You will not need a formal education to start a drone photography business, but you will need to consider a few details before launching your UAV into the sky. Using drones in photography is a relatively new and developing niche that can help you gain an advantage in your industry.
A background in photography will certainly help you get started on creating stunning aerials, but you'll need to first learn the rules of the airspace. The most important aspect of this process will be obtaining your Part 107 license, but we'll get to that later.
Here's an inside look at the reality of starting a drone photography business, including estimated costs, licensing requirements, and tips for improving your drone photography skills.
What are the Start-Up Costs for a Professional Drone Photographer?
Let's talk about the costs associated with starting a Drone Photography business: you'll have to pay for equipment, programs, training, and insurance. The costs are very similar to those of running a photography business, though there will be some differences, such as licensing and drone gear, that most photographers will not require.
Choosing the Right Drone for Photography
You'll want to invest in a drone that has a quality camera for video and photo - anything 4k for video and 20+ MP for photography is a good place to start. I have only flown the DJI brand because they are the market leader in consumer drones - the best drones range in price from $900 to $3,300.
I currently fly the Mavic Air 2 and I am very happy with the quality it produces! I use my Mavic Air 2 to produce high quality photography prints and for social media content creation. I highly recommend purchasing the Fly More Combo upfront, as you will get more bang for your buck. The cost of batteries and ND Filters can significantly add up - so if you can afford the Fly More Combo from the start you will be in good hands.
If you are just starting out and have not invested in a drone yet - I would recommend the DJI Mini 2 which is going to be more cost effective and still produces quality 4k video. This beginners drone will start at $449 and is perfect for someone who may be wanting to test out this career path or use for documenting their travels as it is a very compact and light drone.
Estimated Base Cost of Drone: $900 - $3,300
Additional Drone Gear Costs:
Batteries: $99 - $120 / Per Battery (I recommend having at least 3 at all times!)
Drone Battery Wall/Car Charger: $50 - $180
ND Filters: $25 - $175 / Per Lens
Drone Case: $20 - $120 / Per Case
Drone Landing Pad: $12 - $25 / Per Pad
SD Card: $20 - $38 / Per Card
Hard Drive: $60 - $200 / Per Hard Drive ( I recommend having at least 2 to start - Drones have very large files and good to have a backup!)
Estimated Base Cost of Additional Drone Gear: $286 - $850+
Do I need a License to Fly a Drone?
To become a professional Drone Photographer, you must first obtain a Part 107 License, which allows you to legally monetize your work. Anyone who wants to make money from their drone hobby will need to get a license from the Federal Aviation Administration.
It is critical to understand the rules and regulations of the airspace so that you can move around the sky safely without breaking any laws or disrupting other aircraft. There are only a few requirements to pass this knowledge test: you must be 16 years old, be able to read/write/speak English, and have the physical/mental ability to fly a drone.
When you are ready to take the test, you must obtain an FTN tracking number from the FAA website. More information about registering for the test can be found on the Federal Aviation Administration's website.
How Do I Pass The Part 107 Test?
The minimum passing score is 70%, and there will be 60 questions on which you must answer 42 correctly in order to pass. You will have 80 minutes to complete the exam, and the results will be validated immediately. You must take the test in person at an FAA-approved testing facility.
The Part 107 testing fee is currently $160 per attempt, and it is valid for up to 48 months before you need to retest. However, the FAA recently announced that the recurrent test will be FREE, which is great news if you pass and then retest!
The study materials do have associated costs, and I strongly advise you to invest in a training course program to help you study for the test. The Pilot Institute is a well-known industry resource that has assisted thousands of students in studying for and passing their Part 107 exam. The FAA Online Study Guide is available for free, but it is not as engaging and interactive as the Pilot Institute course.
Resources I recommend:
Why Pilot Institute is an amazing resource:
12.5 hours of short, easy to watch videos. Compare that to roughly 5 hours for other options.
You’re guaranteed to pass your test on the 1st try.
The only course to offer free flashcards and a cheat sheet.
Used by over 20,000 students to pass the test.
Offline and mobile access to the course.
Unlimited practice exams and 20 quizzes with more than 250 questions.
Taught by an FAA certified flight instructor. Greg is a professor at a major aeronautical university and has his remote pilot license and airplane commercial pilot license.
Lifetime access to the course means you can use it to brush up when you go to renew your Part 107 license.
Estimated Cost of Part 107 License + Training Material: $160 - $400
Programs for Drone Photographers:
These will be similar to what most photographers use, and depending on where you are in your journey, some of them may or may not be applicable to you right now. I'll go over the tools I currently use to create, edit, and deliver photo galleries.
Websites + Client Galleries
Having a website is never mandatory but if you are looking to sell prints or run a business it is highly recommended as a professional. I currently use two different programs - Wix and Pic-Time. I utilize the premium business plan with Wix.com so I can sell my Drone Photography Prints via my travel blog. Website plans on Wix range from $14-$49/ month.
I also use Pic-Time to deliver client galleries and I absolutely love and would recommend this system for any photographer. Pricing packages range from $0/month to $52/month.
Estimated Costs: $14 - 100/ Month
Client Management Programs for Photographers
The best and only client management system I would recommend is Honeybook - they are definitely a leader in the CRM industry for photographers and service providers. Through Honeybook you can send questionnaires, proposals, invoices, contracts, emails, and so much more!
Estimated Cost: $9 - $39/ Month
Editing Software for Photographers
Adobe is the leader when it comes to editing software - you may need only one or two programs or decide to use the full creative suite. Lightroom and Photoshop are the best programs for Ph