How to Incorporate Drones into Your Photography / Videography Business: An Interview with UAV Coach Flight Training Instructor Cher Brown
BY Zacc Dukowitz6 September 2018
Cher Brown is a photographer, videographer, FAA-certified drone pilot, and a grandmother. Cher and her husband Terry are the owners of KEVA Creative, a photography and videography business located in North Carolina. Cher is also one of UAV Coach’s new flight training instructors for those looking to beef up their UAV flying chops.
We wanted to talk to Cher about how she went about incorporating drones into the work she does at KEVA Creative, and to learn more about her passion for drone education.
Let’s hear what she had to say.
What kind of work do you currently do at KEVA Creative?
KEVA Creative is a company that focuses on video and film production.
We just started work on our first documentary, which will take place in our backyard here in North Carolina at the Cape Lookout National Seashore on Shackleford Banks. The documentary focuses on a group of wild horses that have lived on the island for centuries.
We also work with local clients from North Carolina all the way down to Florida doing photography and video production.
In addition to my work at KEVA Creative I recently became an instructor at a local community college, as well as an in-person instructor for UAV Coach.
Check out this nature video from KEVA Creative shot entirely by drone
Tell us about adding drones to your toolkit as a photographer / videographer. What prompted you to make that change?
Drones came into our professional lives really quite by accident.
My husband and I are both professional photographers. We had some curiosity about what might be possible with drone photography, so we ended up buying a drone to experiment.
At that point we were very new to everything, and had no idea that we were supposed to be certified by the FAA to fly. So we unpacked it, blew through all the warnings in the apps we were using, and had our first flight in a nearby park.
It was only when we got back home and I started doing research, poking around on competitors’ websites, that I realized we needed to be Part 107 certified if we wanted to use our new drone in our work.
That’s when I realized how big of an undertaking it was going to be to really add drones to our toolkit. Initially my husband and I both were going to get FAA certified, but he was involved in corporate video projects so I was the one who really dove in and learned the material, and learned how to fly.
Now I’m obsessed with drones. I’m obsessed with aerial cinematography, as well as aerial photography. I used to never travel anywhere without my DSLR, but now it’s my DJI Mavic Pro.
The Mavic is my drone of choice—it’s small, it’s compact, and it fits right next to my DSLR in my backpack. I don’t leave home without it anymore. Flying is just too tempting.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own aerial photography business, or people who want to incorporate drones into an existing photography / videography business?
First of all, take it very slow. Go step by step, and really master your flying skills before you go out and start offering services to anyone.
Second, make sure you do all the planning and paperwork. Get insured, get FAA certified, and do everything by the book.
Third, be aware of your local drone laws, not just federal ones. This includes state drone laws, county and town drone laws, park drone laws, and so on. Do your research, so you don’t get caught by surprise when you go out to fly.
When I teach at the community college, I use a nano drone and have students practice taking it through an obstacle course to help drill different flying skills into them. That way, when they go to fly later, they’ll have that foundation to work from.
It’s important to practice, and also to meet other drone pilots. Try to meet people who are better than you so you can stretch yourself and grow.
Finally, be mindful of what I call drone ethics. This is something I always emphasize when I teach students about drones. Ethics doesn’t just mean following the letter of the law and what the FAA allows—it’s really more about making the right decisions based on where you are and who’s around you.
When I’m out flying I run into people pretty often who are kind of scared about drones. And I think it’s important to remember that, as a drone pilot, you are representing this entire industry when you’re out in public flying. So even if someone is being unreasonable, and is angry at you for flying in a place where you’re legally allowed to fly, be patient with them and try to talk to them. Try to address their concerns graciously, respectfully, and professionally.
Do you have drone insurance?
Yes, we purchase an annual drone insurance policy.
It’s somethings that’s really important, and I really stress it in my coursework. You can get on-demand insurance for one hour for 20 dollars—anyone can afford it, and it’s important to protect yourself.
When we started using drones in our work drone insurance was something that we wanted to research right up front, because we already had a very expensive liability policy that we have just to cover our film and photography work.
The first year we actually purchased a rider to go on top of our other liability insurance, and that was really expensive. After that first year I went out and did my own research and we purchased a different policy that was less expensive and just as good for our second year.
To me, the problem with going the on-demand route is that it creates an extra barrier to flying. If you’re out and see the perfect shot, you don’t want to have to go through an extra setup step before you get your drone in the air. I want to be able to just stop my car, run out and put my drone up—that’s why we have an annual policy.
In addition to your work with KEVA Creative you also teach people how to fly drones, both here at UAV Coach and elsewhere. Can you tell us about your work in drone education and what drew you to it?
I’m an in-person instructor for UAV Coach, and I teach introductory drone courses at the local community college. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with one of our high schools and teach their seniors about flying drones.
For me, I love watching someone’s face when they’re flying for the first time, no matter the person’s age. It’s just so much fun to see somebody’s face light up when they’re learning how to fly.
One highlight in my education work was mentoring a young man from the high school. The requirement was 15 hours. He was a gamer, so he picked up the sticks and knew exactly what to do, and he was really cautious and careful.
Do you think teaching people how to fly drones in small groups is important?
Small groups and one-on-one sessions can be incredibly valuable for getting first-hand experience flying, and for passing on knowledge.
As an instructor, one of the most important things I can give to my students is the knowledge I’ve accumulated through years of experience flying. I can share mistakes I’ve made and situations I’ve encountered. You can do this in the classroom too, but it’s much more difficult. When you’re out with a small group really working on flying, the transmission of knowledge is just a lot smoother.
We’ve spoken with some women who have talked about how breaking into the drone industry can feel intimidating. Have you had a similar experience?
The short answer is that I’ve actually had a very positive experience as a woman drone pilot.
It’s definitely true that clients can be surprised when my husband and I show up to do a job and they find out that I’m the drone pilot—they usually assume it’s him. When they find out it’s me, they usually get a kick out of it.
So yes, I would say that you’re definitely noticed as a woman in this industry, but not necessarily in a negative way. I’ve found my fellow drone pilots, many of whom are men, really welcoming and encouraging.
What are some other ways you’ve been able to make money as a “creative”, that is, as someone who flies a drone to create art?
In addition to my work with KEVA Creative sometimes I’ll pick up work from pilot networks like DroneBase.
When I first signed up with DroneBase they sent me jobs that weren’t really in my wheelhouse—insurance inspections, home inspections, things like that.
Then I found out about that they also pay drone pilots for stock media, and I began shooting short aerial videos and uploading them to DroneBase’s Getty Missions section for drone pilots. I learned a lot about how to finetune my clips for their requirements based on those that were accepted and those that were rejected, submitted a bunch of them, and ended up making about $1,500 in two weeks doing it. (You get paid a flat fee of $15 a clip.)
One thing to note about shooting stock media for DroneBase or other sites is that you have to really learn about the artistry behind shooting. That is, you can’t just focus on your flying abilities—you really need to focus on how to get a great shot, too, and how to create the clip so that it’s a commodity that other people will want to use.
You also need to get familiar with your settings in order to get professional shots, and avoid using auto settings. I always adjust my settings manually so I can get exactly the shot I’m envisioning. This year we’ve worked hard on having some classic shots that we can easily set up and execute quickly so that we don’t waste a lot of battery life. So far it’s been working out really well.
Want to schedule a flight training class with Cher to improve your drone skills and knowledge? Fill out the form here to request a training or get more information.
If you’d like to talk to others who have added drones to their professional photography / videography business, or just want to continue the discussion about this interview, hop into this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.
Check out this reel from KEVA Creative to learn more about their work: