It might seem hard to make money doing professional drone work. After all, there are already many successful drone companies providing movie-quality videography. But it’s not as hard as you might think, thanks to the powerful consumer-priced drones on the market from DJI, Autel Robotics, Yuneec, Parrot, and others.
What drones can you use?
To get started, you should have a drone capable of at least 1080p video and 12MP photos. It’s recommended though to have a drone capable of 4K video and 20MP photos as these camera specs will assure the client they are getting quality content. It is also great to have the ability to take RAW photos, as it will allow you to touch them up after the fact. A high bitrate for video is also a must, with a recommended bitrate of around 100Mbps. Having smart flight modes, such as object tracking, on your drone also makes it much easier to get professional-looking footage.
The following is a list of drones we recommend. Please note drones like the DJI Mavic Mini and older generation of Mavics are still great for a majority of drone uses, including for some video and photo work, but they will not offer the best quality.
To legally fly a drone for business purposes within the US you must first get your Part 107 certification, which shows you understand the regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying a drone. This includes passing tests and a final exam, which allows you to get your Remote Pilot Certificate. You can learn more about the process on the FAA’s website.
How to get clients
A great way to get clients is through people you know. You might have a friend or family member that is wanting some aerial work done, or they may know someone who would be interested.
Another method that has worked for me in the past is cold calling, essentially contacting someone out of the blue and offering your services. A majority of the time they will say no, but you will get some that say yes. Good places to contact include real estate agents, active construction sites near to you, even local sporting teams. I usually start with those and then contact other companies that I think could benefit from a drone.
A majority of the aerial work I get is thanks to the free stock photography site Unsplash. I’ve been uploading my drone photos to Unsplash for the last few years, which has allowed me to get my work out in the open in front of a large audience.
Working with other photographers or videographers is a great way to get into an industry, as clients will already trust the person you’re working with. A good way to find other photographers or videographers is to use Instagram. Create an account, start sharing your work on it, and over time you will begin to find others in your town that are also doing something similar.
Weddings and events
A popular way to make money with your drone is to offer wedding photography and videography. Over the last couple of years, it has grown in popularity, with many couples wanting that extra special angle that only a drone can provide. Other events, such as sporting matches or a state fair are also great places to use a drone. Often organizers will want to get footage of these events for advertisements, and having a drone in the air will provide them with a new attention-grabbing angle.
Real estate photography is one of the most popular uses for consumer-focused drones, making it perfect for this list. Many real estate agents are wanting to show off properties or land they are selling, and a drone shot gives a unique perspective that is still quite new. Aerial photography also allows for informative overlays to be added, showing the size of the property or points of interest that are nearby. This would require extra work in apps like Photoshop or Premiere Pro to add the overlays onto the images or videos.
Stock photo and video
One angle that doesn’t require finding clients directly is uploading your photos and videos to stock photo websites. Uploading images to pay-to-use stock photo websites gives you a cut every time one of your photos is downloaded.
Uploading your footage to free-to-use sites is also a great way to eventually make money with your drone. You’ll get exposure that can lead to paid work, as has been the case for me. One thing to note is that it usually takes longer to get your work on the pay-to-use websites as you often have to get approved before uploading, while the free-to-use websites are open to a wider range of creators.
Pay-to-use image & video sites
Instagram and YouTube are also excellent venues for sharing your photos and videos to a wide audience. As with the free-to-use sites, they won’t make you money immediately, but they can help form connections that could, in the future, lead to jobs.
Take a look at some of the drone pilots we have covered in the past who have been able to turn their love for drones and photography into a sustainable business.
- Fourteen-year-old is making money with his drone
- Nurk flies an FPV drone into a flamethrower with epic results
- DroneDJ Pilot of the Week features Petra Leary
- DroneDJ Pilot of the Week features Boyan Ortse
Do you make money with your drone? What kind of work do you do? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo: Harry Cunningham