Drone photography is a great way to earn money when the proper equipment and training are had. There is a lot of money to be made for experienced drone operators, as the service is not yet widespread. Figuring out what to charge for drone photography skills can be challenging for those new to the field.
When determining prices for starting out, it is important to consider a wide array of factors. These are the 11 tips to focus on in the beginning:
- Charge based on your value
- Set a session rate as a minimum
- Be ready to provide a half and full day rates
- If you charge hourly, account for unbillable time
- Set limits for every job
- Know your overhead expenses
- Research local competitors
- Know how long it takes to deliver the final product
- Offer different packages so customers can easily get a price range
- Make extra money by selling the copyright to a photo
- Provide custom quotes for each project
Drone photography may seem like a quick way to add another service offering. However, there are things to keep in mind and tips for figuring out what to charge as there are different jobs and other situations you may find yourself in.
How to Set Prices for Drone Photography
Setting prices for drone photography can be challenging. The list of influences on your final quote is long and often changes from shoot to shoot.
Some examples of what you need to consider when setting drone photography prices include:
- Competitor Pricing
- Length of Shoot
- Turn Around Time
- Editing Time
There can be much more. As a general rule, the longer something will take or the farther away it is, the more you should charge. In addition, if your equipment is top of the line or your turnaround time is quick, you can likely afford to charge more than some local competitors. Furthermore, you can specialize in specific type of drone photography that can be positioned as highly tuned photographs to help address the customers specific business goals.
One of the biggest things to get used to when setting prices for drone photography is pricing based on your value. Anyone with a drone and a license to operate it can take aerial photographs or videos, so it is important to figure out what sets you apart. While you are already a skilled worker due to owning the drone and license, the key to charging more is specializing in an aspect of drone photography.
Drone photography is rarely a market where the cheapest price wins because the differences in what people can provide are vast. Figuring out your value will take some time and should be an ongoing process while you develop your business.
When starting out and setting your price, be affordable while not severely undercutting the competition. You do not want to work twice as hard for half the pay while also devaluing the market for others. Instead, figure out what competitors are charging and charge that or go slightly under.
Most drone photography rates range from $150 – $1500 per session. What you charge will depend on all the factors listed above and more, but try not to go too much lower. Once you have figured out your hourly or session rate, you should adjust depending on a number of factors. For figuring out exactly what you should charge, read these tips.
Side note: Be sure to account for taxes when calculating your hourly rate. In the United States, common wisdom says to set aside roughly 30% of your income for taxes as a self-employed person. More specific information from the IRS can be found here.
Charge Based on Your Value
Charging based on your value is the single most important aspect of figuring out what to charge. Unlike a retail job or office setting, you are not getting paid your time – you are getting paid for what you bring to the client.
This is both a blessing and a curse. If you are talented at a variety of soft skills and clients naturally trust you, you can likely charge more from the beginning even if your skills are not quite up to par. However, if you have difficulty talking with people or marketing yourself, it could be troublesome to get business in the beginning.
One way to help bridge this gap is to have success stories from clients where the drone photos you provided performed very well for them in their business. Real estate drone photography is one example where you can really take off here (pun intended, deal with it 😀 ).
Figuring out your value will take time, and you should reevaluate your rates often in the beginning. For your first few jobs, it is likely worth your time to raise your rates each time, as you have gained experience and valuable portfolio work.
Value is tied directly to the experience and deliverables you bring to the customer. Experience, in this case, is not how long you have been doing drone photography. Instead, it is how you and the client interacted with each other. Being easy to talk to, solving problems, and effectively communicating is huge and will easily net you more money in the long run.
Likewise, delivering a great product that goes above and beyond what the client expected is a great way to get repeat business. Provide increased value, and your prices should increase as well.
In practicality, consider your value as the minimum amount you are willing to be paid. This is your baseline session or hourly rate, and as the client adds requests, your value and rate go up.
Set a Session Rate as a Minimum
The amount of time that drone photography takes can vary greatly depending on the size of a location, what is being shot, and a host of other factors. To ensure that you are getting paid fairly for every job you take, consider setting a “session minimum” rate.
What this does is ensure that, regardless of how long shooting and editing actually takes, you will get paid a certain amount of money. This opens up more jobs, as you can afford to take jobs that may only take two or three hours total.
Session rates are valuable because there is significant setup time for each project you take on. As an example, consider this scenario:
You are asked to shoot a few drone photographs of a single house for a real estate client. The house is roughly 20 minutes away, and the shooting and editing should not take more than two hours.
If you only charge for the hours of shooting and editing, you have lost out on other opportunity time. Travel time, equipment setup, and client time are all important to charge for, but they often slip through the cracks. A session rate ensures that these hidden expenses will be covered regardless of how long a project actually takes.
Setting a session minimum will depend on how busy you are. If you are swamped with clients, it may be best to charge a half day’s work as your session minimum. Otherwise, consider setting your session minimum to roughly three hours of work.
Once a session minimum is set, you should still charge clients for extra hours. Work this into the contract in case a shoot goes long or the client suddenly expands expectations. A clause roughly meaning that the session minimum covers the first two hours of work and every hour after that costs your normal rate is great to place into any short job’s contract.
Be Ready to Provide a Half and Full Day Rates
While a session minimum rate is wonderful for short, hourly jobs, you will often run into longer shoots that could take a half or even full workday. When these arise, it is often better to ditch the hourly billing and charge clients a day rate.
A day rate is exactly as the name suggests; the price for you to work on a client’s project for a full day. This should at a minimum be for eight hours of work, although most drone photographers charge more. This extra charge on a day rate is justified because of lost opportunity time.
If any work is expected to take more than five hours, consider charging a day rate instead of hourly. When all travel, setup, and communication time is said and done, five hours of shooting and editing is often closer to seven or eight real hours. As you are setting your own rates, it is important to properly account for those extra hours and get paid for them.
Half-day rates are used less often than day rates, but they can still be extremely valuable. These are useful when work is expected to take two or three hours, or if a client needs you around for a specific timeslot. This way, the client is sure that you are available and has a set rate, and you can be confident that you are getting paid fairly even if it takes less or more time than the client initially thought.
If You Charge Hourly, Account for Unbillable Time
Charging hourly is extremely common for drone photography for good reason. Shoots often do not last very long, and when the stars align it is possible to get multiple shoots done in one day. Charging hourly also ensures that when jobs go longer than anticipated you will still get paid fairly.
However, charging hourly comes with its fair share of weaknesses as well. It is much more difficult to account for extra tasks like communication and travel when charging hourly. Even tasks such as editing can be difficult to track and provide a quote for.
When charging hourly, be sure to account for the extra time that you lose on each shoot. Day rates and flat rates for drone photography naturally do this, but accounting for the extra tasks while charging hourly becomes tricky.
Working backward to figure out what your hourly rate should be is often a good idea. If many of your shoots are requiring you to travel 20 to 30 minutes away, that is roughly an extra hour of working time. So, you should raise your rates on those jobs to account for that. Similarly, if many of the shoots are right in your neighborhood, you can likely afford to charge less.
While establishing a quote for a client, consider what they are asking for as well. If a client wants you available for questions at all times, or has multiple shoots that are far away from each other, or has a tendency to switch up plans at the last minute, consider charging more. You will inevitably lose precious working hours to unforeseen consequences, so it is important to roll those hours into your visible hourly rate.
Set Limits for Every Job
Setting limits for clients and deliverables is a vital part of setting your rates for drone photography. While it may seem a bit counterintuitive, setting limits allows you to control your time in more detail, and when you control your time, you directly control your income.
Sometimes, jobs grow and clients add on responsibilities and requests. This can be frustrating, but if the contract is set up with this possibility in mind, these add-ons can quickly become a great source for extra money. These requests or limits define whether additional actions are within scope of the original agreement. Scoping is a business project management term to keep things focused without the distraction of wavering demands.
Add a section that reviews how many changes or extras are allowed to the client before you will charge extra. The exact amount of revisions you provide is entirely personal preference, but providing more than two or three is not recommended, as it is likely you will be taken advantage of. With revisions clearly outlined, clients know what to expect and what they can ask for. This way, when a third or fourth revision is requested, you know you will get extra compensation and the client cannot be upset.
In a similar vein, it is vital to set pricing and additional compensation clauses in case a client decides they want more work done. This is common in real estate drone photography, where a new house comes on the market and they suddenly need more shots. Adding a clause that states something akin to “extra work will be billed at 1.5x rate” ensures that work sprung upon you is paid fairly.
Know Your Overhead Expenses
Overhead expenses can grow into a sizable amount of your income gone every month or year. When deciding on what to charge for your drone photography, consider how much you are paying toward overhead business expenses so that you are well above that.
Common overhead expenses for drone photography businesses include:
- Editing software
- Drone repair and maintenance
- Technology upgrades
- Gas and travel expenses
- Licensing & Fees
More common overhead expenses could pop up depending on what sort of drone photography you specialize in, so keep an eye on where your money is going.
Your overhead expenses will change depending on your location, influencing everything from gas prices for travel to licensing needs. In the United States, a commercial drone certification is needed for anyone charging for work, for instance. I also have another write up on drone licensing here.
Tracking your overhead expenses allows you to directly see what you are earning as revenue vs. profit. This is essential to making sure that you are not only making ends meet, but are also earning enough to push money back into the business and building savings.
As you calculate and track overhead expenses, find ways to build these into what you charge clients. Hourly rates should include travel time, and day rates should more than cover the cost of editing software subscriptions. As these are essential tools for you to do your job, skipping out on them is impossible, so payment for them needs to come from the business.
Some specific jobs may have increased overhead, like traveling long distances or paying for a new certification to fly your drone. Talk with your client about how payment for these extra overheads will be paid for. Often, the client will be willing to pay for them themselves or you can build it into the invoice.
While there is no specific formula for determining how much you should charge based on business overhead expenses, a general rule of thumb is earning at least 3x the amount. This way, business costs are sure to be met, the business is profiting, and you are earning enough to continue expansion in the future.
Research Local Competitors
What local competitors are charging will have an enormous influence on what you can charge clients. Drone photography, naturally, is a very location-based business. In areas with lots of competition, prices may be driven down by people trying to get the most business, while remote areas tend to provide less work at higher rates.
To find a baseline for what you should charge, look at what others are charging and adjust accordingly. If many local competitors are much more experienced than you or have better portfolios, it is likely worth your time to charge less while you build up your skills. Undercutting is important while growing, but be sure to not crash the market – the difference in price should not be enormous. Besides, being the lowest service in town isn't going to line the phones by itself.
Likewise, if you are the most experienced drone photographer in the area or have a great portfolio, you can likely afford to charge a bit more than local competitors. Keep a critical eye while looking at competitors and be honest with yourself, but do not sell yourself short.
Remember to adjust your prices as you gain experience and build a better portfolio. Especially if you undercut the competition to start, keep looking at what they offer while you build up. Once you feel you are at or beyond their level, it is time to raise your prices and become a true competitor.
Ideally, you want to develop a specialty or niche down. That way, if you do decide to charge higher prices, or even the highest in town, you have a chance to justify the added cost.
You do not want to do the same work as others for less money. In the long run, this can easily result in burn-out and worse products. Be aware of your value and, unless absolutely necessary, do not accept less.
Know How Long it Takes You to Deliver the Final Product
Clients want to see what their money paid for as quickly as possible. With drone photography, this translates to delivering the final products in a timely fashion. Of course, it is important to not rush things and produce a sloppy product, but being efficient with work is sure to bring clients back.
If you are consistently delivering high-quality drone photos quickly and efficiently, you can likely afford to raise your prices. Time is a vital resource that many customers are willing to pay a premium on if it means they can move on with their side of projects quickly.
With that in mind, look for ways that you can deliver final photographs quicker than other competitors. Promising a 24 or 48-hour turn around time is perfect for inspiring trust in clients and bringing in extra money, assuming you actually meet these deadlines.
For large projects, consider delivering final edits in smaller batches to show clients that you are continuing work and making progress. This is also a great way to get them to pay in smaller chunks, which some clients prefer.
Inspiring confidence in your ability to deliver quickly means that clients will trust you with their money more. The more clients trust that you will do a great job, the more money they are willing to pay.
Be mindful that you are not rushing projects in an effort to get them done quickly. This is an easy trap to fall into, but delivering even one client’s photos in poor condition or with bad efforts can destroy any trust that was built up between you two.
Charge clients a premium rate if they come to you on a tight deadline. Clients who need you to focus on their project first, before other work you likely already have lined up, should pay extra for your services. A common guideline is that rush projects should be charged at least 1.5x your normal rate, although some drone photographers increase this even further to 2x or even 3x.
Offer Different Packages So Customers Can Easily Get a Price Range
Different customers inevitably have different ideas about what they need from drone photography. While you should have a specialty and focus on that, it can be worth establishing basic packages that clients can look through before spending time discussing quotes.
Different packages can cover things like long sessions, a certain number of photographs, unedited vs. edited photographs, or photo and video work. As the amount of work you need to do changes, so should your pricing. Packages allow customers to get a quick idea of what to expect if they choose you for their drone photography needs, while also allowing you to establish what you are comfortable being paid.
Packages can often be split by how many photos will be delivered, the resolution of those photos, and how long those photos are expected to take. Creating pricing tiers based on these three factors establishes a minimum you will be happy with while still accounting for custom project quotes as needed.
Packages should range from roughly $150 – $2000, depending on deliverables and how long the job will take. This is obviously an enormous range, so adjust according to your experience, needs, and other factors. It is important when creating package offers to establish a minimum you are comfortable with. While the hope is to get clients in at higher packages, this may not always be possible and you do not want to promise work at a price you cannot deliver on.
Another option for offering packages is to show options to clients after they have already contacted you with interest. Rather than listing out price ranges for each tier, clients can provide information on what is most important to them and you can adjust the pricing accordingly. In doing so, they are more likely to get a product they are happy with, and you are likely to get paid a wage you are comfortable with.
Make Extra Money By Selling the Copyright to a Photo
Occasionally, it may be possible for you to sell the copyright of various photos to make some supplemental income. This can be a great boon because these are often photographs you have already taken that a client was not interested in, so selling the copyright is just additional income.
Selling these photos directly should not influence how much you charge, but they will make it more comfortable and acceptable for you to take lower rates when necessary. They can also provide a steady source of income in case work dries up or prices in your area suddenly experience a plunge.
Copyright law can be complicated, so it is important to work this sort of thing into the contract. In the United States, it is possible to apply for copyright on multiple photos at once if you have any doubts. More official information can be found here.
If you are considering selling drone photography shots on the side, be sure that you have permission from clients to do so. Specifically, it is important to not take shots of private property or people and sell them without express permission. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and stick to shots that were not for clients.
Provide Custom Quotes for Each Project
Finally, providing custom quotes for each project is vital for earning enough from drone photography. No two clients and no two projects will ever be the same, so you should adjust your pricing as necessary to fit what the client needs.
The custom quote given to a client can be as detailed or as generic as you see fit, but be prepared to answer some questions about why the pricing is what it is. Toward this end, it is important to answer a few large decisions about each project while creating a quote:
- Are you going to charge an hourly rate or a day rate?
- Are you setting a session minimum? Does the project warrant one?
- Have you accounted for travel time and overhead expenses?
- Does the project need to be completed on a short deadline?
- Do you need any extra licenses for this project?
- What deliverables does the client want?
Having a base hourly rate and day rate is important to account for a generic job, but as you can see, other factors are numerous. As each of these questions gets answered, consider whether it makes your job easier or harder. If the job is tough, adjust your hourly rate up.
You should establish a wide range of what you charge clients early on. The minimum number should be the absolute baseline, what you would charge for an easy job. As jobs become difficult and more small steps are added, increase the rate for every difficulty. This method results in a somewhat inconsistent rate, but you will always be happy with the pay and the reasons for pricing can be easily explained as needed.
For instance, if you earlier decided that your hourly rate is $150, that is your minimum. If a job is far away, on a tight deadline, or has a large number of deliverables, raising the rate to $170 or $180 is acceptable.