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8 tips for starting your own aerial photography business — and making money while doing it

I have a recurring feature on my site called Ask Drone Girl. People have asked me about topics including FPV’s impact on eyesight, international travel with a drone, legal airspace, drone video music, LCD brightness and even a potential drone stalking situation.

But far and away the biggest question I get is centered around one topic: money.

What do I study in school to get a job in drones? What kind of revenue can I expect? Is there a set amount of hours you need to fly to become an expert?

But the most common scenario is people who have a drone and are looking to start an aerial photography business.

I figured the best way to give advice was to crowd-source from the pros. I reached out to some of the top aerial photographers in the business to get their advice:

  1. Use social media. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook or a drone-photo sharing site, stay active posting on social media. “These days almost everyone has a Facebook, Twitter, and /or Instagram account,” said Stacy Garlington, founder of the DJI Aerial Photography Academy.

“By posting your best images this will get the word out that you are serious about pursuing aerial imaging.” Along those lines, join online communities. There are tons of drone Facebook groups, Slack channels and forums to share your work, as well as learn from others.

“There you can keep up to date with what’s going on in the industry and share images and experiences with like-minded folks,” Garlington said.

2. Find a niche. Don’t just photograph everything and spread yourself thin.  Figure out one or two niches. Whether it’s real estate, weddings, or something else completely, become a pro in that field. “Rather than have a huge list of services and a crazy demo reel, show you’re an expert in one specific field,” said Drone Depot distributor Alex Wright in a past Drone Girl article. “I came into a market that was quite saturated already as a pilot, so I focused on boating. I made boats my niche. I’m the boat guy! And that worked so well for me.”

3. Post your work. If your client allows you to, share your work online so potential customers know you’re business is growing. At the very least, include testimonies from past clients so potential new ones have a reference point.

4. Don’t neglect sales! Even if you see yourself as a photographer, ultimately you are a salesperson. “Sales are the lifeblood of any business,” said SkyNinja founder Taylor Mitcham. “Without sales, all you have is an expensive hobby.”

5. Network. You never know when that one email you almost deleted ultimately turns into your biggest gig.  And don’t forget to follow up on all leads.

“Even if it’s 3×5 cards in a box, the business won’t come to you,” said Skyshot founder Casey Saumure. “You have to go get it.”

6. Decide when you can work for free, and when you need to get paid. Ultimately it’s a business and you deserve to be paid for your work. But that pro bono project could lead to something bigger and better.

And decide when you are willing to let magazines publish your work for free.

“Don’t be surprised if magazines, newspapers, and other publishing agencies want to print your images for free,” Garlington said. “In general, they no longer need to pay for images since the internet is saturated with talent. Allow them to use your images and add the publication to your resume.”

But don’t forget to get paid too! Garlington suggests that stock agencies such as Adobe Stock, Getty or Shutterstock are outlets to get residual income.

7. Build a professional website. 

“An established online presence — website and/or social media — is a must! One that tells a little bit about you/your company, but more importantly includes a photo portfolio of your work,” said Kim Wheeler, one half of the 2Drone Gals team.

 Come up with a memorable URL (can you avoid the cliches like ‘Sky’, ‘Aerial’ or ‘Air’ in your business name? Design a great logo that stands out. And even if you don’t have coding chops, build a great website. Drone photographer Kara Murphy built hers on Squarespace for less than $200.

“Set up analytics so you know what’s driving your traffic,” Murphy said.

8. Perfect your demo reel.  Carys Keiser, who does work primarily for British broadcast TV and other European production companies and also edits the BBC’s showreels speaks from experience.

Keep the demo reel short and sweet, between 1 to 2 minutes. Remove any illegal drone footage, copyrighted music, and cut out distractions like graphics or weird editing techniques.

“What they want to see is ungraded footage from the drone,” Kaiser said, advising that photographers remove color grading or post=-processed stabilization. Put variety in your reel, whether it’s landscapes, locations, time of day and even time of year.

“Try not to show everything in sunlight,” Kaiser said. “Shoot dark skies and winter weather, and include people if you can.”

Do you have your own aerial photography business tips? I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below.

3 thoughts on “8 tips for starting your own aerial photography business — and making money while doing it”

  1. I like the suggestion to find a niche when looking to start an aerial photography business. If I were to start a business, I would try to post as much of my work as I could on social media. Networking is also something I would really try to jump on, because I believe that’s where you could see a lot of growth in your business.

  2. It’s interesting to learn that when starting an aerial photography business using social media to showcase your portfolio is a valid approach. I do like the advice to find your niche and specialize on them. If I were to start this, I’d be sure to follow your tips on how to start an aerial photography business since they seem to be very helpful. Thanks! I hope I can get myself this service to sell our old home.

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