Ask Drone Girl: How can I sell my drone photos legally?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about where you can legally fly, and photography for commercial purposes. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

Dear Drone Girl,

I read about you in the latest issue of “Professional Photographer.” I’m not sure if you’re willing to answer my question, but I thought I would ask anyway.

A few months back, my husband and I purchased a Phantom 4 to play around with aerial photography. When we first bought it, we didn’t think it was a big deal: we knew we had to register it and we knew there were rules to follow. However, we were overwhelmed with what we could and couldn’t do and it seemed that- with so many rules and regulations in place – we were paralyzed and didn’t even know what we could. We weren’t able to get any of our questions answered and we simply didn’t know if we were even doing anything wrong. So, we returned it.

However, I just got the latest issue of Professional Photographer and I’m a little confused. The articles are making it seem like I might have overreacted.

All I want to know is : I’m a professional photographer that wants to SELL images that I take on a drone. What do I have to do in order to make this happen? How am I supposed to know where I can and cannot fly (it seemed like a lot of the places I wanted to fly were restricted)?

-Kathleen

Photo by Flickr user Drone Picr https://www.flickr.com/photos/132646954@N02/28831939675/
Photo by Flickr user Drone Picr 

Hello Kathleen!

Thanks so much for reading my piece in Professional Photographer! Of course I’ll answer your question.

To backtrack a little bit — you have every right to be overwhelmed — even a few months ago, the rules were highly confusing on how you could legally operate drones in the U.S. It was a mess! That all changed at the end of August, when the FAA made it legal to operate drones for commercial purposes under Part 107.

Let’s get to the rules today, which are significantly less complicated. In order to now legally operate for commercial purposes, you need to have a Part 107 license. To that, you need to pass a written test, which tests your knowledge of topics like airspace safety, rules, weather and maps. If you have more of a photography background and less of an aviation background (me too!) it’s something that you’ll definitely need to devote at least a couple days studying for (and possibly more, depending on your experience). I liken it to studying for that driver’s permit written test when you were 15 years old.

Here are some links to both free and paid Part 107 test study guides.

There are 700 testing centers around the country, and you’ll have to pay an $150 testing fee.

You will also have to register as a drone operator and mark that license number on your drone. There is also a $5 administrative fee for that.

As far as where you can and can’t fly, I always use AirMap as my go-to resource. They tell you exactly what’s restricted and not.

Photo by Flickr user "A Silly Person" https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcoccia/26585970742/
Photo by Flickr user “A Silly Person”

Generally speaking, you can always fly in Class G airspace without needing an additional waiver. (That means flying near airports is a no). However, the FAA does create temporary “No Drone Zones” over major events such as the Super Bowl or the Pope’s visit for additional safety, even if that area was Class G airspace. You also can’t fly over National Parks under their own rules, and private property can dictate rules about not being able to take off and land on their property (I recently saw this sign at Stanford University’s campus telling people they can’t fly drones there).

But if you want to fly in your local park, over the beach, out on the vineyards, etc., for the most part you are totally okay! Again, I always just recommend you check AirMap.

Just for fun – since you’re a photographer — I’ll recommend you check out SkyPixel for some drone photo inspiration. And, another book I love for drone photographers is Eric Cheng’s “Aerial Photography and Videography Using Drones” book.

Happy flying!

2 thoughts on “Ask Drone Girl: How can I sell my drone photos legally?”

  1. Minor correction: you can fly over National Parks. That’s up to the FAA, and they haven’t forbidden it. The National Parks Service has a rule against taking off and landing in the parks, but they don’t control the airspace.

  2. Great. Drone Girl, you’re the Best. I would that some cities forbid drones In all their parks e.g. Beverly Hills. Some cities forbid them on the beach and some, everywhere else: Paris France.

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