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Thread: Is it worth trying to do aerial photography/videos freelance/professionally?

  1. #1
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    Question Is it worth trying to do aerial photography/videos freelance/professionally?

    Obviously the answer to the above question is going to be personal, as in "Will it be worth it to me?" So here's my background, and any applicable personal shortcomings I can think of.

    I have over a decade in the electronics industry, am a FCC licensed amateur (ham) radio operator, and have been working in IT for well over a decade. I'm no stranger to soldering irons or technology.

    At one point I managed a hobby shop selling R/C vehicles and was responsible for building them for the shop. We also sold R/C helicopters, but I did not build or fly them. We had a guy who hung around the store and sold his services to train new R/C chopper pilots, so I am somewhat familiar with the concepts involved.

    I have read the FAQ here on FPVLab.

    I do not currently own a quad copter and, should this prove to be potentially financially viable, I am aware that the first purchase I make should probably be a quad copter weighing 8oz or less, and spend about 18 months becoming a skilled pilot, upgrading the hardware as I go.

    I am sick and tired of working directly for corporate America and my intention would be to offer a variety of services, of which this would be one. I stumbled on 3DR's Webpage and was intrigued by their site survey and other suggested professional uses.

    I have no idea what the FAA professional licensing costs or requirements might be, how much of a demand there is for this type of service, what the going rate I should charge would be, and probably at least a dozen other things that I don't even know that I don't know.

    I've tried to supply what I consider pertinent information, if you have questions for me feel free to ask.

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    Please feel free to have the mods move this thread if there's a better subforum for it.

  3. #3
    Navigator CongoSavanne's Avatar
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    Is it worth it?
    I assume you mean "can I make money".
    In a World full of cameras what can you do that's different?
    “Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.”
    - Alejandro Jodorowsky

    Last edited by doobie; 15th August 2016 at 10:26 PM. Reason: spelt titties wrong

  4. #4
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    With the new FAA Part 107 regulations coming to take effect on August 29th it will become a lot easier. The expected cost if the remote airman certification exam is expected to be about $150, the commercial sUAS registration is $5, a TSA screening is also required if you do not already have a private pilot's license. I don't think the cost or process of the TSA screening has been determined. Liability insurance is about $1000, per million of coverage annually.

    Two problems starting right away is for one the process is expected to be flooded on august 29th, both the exam centers are booking up already, and the TSA screening is expected to get swamped and backed up. The other problem is the pool of "Aerial Photographers" I think will explode once part 107 starts permitting the operations, so the going rate for services may get pushed way down since everyone will be wanting business.

    The one skill you didn't mention having is photography skills. In order to be a photographer Aerial or otherwise still requires photography skills and experience. Where I am located there isn't a lot of major farming so I don't know much about areal surveying potential, seems like most everyone is doing business in real estate photography around here. I know the going rate for a real estate job is under $200, and with a lot of people already providing the service it's probably pretty tough to pick up jobs and may get tougher after it becomes legal, next month.

  5. #5
    Co-Pilot Pushjerk's Avatar
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    Wingless,

    I think the answer is YES - but I think it depends on a number of factors, which I'll hit in a sec.

    First, let me say I am not a businessman, nor do I operate my birds in any professional capacity. I simply have a lot of interest in the commercial side of the industry and pay a bunch of attention to many different information sources.

    There are a handful of members here on the Lab that are finding success with UAS. And if you venture over to other forums like DIYDrones, RCG, and the various "RTF-System" Pilots Threads, you'll see evidence of the same.

    The low-hanging fruit that is Real Estate Photography/Videography is evidently the most popular realm that folks are finding various levels of success. Agriculture, Construction and Surveying are industries where UAS tech seems very promising as well, but best practices and real benefits I think have yet to be determined. Check out these good articles:

    The Truth about Drones in Precision Agriculture

    The Truth about Drones in Construction and Inspection

    The Truth About Drones in Mapping and Surveying

    And then there is Cinematography - TV and Hollywood - there are a lot of guys flying for TV and movies, but I think a you need to be a damn good pilot with damn good connections to break into that scene.

    Back to Real Estate - there are little businesses popping up all over the place that offer services around Real Estate. This is certainly made possible by the proliferation of RTF systems now available to the consumer. Some of these businesses likely never get off the ground, but many are indeed seeing success. These guys for example are apparently doing multiple jobs daily in their area, which is likely saturated with similar businesses. - http://www.aerialconceptus.com. That is only one example out of probably hundreds across the country. So, yeah, it's happening.

    This would be a good time to segue into factors that would determine success for an aerial photo business. I'm going to stay focused on the Real Estate industry as an example.

    Location - Where are you? What is the market like? Would your potential customer be willing to pay you for your services? If you're local real estate market is super bias toward the sellers, then a Realtor is likely not going to need much if any help selling his listing, and will not likely fork over an extra several hundred dollars to do so.

    Location could also be key, you could have a relatively balanced market with a bunch of competing Realtors, and potential clients might want that competitive edge and would pay you for some good aerial work of his/her listings.

    Again, location - are you in a large city with likely many businesses offering the same aerial photo service? Or are you in a smaller town with a booming real estate market where no one is doing aerial work?

    Location - How's the weather? Excellent flying weather year-round means income year-round. Where I live NW WA, it's windy and raining half the year.

    Schtick - I think CongoSavanne is spot on in his comment -What are you doing differently than other camera men/women in your area? This could be as simple as your camera is flying, if there is zero competition. If you have competition, you're likely going to need to distinguish yourself by style or superior skills in piloting and cinematography. Do you offer any other services? A product like a complete interior/exterior photo/video package is likely going to sell way better than an aerial reel of the roof.
    Last edited by Pushjerk; 16th August 2016 at 01:19 PM.
    "That aircraft is nothing but a bunch of spare parts flying in close formation!"

  6. #6
    Co-Pilot Pushjerk's Avatar
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    I enjoy listening to the Podcast put out by these guys:

    http://www.thedroneu.com

    They are a very RTF-System-oriented crowd, but they focus on "turning your passion into profit." I believe most of their member base is amateur flyers hoping to go pro, new aerial business owners, and veteran aerial photographers/videographers who are seeing success in this new industry. From time to time they fall short on some subjects, but their content is mostly rich in best practices for flying, filming, and running business centered around aerial photography/videography.
    "That aircraft is nothing but a bunch of spare parts flying in close formation!"

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    That's a wealth of good information, thank you all. Please keep it coming.

    To answer some of the questions asked, I understand the basics of photography but have had no formal training. As for what I plan to do that's different, I was going to stay away from real estate. I was thinking about construction and inspection as well as mapping and surveying. Precision agriculture sounds promising. I've also heard that forestry services (Federal and commercial) make use of drone surveys to monitor the progression of growth in certain areas. The "added value" I'd be bringing to the table is a willingness to fly in less convenient locations. For example high tension line tower inspections, radio tower inspection, things like that. I'd be willing to get the waiver for the 400 ft AGL for radio towers for example.

    I'm currently in Dallas, TX. but planning to move to Michigan (probably Grand Rapids area) in the next 18 months. Dallas is flyable a minimum of 9 months out of the year with the other 3 months only being questionable 1 year out of every 3 - 5. I'm not sure about Michigan.

    And I'm not planning on this being my only source of income. I'd keep my hand in IT consulting as well.

  8. #8
    Navigator CongoSavanne's Avatar
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    Again, it's easier question to answer than any of bureaucracy above, what can you offer that someone else can't, or can not do as cheaply for the same product.

    You will be competing with professional photographers and videographers using high end cameras, gimbals and rotor systems.

    I was interested in this too, until I saw the competition.
    “Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.”
    - Alejandro Jodorowsky

    Last edited by doobie; 15th August 2016 at 10:26 PM. Reason: spelt titties wrong

  9. #9
    Instructor Pilot Channel 1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wingless View Post
    Obviously the answer to the above question is going to be personal, as in "Will it be worth it to me?".
    Unless you can identify and know how to work a niche market, the answer is basically no.

    Wayne
    Everybody loves a bunny.

  10. #10
    Navigator CongoSavanne's Avatar
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    I would focus on farming if you have that around your area, introduce the farmers to the tech keeping in mind that the last thing a farmer wants is another problem.

    Offer them a complete NDVI scan package, offer it for free until you know what you're doing, and if they want to use this tech themselves give them a package that's based off a map on their laptop or tablet.

    Something similar to a Phantom, in that it takes off by its self, flies the way points, returns and lands its self.
    NDVI
    “Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.”
    - Alejandro Jodorowsky

    Last edited by doobie; 15th August 2016 at 10:26 PM. Reason: spelt titties wrong

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