there should have been extras in your package, before sending it flying through the air.
- Motors – A drone isn’t going anywhere with a bad motor. Before lift-off test the motor for any unseen problems. The last thing you need is your drone to fail in the middle of a critical shot.
- Controls – The bulky controller should be pushed through the paces before you lift-off. Bad batteries, a weak connection, or faulty wires could lead the controller to fail. Use a few minutes to make sure the drone controller functions well before sending it into service.
I want to make it very clear at this point that your drone could crash. Making several test flights is highly recommended because the best teacher when it comes to drones is experience. Don’t make a mistake of crashing when a few minutes of practice will teach you how to operate safely for you and the drone.
Learn Photography Techniques
Learning how to be a good photographer is the next step in drone photography. You have the ins and outs of how to fly and maintain the drone, what about the pictures?
There’s a crossover area in drone photography and this is the spot. Not only should you be a competent flyer you should also have an understanding of how photography works and how to take the best photos.
Years can be dedicated to learning how to be a decent photographer. Don’t let little mistakes keep you from creating some amazing art. Do your homework!
Edit Your Photos
As GI Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle!” This can be applied to photography as well. Taking photos is only the first part of the process. After you have selected the best shots on your reel it is time to sit down and edit.
Editing photos is another area that needs a specific time and training applied. Photoshop is the most used product when working with photography. Though a complex program, buying a few books will give you the information you need to edit like a pro.
Drones need extra parts. It’s part of the process. Some things you might need in your extras bag:
- Batteries – Batteries in photography and drone work are essential. As I mentioned earlier it is a good idea to have several extras in case there is more work to be shot than you expected.
- Drone Parts – Those things crash. Having extra parts around is never a bad idea. Take one or two extras of the most vulnerable parts and keep them close by.
- Memory Cards – Running out of memory is a rookie mistake. Prepare to take thousands of pics and hours of video. Bring the appropriate number of memory cards so that you don’t miss any essential shots.
Drone Photography Techniques
Looking for that extra something to make your sales library take off? Chances are that learning a few more techniques would help improve your shooting. Some common drone photography techniques are:
- Shoot in RAW format
- Create Panoramic shots using the drone software
- Use lens filters
- Experiment with light and shadow
- Find symmetry
- Use different aspects
Shoot In RAW Format
Using the RAW format options allows you to use more creative techniques in editing. Due to the lossless quality of the video, you can go back in and edit the color exposure, which gives your video or pictures more depth and clarity.
Create Panoramic Shots Using Drone Software
The great thing about a drone with GPS is that they can be programmed to create all kinds of shots. The distance that can be created between the photographer and the drone makes a beautiful panoramic shot that is hard to duplicate. Certain models of drones have this as a preprogrammed setting.
Use Lens Filter
When shooting in different locations and at different times of the day a specific filter may be needed. Learning which filters to use in which situation is a valuable technique. It allows you to adjust for lighting which is an essential element in photography.
Experiment With Light and Shadow
Morning and Evening shots of long shadows are breathtaking.
Learning how to produce these shots is a valuable arrow for your quiver. In the end, the lighting determines everything about the photo and the different perspective given by a drone is something to marvel at.
The great thing about having a higher perspective is the ability to spot lines and patterns that might not be visible from below. These types of shots provide a fun take on the mundane while showing us the majesty of nature.
Use Different Aspects
The whole allure of aerial photography is seeing things from a new perspective. This new perspective is provided by the larger aspects that drone cameras are known for. “The 3:2 aspect ratio is the most commonly used format for digital cameras, but drone cameras, being used primarily for video, typically offer much wider 16:9 and 4:3 formats.”
Editing Your Photos
When editing your photos, you would be mistaken to not take advantage of the Adobe products. The Suite comes with a monthly fee for cloud storage and usage. In the Suite package, you have access to all the programs you will need for editing. The most important for drone photography is:
- Lightroom – Depending on the person you ask, Lightroom is the best app for drone photography. It uses deferred editing, which means that when you move the files from your drone to your computer there won’t be any loss in quality. The ability to add SEO, metadata and several different file types make Lightroom a top contender for the best app for drone photography.
- Photoshop – If you are asking me, and you probably aren’t, Photoshop is the go-to tool when you need to edit pictures. Lightroom has a distinct advantage when using video but when it comes to pic editing there isn’t a better app than Photoshop. The number of brushes and shading tools that are right at your fingertips allow you to create some captivating pictures that will be high dollar sales pieces.
Editing on a Budget
Most drone pilots start their business from the ground up. Usually that means you are on a tight budget. While they are best, the Adobe products cost a fair amount of money. What are the alternatives?
- Pic Monkey – Although boasting a large assortment of fonts it isn’t the only thing Pic Monkey is capable of. Their editing software is fast and reliable, with several tools that you will find essential to editing your photos.
- Canva – Canva is a super cool program that offers templates for most any situation. While the site is mainly for creating advertising their editing program is sleek and a breeze to use.
- PixLr – Rounding out the most prominent free photo editing software top three is PixLr. Pixlr is an excellent program with a super fast interface that is easy to use. The improved tools allow you to edit at a much faster pace while the filing system allows you to keep track of changes.
There are certainly no shortage of drone photography jobs out there. As I mentioned previously most drone pilots start their own business, whether it's a simple side hustle or an actual photography business. One such example is a drone photography business along the Gulf Coast called Pelican Drones. They exploded their business. I may even try to interview them at some point. I'm sure there are all kinds of fun things to learn.
Even if you choose not to add another skill to your personal toolbox that can bring in extra income, drone photography is an incredibly fun hobby. More info to come! Let me know how and where you sell your drone photography in the comments below!