The world of drone photography is rapidly expanding, capturing the imaginations of photographers and entrepreneurs alike. Melding the worlds of technology and art, drone photography offers a unique perspective that traditional photography can’t provide.
Whether you are an avid photographer looking to branch out or a drone enthusiast willing to monetize your passion, starting a drone photography business can be a rewarding opportunity to be your own boss. This guide will take you through the process, offering an overview of the business, steps to get started, and answers to common queries.
A drone photography business involves using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with high-resolution cameras to capture stunning images and videos from a bird’s eye view. These visuals are in high demand across various sectors, including real estate, events like weddings, tourism, advertising, construction, and even agriculture. As a drone photographer, you would need to master the art of piloting drones, understand camera settings and angles, stay updated with local laws and drone regulations, and develop a knack for capturing compelling visuals.
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Drone photography is part of the broader photography industry but stands out for its unique technological edge. As drones become more accessible and affordable, the industry has witnessed significant growth. It caters to various sectors, including real estate, weddings, tourism, agriculture, and even environmental research.
A few trends to watch out for:
- Increased regulation: Governments are implementing stricter regulations for commercial drone usage, aiming for safer skies.
- Technological advancements: New drone models are continually released, featuring better cameras, longer flight times, and enhanced stability.
- Diverse applications: From real estate photography to wildlife conservation, the applications for drone photography are broadening.
- Rising consumer interest: Businesses and individuals are recognizing the value of aerial shots, leading to increased demand for drone photography services.
The target market for a drone photography business can be quite diverse as drone photography services are utilized across various industries. Here are some of the primary target customers:
Real estate agencies: Drone photography has revolutionized real estate marketing by offering unique aerial perspectives of properties. Real estate agents and developers often hire drone photographers to create more engaging property listings.
Event organizers: Event organizers, especially those in charge of outdoor events like weddings, concerts, and festivals, often use drone photography to capture unique moments from a different angle.
Tourism industry: Travel agencies, resorts, and tourism boards can utilize drone photography to showcase attractions and provide potential visitors with stunning visuals of their destinations.
Construction companies: Drone photography is increasingly being used in construction projects for site inspections, progress tracking, and promoting completed projects.
Agriculture sector: Farmers and agricultural businesses use drone photography for crop monitoring, irrigation management, and land surveying.
Film and TV production companies: Drone photography is also popular in the film and television industry for shooting aerial footage and establishing shots.
Marketing and advertising agencies: These agencies often employ drone photography to create compelling visual content for their clients’ promotional campaigns.
Environmental and wildlife organizations: For tasks like wildlife monitoring, habitat assessment, and environmental impact studies, these organizations often rely on drone photography.
Insurance companies: In the aftermath of disasters, insurance companies may use drone photography to assess damage without putting human adjusters at risk.
Sports teams and organizations: Drone photography can provide unique angles for capturing sporting events, training sessions, and promotional material.
It’s important to note that while these are common target markets, the specific target market for your drone photography business may vary based on your location, expertise, and business model.
Checklist for Starting a Drone Photography Business
While mastering the technical aspects of operating a drone and capturing quality aerial photography is important, there are many other steps involved in starting a successful drone photography business. Here is a checklist to help you get your business off the ground!
Step 1: Identify a Niche
Starting a drone photography business is an exciting journey filled with opportunities. But where do you begin? The answer lies in identifying a niche. A niche will define your focus, target audience, and the specific services you will offer.
Drone photography has a wide range of applications across various sectors, creating numerous opportunities for specialization. These sectors include real estate, weddings, events, inspections, agriculture, tourism, filmmaking, and many others. Each of these areas requires different techniques, equipment, and skills. Therefore, choosing a niche will allow you to focus your resources, hone specific skills, and cater to a targeted market effectively.
It’s important early on to research and analyze different niches to determine which aligns best with your skills, interests, and geographic location. For example, specializing in real estate photography would depend on active property listings needing aerial shots in your region. Or you may live in a rural area where agriculture drone mapping is in demand.
Once you identify some potential niches, dig deeper into the client needs, challenges, and competition of each sector. Talk to potential customers to help determine if there is adequate demand and room in the niche for your business.
By focusing on a defined niche early on, you can tailor your drone gear, portfolio examples, website, and marketing approach directly to that audience. This will make your services stand out and give potential clients confidence you understand their niche needs versus trying to be a jack-of-all-trades drone operator.
Step 2: Write a Business Plan
After validating there is demand for your drone services, the next step is to craft a detailed business plan. This document acts as your roadmap, outlining every aspect of your new drone photography service.
While a drone business plan is most often thought of as something needed to get financing, there is more to it. Putting your ideas down on paper gets them out of your head so you can clearly visualize your path forward. The business plan has you thoroughly think through critical factors – your niche, operations, marketing, and competitive landscape.
The business plan will also have you focus on the financial aspects and calculate exactly what your startup expenses will be, and project your revenue and expenses to see if the business is feasible.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Get Drone Pilot Certification
If you don’t already have it, getting drone pilot certification is the next step to tackle before operating commercially. To legally become a commercial drone pilot in the United States, drone pilots must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Here are the key requirements:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Pass an aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved testing center
- Be vetted by the TSA for security purposes
- Demonstrate English language proficiency
- Complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate
The knowledge exam covers topics like airspace classification, aviation weather sources, effects of weather on drone performance, and FAA regulations. Study materials are available online to help prepare.
Once certified, drone pilots must follow all FAA rules, such as getting an FAA Tracking Number for the drone, obtaining waivers for controlled airspace, and recertification every 2 years.
Step 4: Purchase Equipment & Software
There has been a lot of work done so far, but not much to show for it. But now we get to focus on something more fun: buying equipment and software.
Based on your niche and target market, the first step is to determine the type of drones, cameras, and accessories that will best serve your business. Don’t forget accessories like additional batteries, a controller, a carrying case, filters, extra propellers, etc.
Most drones come with their own software packages for controlling the drone and processing footage. However, for more advanced editing, you might want to consider additional software. Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are standard tools for image editing, while Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro are popular for video editing. Also, there is drone flight planning software like DroneDeploy or Pix4D that offer sophisticated flight planning and mapping capabilities, helping in planning and executing complex shots.
Step 5: Practice your Craft
Starting a drone photography company is an exciting opportunity, but it requires more than just owning a drone. Even if you have some experience, continuous learning and practice are key to mastering this craft. Begin by immersing yourself in educational resources. Watch instructional videos, read drone photography blogs, and take online courses from places like Udemy or Skillshare. These can provide valuable insights into the technical aspects of drone operation, the artistry of composition, and the nuances of different photography styles.
Practical hands-on experience is equally important. Invest time in practicing your drone flying skills in various environments and lighting conditions. Experiment with different shooting angles and techniques to develop your unique style. Remember, your ultimate goal is to create stunning visuals that captivate your clients and set your work apart from others.
Additionally, consider attending workshops or seminars where you can learn from seasoned drone photographers and network with other enthusiasts. These platforms can provide invaluable feedback on your work and open up opportunities for collaboration.
Step 6: Register the Business
Starting a drone photography business involves several legal considerations, and it’s vital to ensure that the business complies with all the relevant laws and regulations. Each state is different, but here’s a general overview to help you navigate through this process:
Decide on a business structure: There are four main types of business structures: Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), and Corporation. For a drone photography business, many entrepreneurs opt for an LLC structure due to its liability protection advantages. As an LLC, your personal assets are protected in case the business is sued. However, a Sole Proprietorship can also be a viable option due to its ease of startup and lower cost.
Related: Comparison of business structures
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular LLC formation services include:
IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
ZenBusiness - Best for beginners. $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Northwest - Best privacy protection. $39 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.
During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.
Obtain business licenses and permits: Depending on your location, there will likely be a variety of general licenses or permits needed before opening. This could include a business license, seller’s permit, and Employer Identification Number (EIN).
Step 7: Create a Marketing Plan
Being the best in aerial drone photography doesn’t necessarily mean clients will automatically flock to your business. Don’t get me wrong; talent in capturing stunning aerial imagery is important, but without a sound marketing strategy, those clients may never find your business. A few strategies used by other drone businesses include:
- Create a professional-looking website with an eye-catching online portfolio showing your best aerial images and video to attract potential clients. Leverage social media like Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube to showcase your portfolio.
- Stay active on social media and engage with your audience by sharing drone tips, behind-the-scenes photos, and company news.
- Claiming your business on online directories, including Google Business Profile and Yelp, increases your visibility.
- Build relationships with real estate agents and offer them discounts on aerial shots for listings. Provide high-quality photos they can use to market properties.
- Partner with construction companies to provide project progress aerials and 3D mapping models through drone surveying. Offer value-added insights with your unique perspective.
- Attend industry networking events to connect with those who may need your services. Bring business cards and be prepared to explain your services.
- Focus on SEO to rank highly in local search results for terms like “drone photographer Chicago” or “aerial videography Los Angeles.”
- Consider print advertising in niche publications read by your target customers, like real estate magazines.
- Create launch announcements and promotions to build buzz. Offer introductory discounts.
- Leverage Google Maps and Facebook ads to geo-target customers in your local area.
- Offer discounts for first-time customers or bundle packages to attract business.
- Joining your local chamber of commerce can also be beneficial. It provides opportunities for networking, gaining exposure in your local community, and accessing resources and advice from other business owners.
Step 8: Prepare to Open!
Starting a drone photography business is a multi-step process, and even after you’ve registered your business, purchased equipment, and implemented a marketing plan, there are still likely several important tasks left to complete. The needs will depend on various factors, including your location, target market, and business model. Here are a few common tasks to consider:
Business insurance: Business insurance, like general liability and drone/equipment coverage, can be important for protecting against accidents, damages, or lawsuits. Local insurance agents are an option, as are brokers that specialize in UAV policies.
Bookkeeping: Set up a bookkeeping system to manage your finances. This includes tracking income and expenses, managing invoices and payments, and preparing for tax filings. Software like Wave Accounting (FREE) or Quickbooks is a great option, as are bookkeepers.
Contracts: Depending on the nature of your work, you may need various contracts. These could include service agreements with your clients, non-disclosure agreements for sensitive projects, and property release forms if you’re shooting over private property.
Open a business bank account: Separate your personal and business finances by opening a dedicated business bank account. This will make it easier to manage your business finances and can also provide some legal protection.
Set pricing: Determine your pricing structure based on factors like the cost of your equipment, the time required for each project, and the going rates in your market.
Common Questions When Starting A Drone Photography Business
How much does it cost to start a drone photography business?
Starting a drone photography business requires an investment that typically ranges from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on various factors. This initial cost covers essential equipment, legal requirements, insurance, marketing, and more. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the costs:
Drone and camera equipment: Quality commercial drones with professional camera capabilities typically cost between $1,500 to $5,000. Additional accessories like spare batteries, memory cards, and stabilizers can add another $500 to $3,000.
Insurance: Initial insurance costs, including liability and equipment coverage, may range from $600 to $1,200 for the first year.
Certification: In the U.S., obtaining a Part 107 certification involves a test fee of approximately $150. Registering each drone with the FAA adds another $5 per aircraft.
Business registration and licensing: Registering your business, including necessary licenses and permits, can range from $100 to $800, depending on your location and chosen business structure.
Marketing: Initial marketing costs for website development, business cards, and advertising could fall between $500 to $2,000.
Software and subscriptions: Essential software for photo editing and business management may require an initial investment of $200 to $600.
Office supplies and workspace: Depending on your setup, this might include a home office or a rented space. Initial costs could be around $300 to $1,000.
It’s important to recognize that these are general estimates and can vary widely based on individual circumstances, location, and choices.
How profitable is a drone photography business?
The profit potential for a drone photography business owner can be quite promising, but it varies based on several factors, such as location, specialization, client base, and pricing strategy. Industry statistics show that professional drone photographers may charge anywhere from $200 to $750 per hour, depending on the complexity of the work, experience, and market demand.
Let’s break down a simple formula common to drone photography businesses to provide an estimate:
Revenue: If starting out, you charge $200 per hour and complete 20 hours of work per week, the weekly revenue would be $4,000. Monthly, this translates to $16,000 and annually to $192,000.
Expenses: Operating expenses, including equipment maintenance, insurance, marketing, licensing, and other ongoing costs, might run around 30% of the revenue. In this example, monthly expenses would be $4,800, and annually, they would amount to $57,600.
Profit: Subtracting the expenses from the revenue provides the profit. In this example, the monthly profit would be $11,200, and the annual profit would be $134,400.
It’s essential to note that these numbers are hypothetical and can vary widely based on numerous factors, including market conditions, competition, efficiency, and individual business choices. Researching local rates, understanding your specific costs, and adapting your business model to the unique attributes of your market will be crucial in accurately estimating the profit potential for your drone photography business. Additionally, these numbers don’t account for taxes, which should be considered in a more detailed financial plan.
What skills are needed to run a drone photography business?
Drone photography experience: Just like any photography, drone photography is an art that requires skill and experience. While anyone can learn to use a drone camera, expertise is critical to starting a drone photography business.
Knowledge of drone and drone photography laws: Drone flight is restricted in some areas, so you have to know where to fly. You also need to know what it is illegal to film with a drone.
Business knowledge and experience: You will need to have at least some basic knowledge of marketing, finance/accounting, and human resources.
Sales: You need to be able to sell your company to customers as a credible, trustworthy service provider.
Customer service: You’ll need to be able to build rapport with your customers so that you retain them as customers and gain repeat business and referrals.
What is the NAICS code for a drone photography business?
The NAICS code for a drone photography business is 54192, which is classified under Commercial Photography.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.