Are you making a living doing aerial photography?

Joined
Dec 2, 2016
Messages
185
Reaction score
30
Age
64
Years ago I could have answered that question in the affirmative. I did very well with it for some years. The past few years it slowed down considerably, probably because of the economy and that my customers were manufacturers who were his hard. (My specialty was taking the pretty picture of the industrial facility to be used to hang in the president's office or in marketing materials).

Last year I purchased a drone, thinking that with the advent of cheaper drones that could produce acceptable images, that I was competing with those who had no aircraft expense who could easily undercut me.

I have done some paid work with my drone, and paid for it many time over, but still am not near a level of making a living with it. All my marketing efforts are failing and the only business I can scrape up is from previous customers, but that well is running dry.

I was intrigued with the idea of doing mapping imagery in addition to providing aesthetic photography. I had done much of that type of work with quarries, but cannot get them interested in mapping. I have done mapping for free for several clients and they thought it was interesting, but didn't want to buy.

Anyway, I'm at a point where I'm about ready to give up trying to make this into a real business, and just see it as a part-time venture. I wonder if one of the problems is that everyone has a drone now, and that they (think) they can get pictures for free or very cheap. For example, one of my previous contacts said that they have employees who own drones, so why should he buy from me? But what he doesn't seem to grasp is that I am a professional photographer, and owning a drone doesn't turn someone into an adept photographer (besides the fact that it might be a hobbyist drone).

But before I give up, it might encourage me to know others are succeeding and maybe I'm looking for business in the wrong places.
 
Joined
Dec 2, 2016
Messages
185
Reaction score
30
Age
64
I could do other types of photography, but that was what I specialized in and didn't do any "ground" photography. I had plenty of aerial business which paid better and which I could get to quickly since I was flying from site to site and could cover much territory in one day.
 

BigAl07

Administrator
Staff Member
Premium Pilot
Joined
Jan 5, 2015
Messages
6,609
Reaction score
5,221
Age
49
Location
Western North Carolina
The market was saturated in 2016 and it's SUPER saturated in 2018. Your competition is exploding at an alarming rate. You have a few options:

A) Invest in some different forms of advertising/marketing campaigns to see if you can shake some business out of the trees

B) Expand your offerings to include more industries

C) Find a niche market and become the Go-To company for that market

Since drones are cheap and getting the Part 107 is about as hard as 3rd grade math anyone can (and are) getting into "Business". If you can wait out the influx of would-be professionals the tides will turn as the fad dwindles.

To answer your initial question: Yes some of us are making money doing this. Last year was our best year ever and I expect this year to bust that one easily.
 
Joined
Dec 2, 2016
Messages
185
Reaction score
30
Age
64
Thanks for your comments. I've been going after industrial clients which is what I know best, but am open to pursuing any other market.

When I did a lot of aerial photography from airplanes, occasionally a prospect would tell me the boss owns a plane, so they don't need my services, which was ridiculous, since it was not about a "plane" but about photography. The plane was just a platform, as is a drone, as I see it.

Recently someone from my church who is in real estate approached me and I thought finally word of mouth was going to lead to some business, but he just wanted to know how hard it is to pass the 107. He wants to buy a drone and do his own photography. So yes, the market is saturated in many ways.

I hope you're right and eventually things shake out. I know that I have skills that someone who just buys a drone does not have and it's a little frustrating that I have to compete with that.

Anyway, thanks for your comments. Congratulations for your success. If you care to recommend a type of client I might be overlooking that I might pursue, I would appreciate it.
 

BigAl07

Administrator
Staff Member
Premium Pilot
Joined
Jan 5, 2015
Messages
6,609
Reaction score
5,221
Age
49
Location
Western North Carolina
You might want to check out:

Commercial Drone Pilots Forum

Industrial Inspection is a good market that's not yet saturated but it's a tough nut to crack. My success has come from doing this for a long time. I was fortunate enough to get into this when there was no competition and I build a brand and reputation before anyone else had heard of it.

It helps I have a background in Sales & Marketing so I'm a decent cheerleader when I'm talking about something I know well and am passionate about it.
 
Joined
Jan 1, 2018
Messages
33
Reaction score
38
Age
40
Location
Chula Vista, Ca
I would say that what you're experiencing mirrors what I have been seeing and hearing. I know of editorial/commercial, RE, and even wedding photogs that have added drones to their arsenal. It's not just GWCs buying drones that you're competing with now, but other photogs who are adding to their offerings. Of course I'm sure there are plenty of cases where the companies simply use an employees drone to get the shots, and in some cases those employees may be talented amateur photographers themselves and capable of offering professional quality images.

In product photography there was a big shift that started about 10 years ago of smaller companies buying DSLRs and cheap light box setups rather than pay for drop shots (solid white background catalog shots). It would take them a while to get something that was "good enough", but they would often weigh the cost of "good enough" against "professional" and find that it was worth the savings. Wedding and portrait photographers had to deal with the same thing, and now it appears that drones have been able to cut into the once rarefied air of aerial photography.
 
  • Like
Reactions: AndrewCCM
Joined
Jan 1, 2018
Messages
33
Reaction score
38
Age
40
Location
Chula Vista, Ca
You might want to check out:

Commercial Drone Pilots Forum

Industrial Inspection is a good market that's not yet saturated but it's a tough nut to crack. My success has come from doing this for a long time. I was fortunate enough to get into this when there was no competition and I build a brand and reputation before anyone else had heard of it.

It helps I have a background in Sales & Marketing so I'm a decent cheerleader when I'm talking about something I know well and am passionate about it.
Out of curiosity, how many of them are living off of solely their drone work, and living comfortably? I know photographers who have added drones to their work, but I've not come at it from the other perspective to know of people who are drone specific.
 
Joined
Dec 15, 2017
Messages
329
Reaction score
156
Location
Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
I would say that what you're experiencing mirrors what I have been seeing and hearing. I know of editorial/commercial, RE, and even wedding photogs that have added drones to their arsenal. It's not just GWCs buying drones that you're competing with now, but other photogs who are adding to their offerings. Of course I'm sure there are plenty of cases where the companies simply use an employees drone to get the shots, and in some cases those employees may be talented amateur photographers themselves and capable of offering professional quality images.

In product photography there was a big shift that started about 10 years ago of smaller companies buying DSLRs and cheap light box setups rather than pay for drop shots (solid white background catalog shots). It would take them a while to get something that was "good enough", but they would often weigh the cost of "good enough" against "professional" and find that it was worth the savings. Wedding and portrait photographers had to deal with the same thing, and now it appears that drones have been able to cut into the once rarefied air of aerial photography.
DITTO. Try doing sports photography for a “living”. LOL

Although I have SI covers and 100s of images used monthly all over the place editorially, it’s become nothing but a small little secondary income. Sounds like drone photography/video is going the same way. Ironically, I started in video back in 1997, decided to go stills once HD came around (didn’t want to retool) and that went south... now drones.. Sad.
 
Joined
Dec 1, 2017
Messages
514
Reaction score
312
Location
UK/South Africa
Professional photography has changed a lot in the past 30 years. The biggest disrupter was the shift from colour transparencies to digital, as well as auto modes on the cameras. There were positives, of course, but the negatives included the fact that now any Tom, ****, or Harriet could get a half-reasonable image. Photo libraries changed. Etc, etc.

Marketing has always been an important part, even if it’s often been done in the past by your literary agent or photo library.

I’m not sure the overall situation will improve. The global market place and instant access makes the work of good photographers in countries such as China and India available at a low cost. Niche opportunities will always exist, but only for a few who have the contacts, marketing expertise, and high work standards.

Limited Edition Prints is one suggestion I would add. But any image must have the “wow” factor and wide appeal. Once taken, however, an image can be sold multiple times over.
 

BigAl07

Administrator
Staff Member
Premium Pilot
Joined
Jan 5, 2015
Messages
6,609
Reaction score
5,221
Age
49
Location
Western North Carolina
Out of curiosity, how many of them are living off of solely their drone work, and living comfortably? I know photographers who have added drones to their work, but I've not come at it from the other perspective to know of people who are drone specific.
Real Estate photography was a Cash Cow up until 2016. That's when the bar of entry hit the dirt and anyone with a credit card and a heart beat could call themselves an Aerial Photographer. Our "clients" are at fault for accepting any image from the air as "presentable" making John Boy who bought his drone yesterday at BestBuy and never taken a single picture (other than selfies on his smart phone) your competition. Thank goodness we still have clients who demand high quality and see the value in a photographer with experience and skills.

I don't do this full time simply because of insurance. I have a pre-existing condition and if I leave my current employer my monthly insurance premium is more than my house payment and I live in a new home if that gives you any perspective. By to quantify my comment, my sUAS business pays better than my current good paying job of 18 years. On some of my UAS projects I make my "Day Job" weekly salary each day of the week.

Professional photography has changed a lot in the past 30 years. The biggest disrupter was the shift from colour transparencies to digital, as well as auto modes on the cameras. There were positives, of course, but the negatives included the fact that now any Tom, ****, or Harriet could get a half-reasonable image. Photo libraries changed. Etc, etc.
^^^^^^^ Nailed it!!!

Marketing has always been an important part, even if it’s often been done in the past by your literary agent or photo library.
Well said AW.

I think many people get a coupe of paying jobs and think that business will come running to them knocking their door down. This was the case a few years back but not today. You've got to market yourself, your business, and do so in a way that somehow adds value to your client. You've got to catch their eye and show them why you're better than John Boy with his shiny new toy. Marketing takes time, effort, and some degree of experience/knowledge to be effective but for most of us it's the single most important part of starting and maintaining and GROWING a business. If you don't stand out in some way you are simply lost in the crowd.
 
Joined
Jan 10, 2018
Messages
1
Reaction score
0
Age
64
Years ago I could have answered that question in the affirmative. I did very well with it for some years. The past few years it slowed down considerably, probably because of the economy and that my customers were manufacturers who were his hard. (My specialty was taking the pretty picture of the industrial facility to be used to hang in the president's office or in marketing materials).

Last year I purchased a drone, thinking that with the advent of cheaper drones that could produce acceptable images, that I was competing with those who had no aircraft expense who could easily undercut me.

I have done some paid work with my drone, and paid for it many time over, but still am not near a level of making a living with it. All my marketing efforts are failing and the only business I can scrape up is from previous customers, but that well is running dry.

I was intrigued with the idea of doing mapping imagery in addition to providing aesthetic photography. I had done much of that type of work with quarries, but cannot get them interested in mapping. I have done mapping for free for several clients and they thought it was interesting, but didn't want to buy.

Anyway, I'm at a point where I'm about ready to give up trying to make this into a real business, and just see it as a part-time venture. I wonder if one of the problems is that everyone has a drone now, and that they (think) they can get pictures for free or very cheap. For example, one of my previous contacts said that they have employees who own drones, so why should he buy from me? But what he doesn't seem to grasp is that I am a professional photographer, and owning a drone doesn't turn someone into an adept photographer (besides the fact that it might be a hobbyist drone).

But before I give up, it might encourage me to know others are succeeding and maybe I'm looking for business in the wrong places.
You no doubt know this, but what the guy with employees with drones also doesn’t get is that if they do the video &/or photo drone work for the boss without the commercial certificate they’re no longer flying as hobbyists because their video is being used for commercial purposes (even if they don’t receive a penny for it, but especially if they do).
 
Joined
Mar 6, 2018
Messages
17
Reaction score
4
Age
40
I think you'll be successful if you're good. I see so much pure cr*p coming out of some "aerial photographers" that claim that they are "professionals". Just taking a bird up and pressing record doesn't really cut it anymore and clients are (hopefully) getting more aware of things such as why and how to use aerials. Some people just don't seem to have any idea how to compose a video for example. Well, everyone can't be painters or filmmakers either. You need to have vision, talent and skill. Some things you can learn, but others not so much.

Overall, if you only do aerial photography you'll have a very hard time in the future. As part of another business it can also be viable.
 
  • Like
Reactions: MNTLSS
Joined
Mar 3, 2017
Messages
479
Reaction score
171
Age
55
Let me tell you all a story. About 30 years a log I worked in a pre-press facility. You designed an image or series of images that were later going to be printed commercially: posters or packaging etc. we were the house that took your digital data and turned it into film to be later used to run for the commercial printers. It was expensive. The equipment we had was entirely too much for any one entity to afford , hence our existence. However, once prices fell to a level where companies could afford to own their own equipment, they did and a whole niche industry went away. Technology has a habit of doing that. Rendering whole groups of specialized pros obsolete.

I’ll tell you where it’s headed. Forgetting the legality of this, the 107, it’s super easy for a company that already does photography to simply add another camera than to add a specialized flying photographer. Yes there are better ones but even still: take a look at high-end listings. They already use a company that has a whole video production suite using all sorts of technology to produce a final product. A drone is just another camera to them.

In other words, specialization is a dying thing. Multi-disciplined production is the way things evolve. Always.

Diversify or jump on the next tech but realize that it will soon become normalized and brought back in house.
 
  • Like
Reactions: MTO
Phantom Drones from EALLRC.com

New Threads

Forum statistics

Threads
136,402
Messages
1,410,617
Members
99,211
Latest member
anfema