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Questions about getting started doing commercial work

ScottyV

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I know there are a number of threads on this, but I wanted to ask some specific questions. Thanks to all in advance for any help/advice you can provide:

I'm getting my 107 cert, and I looked online and found virtually nothing in my area for either full time jobs, or people looking for someone with a drone to help them (i.e. take pictures for Real Estate, farm land, or inspection images. or anything else drone-related).

1) For those that have flown commercially and make money using their drone, how did you come about the job(s)? Did you already work in a profession where, once drones became more available, you realized they could be used there? Did you do some advertizing/marketing in the area describing what you could do for a customer? (this is kind of my plan now, making flyers/business cards, etc)
2) Is much of the commercial work one-time-deal (i.e. freelance work), where you inspect a building or some other structure, or take some real estate pictures for various agents, or survey farmland and get paid for that work individually?
3) How much do you charge for freelance work like the above?
4) How feasable do you think it is that you could earn a living doing commercial drone work?...or is it something that, in most cases, is done on the side for some extra money.
5) Do you charge for travel (say you have to drive 2 hours round trip to the location, but will only spend a half hour getting the images they want). How would you handle that?
6) How do you acutally deliver the video/photos you create to clients (assuming that you take pictures/video, then leave, maybe do some post editing....then, how do you get the the product back to the customer)? I think you can use Google Drive, but wasn't sure.

Sorry for all the long-winded newb questions, just trying to get some insight on how people got started and what to expect.
Thanks very much for any suggestions, tips, and insight anyone has.
 
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TrayBoz

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I'm reposting this from a post I made in a different thread some months back from someone who had similar questions. I like your questions and hope you get some good answers here. I'm curious as well. I've dreamt of having some kind of drone business from day 1.

REPOST:
There are several "commercial drone business" podcasts available on iTunes that you can download and listen to for free. I've listened to a LOT of them over the past year, and still do.

To sum up what I've learned researching this over the past year, and learned from these podcasts, here are the high points:

1) It's going to be very difficult to sustain a profitable business by doing ONLY real estate videos. At least in the beginning, you'll need a diverse line of services to stay in the black.

2) You're probably going to need multiple drones, and for many projects, a mavic is not going to cut it when your competition is using Inspires and bigger/better.

3) Currently (as of March 2018), charging enough money to make a profit, in most parts of the United States, is difficult because the supply currently outweighs the demand = too many drone pilots / too few projects.

4) The only real money too be made with drones in most areas of the country is in large commercial projects. i.e. you get a contract with a large oil company to survey all 600 of their oil rigs from the air every week. Doing small, 1-time projects like a real estate shoot or a wedding, or inspecting 1 roof at a time is going be difficult to sustain a full-time business.

5) To get the good jobs, you need a lot of documented piloting experience, a large portfolio/resume of excellent quality, professionally shot and edited work to show, and of course a commercial pilots license (Part 107 in the States).

6) Building a drone business takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money. Don't plan on turning a consistent profit until 6 months to 1 year minimum. And that's if you're working at it full time. You'll need deep pockets to get started (or good credit, for loans.)

In other words, the message I consistently get regarding starting your own drone business is: Go BIG or go home.

I don't mean to sound discouraging. The demand for drones in commercial business, and the types of jobs, are predicted to continue to increase over the next 5 years. There will continue to be a need for serious, experienced pilots. Starting your own drone business can be done, and several people are doing it.

I was also thinking of starting a drone business, once-upon-a-time, but Alas, like most things in life, the more you look into it, the more you find that there's a lot more work and time involved than it initially appears from the outside. I decided it wasn't worth my time and investment of resources to pursue, for me personally, at least right now.

I think maybe becoming a pilot for an existing drone company might be an easier road to having this "dream job", rather than starting and running your own company - just a thought.

My 2 cents. Good luck!
 

Robert Mitchell

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The above post by TrayBoz pretty much sums it up and I would only have a couple of points I would mildly disagree with, or have a different perspective on, in his post.

It's a little hard without knowing exactly which direction you want to go in and what opportunities your area provides, but I can answer some of your questions as I have been flying commercially for some time now. For me It is not a full time job but dovetails nicely into what I has been doing for decades, i.e. landscape and other photography. I'm going to speak to aerial imaging, (as that is what I do), as opposed to mapping, inspections etc. I am also speaking as a self employed operator, as that is what I have been forever, as well.

I am in a rural area and had to drum up business by word of mouth and pounding the pavement. It has not been easy. Luckily a friend is a real estate agent and started using me early on. Others are just now starting to see my work and use me also, but it has taken a long time. Sometimes it comes down to who you know, and this industry is in its infancy still, so it is going to take time and a lot of effort on your part.

First and foremost, if aerial imaging is what you want to do (as opposed to mapping, data gathering SAR etc), you need to know photography FIRST, and flying second. It is also going to be difficult unless you have other skills as well... video editing, still shooting etc., because often they need other services and would prefer to get it from one provider. I often fly the drone in conjunction with doing MLS stills etc.

Don't let anyone tell you that real estate is somehow subpar or not lucrative etc. It can be very rewarding, lucrative and creative, depending on how much you're willing to work, and rise above the competition.

You are probably not going to be able to make it as a full time job right at first, but if you get lucky, are good at what you do, and make the right connections, it might not take long.

As for pricing, you will need to gauge what others are charging in your area and then calculate what you are willing to take for how much time is involved in your efforts.
Being cheap will not do the industry, or yourself any good in the long run.

I DO charge for travel time. Anything over 30 minutes or so gets charged at $XX.xx an hour extra. I upload and deliver almost all of my product by posting online. Much easier, and I can control the links, up to a point. Youtube is still a good platform for video (obviously depending on the required customer specs). Dropbox for stills.

That is being independent and freelance in a nutshell. In some areas you might get lucky and be able to fly for someone else or get hired as the in-house drone pilot, but most of those have other skills/duties in their job descriptions as well.
 
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Qoncussion

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Both of the responses above are excellent. As a kid I grew up in a house with a darkroom, as my dad was a photographer. So I was shooting and developing my own black and white film when I was 10 or 11 years old. I say that, as it fits nicely with @Rober Mitchell's comment about knowing photography - to which I would add, knowing your camera, how to frame the image, when a slow shutter speed is beneficial, when to close down the aperture (non option on Mavs)...etc. Not to 'off-topic' my own comments here, but I do find that too many "professional" (commercial) pilots just capture an image, in lieu of framing an outstanding shot.

I started off as a web designer in 1995, and started professionally shooting video in 2004. That was "in addition to" designing web sites. I got a Phantom 2 a few years back, and ADDED that to what I was already doing.

Now, I wrote all of that, to say this... On its own, I think it would difficult to run a drone-only business. I think you should mix it up with other similar services. Then there is the ever present question of, how much to charge. For real estate videos, I started off charging $299.00. A few (ok, most) realtors had a minor stroke when I quoted them a price. Then I was able to demonstrate that I don't just shoot some random images and cut them together. I do production work, and I have a portfolio to back it up... Which brings us to the rub...

It's hard getting started, because you don't yet have a portfolio. How do you build a portfolio if you can't get work? How do you get work if you don't have a portfolio? Simple - work for free. Let your friends know that you are offering free real estate, or roof inspection, or whatever videos - and don't be afraid to contact some realtors or home inspection companies to see if they want a free video. During the development of these videos, work on your editing skills. Learn how to create animated overlays. Know when too much saturation kills the image. Know what a properly exposed image looks like ~ and don't be afraid of the dark (what?)... I used to try and over lighten dark scenes - when in fact they look better when left dark (not great for commercial work - but you get the idea).

Owning a drone is one thing. Being able to create an artistic and professional production takes years of hard work to master, and an eye for what works. The real estate videos I sold at $299, or higher ($$$ - often much higher) were offered as production pieces, not just a quick shoot. I would request that the homeowners turn on every light in the house, open all drapes and blinds...etc. The post production work took hours (and hours). But I could differentiate my work from others, just by looking at it. This was one of my selling points - letting potential clients know the difference between home movies and production work.

Finally, I have a Bachelors in Marketing, so I know how to create a video that has 'sales appeal'. Learning how to appeal to your audience through images, music and text goes a long way.
 

ScottyV

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Thanks all for the responses. that's a lot to take in. appreciate the blunt truth about the experience and time/effort necessary. Like a lot of things, sometimes it sounds a lot easier than it actually is in reality. But you guys gave a lot of good ideas, maybe I'll just have to "dip my toes in the water" to see what's around, or like Qoncussion said try offering some free stuff first in order to build a portfolio. I need to do more research to try to find out what the market is my area and what opportunities there might be.

The real estate videos I sold at $299, or higher ($$$ - often much higher) were offered as production pieces, not just a quick shoot.
Can you describe a little more what you mean by a production piece? Do you mean video that includes all of the skills you mentioned: the knowledge of photography, color correcting, more complex video editing skills, animated overlays ( still need to look into what those are) to make a piece that's more the quility you might see in a movie, rather than just some clips put together to music and some transitions?
 

Qoncussion

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Can you describe a little more what you mean by a production piece? Do you mean video that includes all of the skills you mentioned: the knowledge of photography, color correcting, more complex video editing skills, animated overlays ( still need to look into what those are) to make a piece that's more the quility you might see in a movie, rather than just some clips put together to music and some transitions?

For me it comes down to a style of shooting. For instance, when shooting a piece of real estate, the inside of the house is shot using a handheld camera (usually on some sort of stabilizing rig). My style is to keep the camera moving; always panning. I shoot a room (say the kitchen) from several angles, and cut those shots together in fairly rapid succession - showing the big picture (an establishing shot), then right down to the details of say the granite counter tops (the little details). I don't hold any one shot for too long, so there are a lot of edits for each room. It's akin to an establishing shot, followed by a bunch of B-roll shots of what they just saw from close up. From a marketing perspective, a potential buyer will see everything, but not for too long - "just enough" to get them interested. We want to peak their interest and get them to come look at the house or property. So I don't give it all away in the video.

I set my exposure manually on the darker side of any given room. While standing in the room, I may pan over from a bright window (which will be way over exposed - due to the exposure being set for the darker part of the room) to reveal a well lit room. Light is your friend on such shots - might as well use it. Between showing the rooms in the house, I may cut to an exterior drone shot, just to let the viewer know that we're moving - meaning, the rooms in some houses look identical. The viewer wouldn't necessarily know that we've cut from one room to another, without some sort of cutaway or establishing shot for the next room. Sometimes I'll just cut to a shot moving further down the hallway - again to broadcast that we're moving to a new room. I include pretty much every inch of the house, including bathrooms (important to some viewers) to the hallways (often shows off available storage cabinets). I learned when shooting to avoid most closets. In most cases these homes are occupied, and the only way they got the place so clean was to throw everything into the closets. I do include walk-in closets, as they are a great feature to show off. I ask that the homeowners clean the house, from top to bottom before I arrive. There's nothing worse than having clutter in each shot. It's a real turn off.

The drone shots end up being about 25% (or less) of the total video. So you might consider looking into getting a handheld DSLR or camcorder for shooting the interior and several low shots of the exterior. I use three Canon G40s, mounted on various rigs to get the shots I want. Also, don't be in a hurry - and definitely don't let the realtor or homeowner rush you. I try to keep the videos under four minutes in length. There is a lot of talk about how long is too long for a video. Frankly these could be longer, as you know your audience - people interested in buying the house. And, an interested buyer will watch a longer video. Some of my early cuts were over seven minutes long ~ which is just boring to watch. Keep it moving. I used to have a local TV producer (friend) look at my cuts before I published them, and he ALWAYS said the same thing, "That's great - now cut it in half."

What more can I say? It's a process that involves good communication with the homeowner and them having a good understanding of what I'm trying to accomplish. I know how I want sunlight to fall in the house, so I shoot at a time of day when that particular house gets its best light. Sometimes that means an early morning shoot, other times midday...etc. Sometimes it means shooting the front section in the AM, and the back section in the PM.

Hope that helps.

Edit: I would add that I rarely shoot the interior of an occupied garage. 99% of garages are the same, and the few that I shot in my early days just looked messy on film. I'd rather leave some mystery as to how the garage looks, rather than show how boring and cluttered it actually is... :)
 
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Robert Mitchell

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For me it comes down to a style of shooting. For instance, when shooting a piece of real estate, the inside of the house is shot using a handheld camera (usually on some sort of stabilizing rig). My style is to keep the camera moving; always panning. I shoot a room (say the kitchen) from several angles, and cut those shots together in fairly rapid succession - showing the big picture (an establishing shot), then right down to the details of say the granite counter tops (the little details). I don't hold any one shot for too long, so there are a lot of edits for each room. It's akin to an establishing shot, followed by a bunch of B-roll shots of what they just saw from close up. From a marketing perspective, a potential buyer will see everything, but not for too long - "just enough" to get them interested. We want to peak their interest and get them to come look at the house or property. So I don't give it all away in the video.

I set my exposure manually on the darker side of any given room. While standing in the room, I may pan over from a bright window (which will be way over exposed - due to the exposure being set for the darker part of the room) to reveal a well lit room. Light is your friend on such shots - might as well use it. Between showing the rooms in the house, I may cut to an exterior drone shot, just to let the viewer know that we're moving - meaning, the rooms in some houses look identical. The viewer wouldn't necessarily know that we've cut from one room to another, without some sort of cutaway or establishing shot for the next room. Sometimes I'll just cut to a shot moving further down the hallway - again to broadcast that we're moving to a new room. I include pretty much every inch of the house, including bathrooms (important to some viewers) to the hallways (often shows off available storage cabinets). I learned when shooting to avoid most closets. In most cases these homes are occupied, and the only way they got the place so clean was to throw everything into the closets. I do include walk-in closets, as they are a great feature to show off. I ask that the homeowners clean the house, from top to bottom before I arrive. There's nothing worse than having clutter in each shot. It's a real turn off.

The drone shots end up being about 25% (or less) of the total video. So you might consider looking into getting a handheld DSLR or camcorder for shooting the interior and several low shots of the exterior. I use three Canon G40s, mounted on various rigs to get the shots I want. Also, don't be in a hurry - and definitely don't let the realtor or homeowner rush you. I try to keep the videos under four minutes in length. There is a lot of talk about how long is too long for a video. Frankly these could be longer, as you know your audience - people interested in buying the house. And, an interested buyer will watch a longer video. Some of my early cuts were over seven minutes long ~ which is just boring to watch. Keep it moving. I used to have a local TV producer (friend) look at my cuts before I published them, and he ALWAYS said the same thing, "That's great - now cut it in half."

What more can I say? It's a process that involves good communication with the homeowner and them having a good understanding of what I'm trying to accomplish. I know how I want sunlight to fall in the house, so I shoot at a time of day when that particular house gets its best light. Sometimes that means an early morning shoot, other times midday...etc. Sometimes it means shooting the front section in the AM, and the back section in the PM.

Hope that helps.
Pretty much exactly what I do also.

I have occasionally used the Mavic for interiors on a hand held rig, but now use a stabilized DSLR with better low light capability with less noise.

I also provide MLS HDR stills, as most are needing them anyway, and it adds a nice bonus component to your package.
 
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BD0G

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Nice technique tip with the Overexposed Window shot that will be way blown out like a full frame sunfire to a well exposed shot on the pan to the interior of the room. This effect can be accomplished in post with work, but I never considered allowing the camera's iris to do the work for you. So cool Kevin!
 
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ScottyV

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Kevin, thanks for all the time you've put in to giving this advice (and the other posters) in terms of how to shoot good video. I learned a lot from it. Question: I was thinking of buying this package for a "starter camera", I think it would give me a lot of accesories that I need. but I don't know enough about it to know if it's a good package. what do you think?

https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B079GDB7C7/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?smid=A3KTZ4MX8F6OME&psc=1

Again, thanks for your help.
Scott
 
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Qoncussion

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Kevin, thanks for all the time you've put in to giving this advice (and the other posters) in terms of how to shoot good video. I learned a lot from it. Question: I was thinking of buying this package for a "starter camera", I think it would give me a lot of accesories that I need. but I don't know enough about it to know if it's a good package. what do you think?

https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B079GDB7C7/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?smid=A3KTZ4MX8F6OME&psc=1

Again, thanks for your help.
Scott
No problem :)... That's a reasonable price for the Canon T6. And Canon lenses are good glass. I'll just share one thought here... I ended up buying more camcorders for my business, instead of going the DSLR route, as I found that most DSLRs can only shoot video for 20 or 30 minutes before stopping. I shoot a lot of live music and long seminars, and can't afford to have a camera shut down during a shoot. Beyond that, I was looking at the T6 myself recently - and may still grab one for photography.
 

ScottyV

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No problem :)... That's a reasonable price for the Canon T6. And Canon lenses are good glass. I'll just share one thought here... I ended up buying more camcorders for my business, instead of going the DSLR route, as I found that most DSLRs can only shoot video for 20 or 30 minutes before stopping. I shoot a lot of live music and long seminars, and can't afford to have a camera shut down during a shoot. Beyond that, I was looking at the T6 myself recently - and may still grab one for photography.

Great, thanks for the info!
 

ScottyV

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I had another question about music: I'm assuming you cannot use music from bands, as I did in the video I made, if you're being compensated for the content you're providing. Can you confirm, you always need to use music from one of the royalty-free sites? (this thread lists a couple of those sites) Did you spend a lot of time looking for the right music for each video you made, or maybe have a collection of "go to" music? Just wanted to see how you approached that hurdle, since the music you use has the big effect on the overall feel of the video (and how good it is). Thanks for any input!
 

Qoncussion

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I had another question about music: I'm assuming you cannot use music from bands, as I did in the video I made, if you're being compensated for the content you're providing. Can you confirm, you always need to use music from one of the royalty-free sites? (this thread lists a couple of those sites) Did you spend a lot of time looking for the right music for each video you made, or maybe have a collection of "go to" music? Just wanted to see how you approached that hurdle, since the music you use has the big effect on the overall feel of the video (and how good it is). Thanks for any input!
Music is a frickin' nightmare. Correct, never ever use copyrighted music. I do spend way too much time seeking out music for each production. I often use a program called "Mixcraft" to create original(ish) music. Generally I start by doing a loose cut of the beginning of my videos before I seek out some royalty free music. Once I have the music, I often attempt to sync my cuts with the music (then again, I often don't) :)
 

Qoncussion

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Also, FWIW - I was comparing Canon DSLRs recently. I'm not going to check right now, but (I think) I remember that the Canon EOS T6 did not have an external mic jack, whereas the T6i did. That's an important distinction when it comes to shooting video. You really need the option for external mics - as there ain't a DSLR out there that records good audio from its on-board mics.
 

ScottyV

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Kevin, thanks again. I wouldn't have known the difference unless you pointed it out. I checked and you are correct, which is a huge because otherwise I would have spent a lot on a camera that couldn't record good audio. Definetely will go for the T6i. You've help me a lot, I appreciate it. Thumbswayup
 

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Google UAV EXPERT, they offer certification in several areas...thermal imagery, aireal surveying, etc....that would greatly enhance your chance of landing a good(really good) job. Drones are making major strides in industry and agriculture to mention a few, there's lots more out there than real estate...good luck..be safe fly safe!
 

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I know there are a number of threads on this, but I wanted to ask some specific questions. Thanks to all in advance for any help/advice you can provide:

I'm getting my 107 cert, and I looked online and found virtually nothing in my area for either full time jobs, or people looking for someone with a drone to help them (i.e. take pictures for Real Estate, farm land, or inspection images. or anything else drone-related).

1) For those that have flown commercially and make money using their drone, how did you come about the job(s)? Did you already work in a profession where, once drones became more available, you realized they could be used there? Did you do some advertizing/marketing in the area describing what you could do for a customer? (this is kind of my plan now, making flyers/business cards, etc)
2) Is much of the commercial work one-time-deal (i.e. freelance work), where you inspect a building or some other structure, or take some real estate pictures for various agents, or survey farmland and get paid for that work individually?
3) How much do you charge for freelance work like the above?
4) How feasable do you think it is that you could earn a living doing commercial drone work?...or is it something that, in most cases, is done on the side for some extra money.
5) Do you charge for travel (say you have to drive 2 hours round trip to the location, but will only spend a half hour getting the images they want). How would you handle that?
6) How do you acutally deliver the video/photos you create to clients (assuming that you take pictures/video, then leave, maybe do some post editing....then, how do you get the the product back to the customer)? I think you can use Google Drive, but wasn't sure.

Sorry for all the long-winded newb questions, just trying to get some insight on how people got started and what to expect.
Thanks very much for any suggestions, tips, and insight anyone has.
I haven't read all of the comments yet, so pardon me if I repeat something.

I just got my 107 certification last month. While at my son's graduation the other day, I started talking to a guy and found out he was a realtor. Jokingly, I said if you ever need a drone pilot, let me know! I just got my certification. His eyes lit up and he said they've been looking into adding drone videos but didn't think they could (I'm just outside of D.C.).

The reason I tell you this is because networking still goes a long way. The other thing I wanted to say was make sure you have a business card on you if you're serious about doing this. You never know when a business opportunity will come your way.

Good luck on your test and your future business.
 

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lots of good information here! i have always been a photographer/videographer - so when reasonably priced quads became available, i added that tool to the box. jskcknit nailed it - networking & personal relationships are the way to go. if you don't have a portfolio, you have to build one. offer to work for friends & family for free ... or almost free (just not in MY market, lol). work on your photo chops, learn what moves work & how fast/slow to execute them. if i'm doing exterior business shots - i use 3 or 4 basic maneuvers in tripod mode & i'm out. ps - buildings are boring - add people - not bystanders - people you employ/cajole intofor a MUCH helping you by signing a waiver & walking in/out, talking, etc. makes for a MUCH more interesting shot. good luck!
 

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Regarding music, I’ve been a satisfied Sonicfire Pro user for over a decade. I have a variety of music and use the software to custom-fit it to the video. The license covers many uses including real estate, various corporate productions, and internet publication. Smartsound has great sales several times a year, which are the times I build the library. Support is excellent.

Relying on Smartsound, music is not much of a concern. It’s always covered.
 

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