Guest post by Mike Bromley
Anyone with even the most basic drone can take to the skies and shoot pictures. But if you want to become a professional drone photographer with a booked-up schedule, then you’ll need to be more than just a keen drone owner. Let’s take a look at what you’ll need to cover if you want to set yourself up as a professional in this exciting industry.
Licensing, Training and Insurance
To operate a commercial drone business, you are going to need to organize a license, some training, and insurance cover. Before this though, all drones, regardless of usage, need registering with the FAA if they weigh between 0.55lbs and 55lbs. The cost is $5 and you’ll be covered for three years.
When you graduate to flying for commercial purposes, you’ll then need to get a Part 107 license from by the FAA. The FAA awards the license on the successful completion of a multiple-choice exam, which you can self-study for using FAA materials or get help from a drone training school.
As a beginner drone pilot, you should also plan on getting some flight training. The latest drones do come with in-built GPS sensors that assist you during flight. But there is no substitute for developing strong flying skills, should you need to take control of your drone in an emergency. Drone pilot training classes are now widely available if you want to consider professional training.
While there is no federal law requiring drone liability insurance, you should check the regulations within your local state. If you hit a person or property in the course of your work, then the cost to you could be high. There are several insurers offering drone liability insurance now, and you’ll need to budget around $500 for cover.
They also can insure your drone against damage, but check the deductible to see if it’s cost-effective. Alternatively, you could take out a repair or replace plans offered by some drone manufacturers when you first buy your drone.
The minimum kit you’ll need to get started
Expect to spend at least $1000 for a professional drone. The new American-made Skydio 2 sits nicely around this price, and if you pay a bit more, you can get the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. Both have around 25 minutes of flight time per battery.
Video quality is 4K, and images formats are both JPEG and DNG(RAW). The DNG(RAW) format is essential for image processing with photoshop software post-shoot.
Along with the basic drone kit, there are a few accessories you should buy too. As each battery give about 25 minutes of flying time, you’ll need some spares to complete a full day shooting. Many drone manufactures also offer an extended kit with extra batteries when you buy a drone. These are worth considering because they are good value over buying individual cells later.
Propellers are liable to chip and crack, especially with novice pilots, so you’ll need to have some spares. Propeller protectors also can help you navigate the bumps and bangs that are common when you are developing your skills. And a stable platform to use for take-off and landing helps to protect your drone from mud and uneven ground. Finally, a hard case to carry your investment safely should be in every drone professional’s kit.
How to find work
You won’t get hired unless you have a portfolio to show off your skills. Anyone who may consider your services will want to see the proof of your ability, and this means you’ll need a slick looking website. It can take a few months to get a website ranking in search engines, so the sooner you start on this, the better.
Shooting portfolio items for your website could mean doing some of your first jobs for free. Your family and social network are an excellent resource here and may let you shoot on their property. Examine the portfolios of existing drone professionals to gain an understanding of the standard you need to reach. Pay close attention to the types of shots they are taking and the angles that they use.
When people think about starting a drone photography business, they often think about the wedding or real estate niches. If you head down this route, then be aware that you could be facing stiff competition. Many regular photographers are adding drones into their already well established businesses.
Consider Specialist Niches
It’s worth thinking outside the box. New applications for photography drones are being developed all the time. You might choose to specialize instead in 3D mapping of terrain, building and wind turbine inspection, or ground surveying.
You could even branch out with a different kind of camera. Thermal imaging camera drones are now used to identify heat loss in industrial buildings to focus budgets on areas of need. The possibilities are many – you could even be the person that opens a new avenue for drone technology.
To start a drone photography business in 2020 requires complying with regulations, buying a high-quality drone, and having the skills to operate it effectively. You’ll also need to market yourself well.
But the most crucial factor for success could be carefully choosing the niche you operate in. First, make a clear plan for the direction of your business to give you the best chance of success with this exciting new technology.
About the author: Mike Bromley is a freelance writer, who usually writes about tech topics. Find out more at mikebromley.net.