To start a drone photography business you won't need a formal education but you will need to consider a few details before getting your UAV up in the sky. Utilizing drones in photography is a rather new and budding niche that can help give you an edge within your industry.
Certainly a background in photography will help you get started on creating stunning aerials but you'll need to learn the rules of the airspace first. Obtaining your Part 107 license is going to be the most important factor in this process but let's save that for a little bit later.
Here is an inside look at the reality of starting a drone photography business - estimated costs, obtaining your license, and how to improve your drone photography skills.
What are the Start-Up Costs for a Professional Drone Photographer?
Let's talk about the associated costs when you start a Drone Photography business- you'll be fronting the cost for gear, programs, training and insurance. The costs are very similar to running a photography business, although there will be some varying costs that typical photographers won't need such as licensing and drone gear.
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 personally have only flown the DJI brand as they are the leader in the market for consumer drones - the best drones will range anywhere from $900 - $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?
In order to become a professional Drone Photographer you will need to obtain a Part 107 License so you can officially monetize from your work. Any person looking to earn money from their drone hobby will be required to become licensed through the Federal Aviation Administration.
Learning the rules and regulations of the airspace is very important so you can safely move throughout the sky without breaking any laws or disrupting aircraft. To pass this knowledge test there are only few requirements - you must be 16 years old, be able to read/write/speak English, and lastly have the Physical/Mental ability to fly a drone. Once you are ready to take the test you will need to obtain a FTN tracking number through the FAA website. You can learn more about registering for the test here on the Federal Aviation Administration website.
How Do I Pass The Part 107 Test?
The minimum passing score is 70% and there are 60 questions you will be tested on and you will need to answer 42 correctly to pass. You will have 80 minutes to complete the exam and results will be verified instantly. You will need to take the test in person at a registered FAA testing site.
The testing fee for the Part 107 is currently $160 per attempt - and it will last you up to 48 months before you need to retest. Although, the FAA recently just announced that the recurrent test will be FREE so that is great news for when you pass and then retest!
The study material does have associated costs as well and I highly recommend investing in a training course program to help you study for the test. The Pilot Institute is an industry favorite and has helped thousands of students study and successfully pass their Part 107 test. You can use the FAA Online Study Guide for free but it won't be 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 are going to be similar to what most photographers use and depending on where you are at in your journey some of them may or may not apply to you at the moment. I am going to break down what 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 Photography, and Premier Pro/After Effects for Videography.
Lightroom Mobile is free to use if you are wanting to learn more about editing and the Lightroom software. Creating a signature style and look is a great way to build an audience and help clients understand your editing style. I currently sell one set of Lightroom Presets in my shop which can be a resource to you for editing your photos. You can shop them here! Although they are labeled "Fall Presets" they work really well with all different types of landscapes.
EXAMPLE: Before + After Using the "Tahoe Preset"
Make sure to follow me on Instagram @brittsbellavita because I will be releasing some tutorials, presets and drone photography guides in the near future!
Estimated Cost: $10 - $52.99/ Month
Obtaining insurance for your drone business is definitely recommended as your projects begin to increase. There are many options out there - some are very flexible and even offer insurance per project or by the hour- which is a great option for beginner photographers.
Estimated Cost: $60 - $250 / Per Month
Associated Costs of Doing Business
Please check with your states guidelines about the associated costs of doing business.
Registering as an LLC or DB: $40 -$85
Business License: $50 - $100
Annual Report Filing Fee: $20 - $25
Franchise Tax: $800
Final Estimated Costs of a Drone Photographer: $3,430 - $7,900+
All in all it really depends on how much you are willing to invest in your business and the quality you are looking for. Each of these costs can be accumulated over time and different times in your business. Of course over time it's likely you could damage your drone or want to invest in additional drones so keep in mind that you'll need to continuously invest in your gear over time.
What are my Drone Photography Career Paths?
As a drone pilot there are many different avenues to discover with your unmanned aerial vehicle. Many drone pilots go on to use their UAV for scientific, agriculture or inspection purposes alhtough this blog is specifically geared towards the drone photography career path.
As a drone photographer you'll want to find a specific niche to focus on - some ideas might include - construction, weddings, travel, nature, agriculture, architecture, ocean, real estate, events, or a specific type of landscape. I live in Northern California and there are tons of wineries in my area so I niched down and created a Wine Photography business where I help wineries take photos of their vineyards and properties. You can check out business my site here.
Here are some ways to make money with your drone:
Sell Stock Photos/Videos
Help Real Estate Agents Take Photos + Videos
Create a Niche based Photography Business
Contract with Local Videographers
Sell Photography Prints - Check out my Print Store Here
I wrote a blog about 5 ways to make income as a drone photographer and you can read more in depth about these avenues here.
Final Tips on Starting a Drone Photography Business:
Define what subject you will be taking photos or videos of and narrow down your niche.
Invest in the right drone for your business
Sign Up for the Part 107 License
Sign Up For a Study Course to Pass the Test on your First Try
Create your Business Website + Social Media Channels
Build a Portfolio + Start Client Outreach
Invest in Drone Insurance
Have fun and Kick Ass!
Follow me on Instagram at @brittsbellavita for Drone Tips + Inspiration!