Aerial photography or videography can greatly increase the “wow” factor for many types of projects, from establishing shots in a movie to wedding videos, promotional materials, or pictures of the family farm. Not only does the elevated view provide more interesting visual information than a ground-level image, sometimes it is the only way to get a truly comprehensive look at a subject.
Other common applications for aerial photography include aerial real estate photography, unique gifts, commercial development surveys, construction progress photos, crop analyses, law enforcement investigations, archaeological surveys, and insurance claims. Each of these uses for aerial photography requires a customized approach for capturing the images. In this article, we’ll cover what you need to know about aerial photography, whether you’re buying it from a professional, looking to get some shots of your own as a beginning hobbyist, or launching your own aerial photography business.
In This Article
- An Introduction to Aerial Photography
- Where to Buy Aerial Photography
- Aerial Photography Prices
- How to Capture Your Own Aerial Photography
- How to Launch an Aerial Photography Business
An Introduction to Aerial Photography
Today there are many options available for obtaining the perfect aerial shot. For example, you could purchase an existing aerial photograph or video clip from a professional. Relative amateurs can pull off basic shots with as little as $40 worth of materials to improvise a rig. A step beyond that opens up a series of consumer-priced drones and miniature helicopters with camera mounts. For truly spectacular aerial camera work, professional photographers can get footage from a full-sized airplane or helicopter.
If you’re not familiar with aerial photography and videography, here’s a brief primer to get you up to speed:
- Aerial photography is great for a variety of projects, including movies, gifts, and marketing materials.
- Stock aerial images and videos are available online. Still images typically start at $15 to $50 and video clips usually start at $99.
- Commissioned professional aerial photography starts at $120 for drone work and $350 for helicopter work.
- You can do it yourself for under $50.
- Business opportunities abound as demand for aerial photography booms.
- The FAA has rules for professional drone operators that don’t apply to hobbyists.
Where to Buy Aerial Photography
If you’re looking to incorporate aerial photography into a project, you don’t necessarily need to go out and get the shots yourself, or even hire someone to get it for you. The internet contains plenty of aerial footage and photography for you to purchase. You can purchase aerial photographs or footage from numerous websites that offer stock imagery for use in all kinds of projects, whether personal or commercial. Here a few of the most popular stock photography websites:
- Aerial photography or aerial footage? Both aerial footage and still images are available
- Price: Aerial photography generally ranges from $50 for XS images to $475 or higher for L images; prices for aerial footage vary widely based on the required licensing rights and format/resolution, ranging from $750 for limited licenses up to thousands of dollars.
- Start shopping for aerial photography or aerial footage on the Getty Images website.
- Aerial photography or aerial footage? Footage only; no still images
- Price: Footage starts at $49 but most clips are closer to $199 for high-resolution footage
- Start shopping on the Nimia website.
- Aerial photography or aerial footage? Both aerial footage and still images are available
- Price: Aerial photography starts at $29 for 2-image packs; aerial footage generally ranges from $19 (426 x 426) to $199 (4k). Subscription packages are also available.
- Start shopping for aerial photography or aerial footage on the Shutterstock website.
Aerial Photography Prices
Aerial photography prices vary widely depending on the method used to capture images, the geographical location, and the scope of work required. However, as a general benchmark, helicopter footage starts at about $350 (approximately the same as light airplanes) and drone work starts around $120. Drone aerial photography prices are lower simply because getting the rig up in the air is much easier than a helicopter or plane. Some outfits also offer “elevated” footage that is not technically aerial but may be more affordable.
Most companies offering commission-based aerial photography are local businesses as opposed to national chains. A quick Google search for “custom aerial photography near me” should yield an assortment of professional photographers; we found listings for outfits in cities large and small across the United States.
Today, finding a new aerial photography business is simple. Many people enjoy flying drones and are seeking to profit off the hobby. This means drone aerial photography prices can be found at very reasonable rates. You may want to simply find someone who enjoys talking about drones and ask them what their drone photography prices would total.
Aerial photography prices also vary based on the final product. Drone photography prices are lowest if you just want the shots. But if you want editing, printing, framing, or other customizations, additional costs naturally come into play. When approaching an aerial photography business, you’ll likely have several packages to consider.
How to Capture Your Own Aerial Photography
There’s no reason that you need to be a professional with a lot of training and a big budget to start capturing your own aerial images. With a few simple materials and a little know-how, you can begin shooting your aerial footage or photography in less than a day, and for under $50.
DIY Rigs: Styrofoam and Helium
The internet abounds with do-it-yourself options for amateur photographers, including very inexpensive rigs using Styrofoam, a cheap camera, and some helium balloons. The downside of this strategy is that you have very little control over the camera’s motion and therefore the image’s frame. If utter precision is not a requirement of your project, this kind of one-off photo shoot could run you as little as $40 and some sweat equity. The simplest method of capturing images through this type of rig is simply setting your camera to video mode and letting it run while the rig takes it aloft; if you have a camera that shoots in HD (1080p), you should be able to grab some terrific frames from the video if you’re in need of still images.
Buy a Drone
Another great option for doing aerial photography yourself is to buy a consumer drone such as the popular DJI Mavic Pro. Drone aerial photography prices can be set at a low rate so you can get started earning right away.
In most cases, the FAA regulations limiting aerial photography by drones don’t apply to hobbyists. That’s important if the footage you want to capture is of a wedding party, for example. While professionals are limited in their ability to fly over crowded areas, you may be able to get those types of shots on your own as long as it’s not for a commercial purpose. Just remember that it’s a good policy (and common courtesy) to inform everyone present that aerial filming will occur, and to have practiced enough to be safe operating the drone around people, such as at a construction site.
If you’re crunched for cash, see our list of retailers that sell drones as buy now pay later.
How to Launch an Aerial Photography Business
If you’ve enjoyed aerial photography as a hobby, know that there is definitely demand out there for aerial photography as a professional service. The FAA is currently predicting the sale of 2.5 million commercial drones in 2017. The potential to have a successful aerial photography business is great.
As with any business, doing the actual work is only part of the puzzle. Time and effort must be devoted to marketing, bookkeeping, purchasing equipment, and meeting legal requirements. Below, we’ve compiled some tips from people who are running a successful aerial photography business.
Step One: Do Your Research
Like any endeavor, it’s important to know what you’re getting into as you prepare to launch your aerial photography business.
1. Find Your Niche
Is aerial real estate photography for you? Weddings, perhaps? What about operating a more general aerial photography business? Take the time to really think about the niche you would like to fill in the aerial photography industry, and how that would best be accomplished. What kind of subjects might you want to cover: people, properties, landscapes? What sort of output suits your capabilities and style: photography or videography, with or without additional editing, print or digital?
Remember that the more specific your niche, the better chance you have at establishing yourself as a market leader.
2. Choose the Best Method of Capture
Aerial real estate photography in a crowded city is best done via drone. Many budding professionals will want to purchase a drone for maximum operational flexibility. There are a great many models from which to choose but expect to pay at least $400 (such as for a DJI Phantom) for one with enough functionality for professional use.
Another avenue to consider is inquiring at local airfields for potential partnership opportunities with pilots. Going up with a pilot can represent a significant upfront cost, as you’ll need to cover the rental of the plane, the fuel, and the pilot’s time. If you go this route, you’ll need to choose the aircraft carefully. Many times, a helicopter is ideal because it can fly lower than a plane and may have open doors, allowing for plenty of visibility. But planes without struts, such as a Cessna 177RG, are also good options for aerial photography.
3. Fly Safe and Find a Mentor
If you go the drone route, take a flight safety class and prepare yourself for all of the potential hazards you could face. Another good strategy is to find yourself a mentor in the industry and shadow them for a time. The wisdom and experience gained from a mentor will be invaluable as you make your way forward.
Step Two: Control Costs
Once you’ve decided on the right hardware to get started in the industry, sit down and write out all the factors that will go into how much your time, expertise, and product will cost you to provide. Then build in a profit margin that is comfortable but reflective of your experience level. Keep in mind that prices for helicopter aerial photography typically go up from $350 for a single session, and drone photography prices start at about $120 per session. Use this as a baseline — but keep in mind that you may need to accept lower-paying jobs to start.
1. Find the Best Fee Structure.
There are several different ways you could bill for your services, including flat rate packages, hourly, or a la carte. It’s helpful to have solid baseline prices established for your niche services, so you’re ready when the customer wants to negotiate. In the beginning, you may find that you have to experiment a bit to discover the method of billing that works for you. You might even take a loss on some of your early gigs, but you will gain valuable information to help guide the development of your business.
2. Account for Other Costs.
Remember that there are other costs of doing business, including marketing, licensing, and insurance to protect your investment from forces beyond your control, from weather to angry birds. It is also helpful to build in a cushion for unexpected costs. At the end of the year, any money you have left over can be budgeted for continuing education or equipment upgrades in the following year.
3. Do the Right Marketing.
A functional, modern-looking website and a social media presence are the two most important aspects of marketing your new business. Another great avenue for drone operators is to register with a site like JobforDrones.com. The team running this website is seeing booming demand and is actively committed to connecting aerial photographers to clients.
Remember that customers will want to see examples of your work. If you don’t have a solid body of work already from amateur projects, take some time to capture footage that showcases your best abilities and bolsters your authority in your niche. Those images need to be displayed on your website so that you have a readily accessible portfolio to your prospective clients.
Step Three: Remember the Legalese
1. Establish a Service Agreement.
If you are providing aerial photography services to customers, whether by drone or plane, you’ll need to use a service agreement and a copyright license agreement in the course of your business. There are online services that can help you draw up a sUAS agreement for about $350.
Other sites offer boilerplate forms that are said to be free — but remember that nothing ever is. Free forms come with some uncertainty about whether they truly address all aspects of your rights and liabilities, as well as reduced usability of these types of websites due to pop-up ads and surveys. One of these stock service agreements could end up costing you a considerable sum in the long term, so if you are running a major operation, it’s probably worth it to have a custom contract drawn up.
2. Know the FAA Regulations for Drone Operators.
Finally, here is a quick rundown of the latest FAA regulations for businesses that use drones.
Commercial drone pilots must pass a drone-oriented test before beginning operations. Testing costs approximately $150, with lots of locations nationwide from which to choose. The main function of the test, according to the FAA, is to determine whether the potential pilot understands the use of aeronautical charts and how to avoid prohibited airspace.
Next, you must adhere to the following rules for flight:
- Class G airspace (uncontrolled, i.e., not charted or classified by Class A, B, C, or D)
- Must keep the aircraft in sight
- Must fly under 400 feet
- Must fly during the day (within 30 minutes of twilight or dawn is also acceptable)
- Must fly at or below 100 mph
- Must yield right of way to manned aircraft
- Must NOT fly over people
- Must NOT fly from a moving vehicle
Note that all of these requirements include the option to apply for a waiver. The waiver process can be slow, so plan for up to 90 days to receive one.
Aerial photography businesses are in demand. If you’d prefer to leave things to the professionals, you can purchase existing aerial photography on websites like Shutterstock or Getty Images. You can also commission new photography or video starting at about $350 for helicopter shots or $120 for drone work. Or, with the ready availability of drones and high-quality cameras, it’s easier than ever to get the perfect shot on your own. With a little ingenuity, you can even begin capturing your own aerial photographs for less than $50 without ever leaving the ground. There is a lot to think about when seeking or creating an aerial photography business, but the possibilities are endless.
For more information about drones which can be used to capture aerial photography, see our article: Rent-to-Own Drone & Lease-to-Own Drones Options.