One of the first things that comes to mind when thinking of drone profession is to use the camera and just take photos and video for a client, stock footage or for having a printed collection.
While this can be lucrative, shooting photos and video is perhaps the most densely populated sector of commercial drone profession and even worse still there are a lot of under-qualified pilots shooting the video for dirt cheap thus undercutting the competition and causing strain on more qualified drone photography.
Compared to other drone profession fields, becoming a professional drone pilot is fairly easy overall.
All things considered, when you’re in the air, you’re a pilot first and a cameraman second which is why your first order of business should be to buy an inexpensive drone and learn to fly it well.
Mastering throttle control and orientation before buying a more expensive drone for photography.
While a larger drone is easier to fly, without any experience it’s likely that you’ll crash, potentially destroying your brand new drone costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars or worse, injuring somebody else.
You wouldn’t learn to drive a car in a Bentley, and the same applies to drones. For less than $100 you can get a small, durable drone which you can fly and crash to your heart’s content.
A lot of newer drone photographers will start out with a DJI Phantom, partially because of brand recognition, and partially because of its sheer value at the moment.
Building a similar drone to the Phantom 3 4k (not to be confused with the Phantom 3 Professional which adds DJI’s Vision Positioning System) costs significantly more to get in the air versus DJI’s offerings.
While the camera is good, and their network based FPV system is solid enough for most pilots, the phantom 3 does have a few drawbacks, mainly the cost of additional batteries.
Because the Phantom 3 uses a proprietary connector, you can not use a standard 4400mah lipo no matter what connector you solder on.
A DJI battery costs $101. However, even with the inflated cost of batteries, the Phantom 3 would still be less expensive to start off with than a similar DIY multirotor.
If you want to go one step above the Phantom, DJI’s Inspire One and Inspire One Pro makes for a solid upgrade over the Phantom 3 with its dual operator setup, and further improved camera/interchangeable lenses on the Pro version.
The Inspire One has the added benefit of looking less “toy like” than the Phantom, mainly due to its more industrial, practical design.
This actually does matter in terms of public perception, as the Phantom has a negative reputation at the moment, especially after a government employee crashed one onto the white house lawn last year, that and all of the first flight flyaway videos people have posted on YouTube.
That said, the Phantom 3 4k is still a very capable drone.
Beyond basic ready to fly multirotors, there are plenty of DIY options out there, however most of them can’t compete with the value of the phantom or inspire.
That is, unless you want a higher end rig which you can also repair and maintain more easily as well as upgrade to your heart’s content.
If you’ve already learned to fly smaller multirotors and want to use a DSLR sized camera for filming, you can pick up a large octocopter frame like the s900 from DJI or tarot 680 and attach a gimbal to it.
Then, for an FPV system, most people will use a ground station with an external screen in order to be able to maintain line of sight flying.
A high end aircraft like this however is likely to cost you thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars when accompanied by a good DSLR, which is why you are going to need to already be a solid drone pilot before you even fly your new rig, else you may crash it before it pays for itself.
This route is not for the feint of heart however, as once you’re setup and in the air, you’ll have a multirotor costing thousands of dollars carrying potentially tens of thousands of dollars in camera equipment.
Which is why if you decide to follow this route you need to already be a good pilot and understand multirotor maintenance and care.
If you don’t, and something goes wrong with a motor because you didn’t clean or a battery explodes because you didn’t charge it right, not only would you lose the client, but also thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars of equipment.
If you know this, and still want the very best that money can buy then you would be best off learning to build your aircraft yourself, as buying one pre-made can add quite a bit of cost, plus if you know how to build it, you’ll be able to perform routine maintenance with no trouble at all.
Accessories For Any Drone Profession
No matter what drone you get, you will need accessories for it, common accessories include
More important than almost anything else, you will need additional batteries if you intend to do any professional work. Ideally, you should have at least 3 batteries, but you can never have enough batteries
You need a safe way to haul your equipment around without getting it damaged. Most drones have third party cases available by now, and if you can’t find one for yours, there are plenty of companies who will do custom foam cutting for you.
Multiple Battery Charger:
Batteries can take a while to charge, using a parallel charger is a good idea however you should first look into instructions for using your charger in order to stay safe
A Large Battery:
While on a shoot, it’s possible that you won’t have access to an outlet to plug in your charger. an external battery can be a lifesaver in these situations.
If your charger has a 12v input that can be connected to a car battery (generally only hobbyist chargers offer this), if your charger doesn’t take 12v, you can attach a 12v power inverter like this, in order to safely charge your batteries.
If you’re using an external screen for viewing your shots, a sun shade can come in handy if you’re in a bright area
Screws, nuts, props, anything small but important, you never know when they may come in handy, same with tools.
Other requirements before working on a shoot
It is also important that you fully understand DSLR operation and terminology before your first job taking photos or video with your drone.
If you don’t, you’ll come out looking like an amateur to your clients, risking your ability to get drone photography job in the future.
Information about DSLR photography is readily available nowadays, meaning that you can obtain an intermediate skill set without having to leave your home.
That said, it would still be advisable to take some sort of drone cinematography class in order to learn how to frame shots well, as well as some of the intricacies of working on a set.
Before you can fly your drone commercially, you are required by law to get a section 333 exemption from the FAA Before participating in any drone cinematography flights.
This is of course in addition to registering your drone online. However, the FAA is currently reviewing the process and is expected to make further changes to it in the near future in order to streamline it.
When starting out with a drone profession, it can be difficult to find clients at first. One of the best ways to actually start making some money is by taking a lot of good video, and licensing it to stock photo/video companies.
It may not be a lot of money, but its income that you can use to offset the cost of your equipment. Many business will also want photos/video for websites and advertisements, if you can get in contact with them, this can also be a solid route.
Many groups will also want footage from local events either for news or advertising, so keeping tabs on what is happening locally is a good idea for drone photography.
While doing all of this, you should work to establish a portfolio of your work as well as a website to advertise yourself
Most professional shoots are fairly similar right now as many directors really don’t know what to do with drones yet. Even so, you should ask your client what in particular they want highlighted, this is also a good opportunity to explain some basic safety guidelines with them.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to begin your professional drone photography and cinematography.