Real Estate Drone Photography: A Complete Guide to How Much Drone Pilots Make, the Best Drones to Use, and How to Find Clients in Real Estate
BY Zacc Dukowitz21 January 2021
Real estate drone photography is one of the most popular ways for drone pilots to break into making money with a drone.
One of the most common real estate drone photography work scenarios is when a realtor hires a freelance drone pilot to take aerial photographs and/or video of a property. These aerial shots can help make a property more appealing to potential buyers, especially if it’s a bigger house or piece of land.
In addition to aerial photographs and video, work in real estate drone photography can include capturing enough visual data to create a 3D or orthomosaic map of a property. Potential buyers can use these maps to familiarize themselves with it as they consider making a purchase.
Here are some of the most common types of properties drone pilots are hired to photograph:
- Residential real estate. Homes, housing developments, and communities
- Commercial real estate. Malls, shopping centers, business complexes, golf courses, hotels, and hotel facilities
- Large areas of land. Big estates, golf courses, ranches, and farms
In this guide, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about real estate drone photography, including how much you can charge for drone photography, the best drones on the market for real estate work, and how to find clients.
Want to jump around? Here you go:
- What is the Best Drone For Real Estate Photography?
- How Do You Find Drone Real Estate Photography / Videography Clients?
- How Much Can You Charge for Drone Photography?
- Do I Need a Drone License for Real Estate Drone Photography?
- Follow Up Resources for Real Estate Drone Photography
What Is the Best Drone For Real Estate Photography?
When it comes to real estate drone photography there are several good prosumer drone options out there, most starting at around $500 and going up to around $2,000.
Before diving into our list of drones for real estate drone photography, here are a few things to consider when shopping for a camera drone to use in real estate work:
- Quality of the camera. You’ll want a professional-grade camera with a high enough quality to allow you to take professional shots.
- Battery life. For an average residential shoot you may need about an hour of flight time and for a commercial shoot you’ll need, even more, so make sure to keep this in mind when choosing your drone. The last thing you want is to run out of batteries halfway through a job.
- Flight modes. Some drones come with special pre-programmed flight modes, like DJI’s Intelligent Flight modes, which allow you to get special shots automatically. Whether you’re brand new or an experienced professional, these modes can be useful for capturing dynamic shots for your real estate clients.
- Payload options. As you get more experienced you may want to attach a different camera to your drone, which will mean you need to think about whether your drone allows for customized payloads.
Now that we’ve covered things to look for in your drone, let’s dive into our list of recommended camera drones for real estate drone photography.
DJI Mavic Mini – For Getting Started
The DJI Mavic Mini is a great starter drone for those looking to break into real estate drone photography. It comes with a 12-megapixel camera and a three-axis gimbal to help you capture clear, smooth footage. Plus, you can get in plenty of practice with DJI’s QuickShots, pre-programmed flight maneuvers that help you capture cinematic footage.
Photo credit: DJI
At around $399 in the DJI store, the Mavic Mini is a great option to consider if you’re just getting started with drone photography. The DJI Fly app enables you to create professional-looking images even if you have no filming or editing experience. Once you become more experienced, you may want to upgrade to a drone with a more advanced camera to meet the quality requirements of professional real estate photography.
- 12 MP camera
- Max flight time of 30 minutes
- Altitude Hold
DJI Mavic 2 Pro – For Professional Drone Photography
The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is one of the most popular drone models on the market because of its compact size and its large array of intelligent features. Its professional-grade camera from Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad has a 1-inch CMOS sensor, and offers 20-megapixel photography with enhanced HDR and color sensitivity.
Photo credit: DJI
- Still image resolution of 20 megapixels
- Video resolution of 4K 10-bit HDR Video
- Max flight time of 31 minutes
- Max speed of 45 mph (in sport mode)
- Foldable/portable for compact travel
- Intelligent flight modes
- Obstacle sensing
DJI Mavic Air 2 – For Hobbyist/Professional Drone Photography
The Mavic Air 2, it is the first consumer drone to be equipped with AirSense. Which is essentially ADS-B In tech that enables the drone to pick up on nearby aircraft. DJI has done an incredible job packing this new drone with a large array of features.
Photo credit: DJI
With a 34 minute flight time, 48-megapixel camera, and an 8K Hyperlapse feature, it will be difficult to find a comparable aircraft in this size and price range. Starting at $800, this drone is one of the highest tech portable drones on the market.
- Still image resolution of up to 48 megapixels
- Video resolution of 4K at 60 fps
- Max flight time of 34 minutes
- Max speed of 42 mph (in sport mode)
- Foldable/portable for compact travel
- Intelligent flight modes
- 8K hyperlapse
- APAS 3.0 0bstacle avoidance
[Want more options? Check out our guide to the best camera drones on the market.]
How Do You Find Drone Real Estate Photography / Videography Clients?
When you’re just getting started in drone real estate photography it can be a little hard to get traction. It’s a chicken-or-egg problem—how do you get clients if you don’t have a portfolio? And how do you build a portfolio without clients?
The “Free Shoot” Approach
One common path to building a portfolio of drone real estate photography / videography work and growing a client base is to offer work to clients for free.
Drone Pilot Ground School alum Derrick Ward took this approach to land his first real estate clients in Utah. Here’s how he did it:
- He called all the realtors in the area to set up meetings and offered each of them a free shoot
- The first realtor to accept his offer was one of the biggest realtors in the state
- They were pleased with the work he delivered for free and hired him to do more work
- Derrick still works them to this day
By taking this approach Derrick was able to land several clients and build a client base in a short period of time. He was also able to grow his portfolio of real estate drone photography and videography quickly, which helped him land paying clients shortly after he started giving away work for free.
Another Drone Pilot Ground School alum, Jonathon Russell, also took the “free shoot” approach to grow his drone real estate photography business when he and his wife first moved to Hawaii.
The extra spin he put on the approach was to ask realtors if he could shoot properties they were having trouble selling, so he could highlight not only the quality of his aerial photography but also the direct impact drone real estate photography could have on sales in real estate.
Using this approach Jonathon and his wife Beth were able to grow their business from no clients at all to over 200 in just a few years.
Although some drone pilots have had success with giving away free shoots, you don’t have to give anything away to grow a client base in real estate drone photography.
Here are some other ideas to help you get started:
- Word of mouth. Explore your existing network to see who might be able to connect you with a realtor in your area. Once you land your first client it will be much easier to get your second and your third, and so on.
- Search online. Sites like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn Jobs, and Glassdoor all list job openings. Go to one of these sites, enter your location, and type in ‘drone pilot’ or ‘drone pilot real estate’ to see if there are any open searches for real estate drone photography or related work in your area.
- Drone pilot networks. Do real estate drone photography or other types of missions (you choose) for a drone pilot network to build your resume while still getting paid.
Here are the top drone pilot networks out there:
How Much Can You Charge for Drone Photography?
So how much can you actually make doing real estate drone photography?
The answer is—it depends. Some drone pilots make $25 an hour while others are able to charge $200 or even more per hour.
Like any professional skill, the amount you can make doing real estate drone photography depends on your level of experience and the depth of your body of work.
The amount you make is also tied to where you live. Real estate drone photography is going to cost more in Los Angeles than in Bakersfield simply because the cost of living is higher in L.A.
The good news is that although you may start out charging relatively low prices—say, $30 an hour—as you develop your portfolio and client base you’ll steadily be able to charge more.
To learn more about how much drone pilots are making in real estate, check out the results from our 2019 Drone Industry Survey.
Guidelines for Pricing Your Real Estate Drone Photography Services
Setting prices can feel a little arbitrary when you’re working for yourself.
Are my skills worth $50 an hour or $60? Or $160? Sometimes it can feel like shooting in the dark.
To remove some of that uncertainty, here are a few things to keep in mind when setting your prices for your work in real estate drone photography.
1. Minimal annual cost
When considering prices it’s important to be aware of the money you’ve already invested in your drone business.
To do this, establish a minimal amount you need to make to account for your expenses, including your craft, gear, insurance, education and any other expenses related to your drone business so that you break even.
The number you come up with should include all these different expenses for the entire year. That’s both expenses you’ve already incurred and projected expenses—if you know you’re going to need new gear or a new drone, include those amounts, too.
2. How much do you want to make?
After you establish your minimal cost, think about how much you’d like to make a year.
Make sure to be realistic—just because you want to make six figures doesn’t mean your business will support it just yet.
3. How many hours can you bill in a year?
Now think about how many hours you can realistically bill in a year, taking into account vacations and sick days.
Keep in mind that 40 hours is probably too much for one week since we’re talking billable hours here, not total hours worked. In addition to the hours you get to bill clients for, you also have hours devoted to administrative work, sales, and other tasks that you don’t get to bill.
When you take all these things into account, aiming to bill an average of 30 hours a week may seem like a pretty aggressive goal.
4. Now do the math
After you establish your minimal annual cost and your ideal annual salary, add those numbers together. Then, divide that amount by the total number of hours you can bill in a given year.
And there you go. The resulting number is how much you’ll need to charge per hour to make what you want to earn per year and cover your expenses.
Pricing Pro Tips
- If your client has a small budget then propose reducing the scope of work—not your price.
- Be aware of what your competition is charging so you can present facts as to why a potential client should hire you over your competition.
- Be ready to answer the question “Why?” about your prices. Being able to share the math from above is a good starting place, but keep in mind that most people will be focused on ROI—Return on Investment. If you can convince potential clients that the expense they make with you will make them more money by helping them sell their properties more quickly then your aerial photography services will sell themselves.
Do I Need a Drone License for Real Estate Drone Photography?
This is an easy one. If you are doing any kind of work with a drone, such as real estate drone photography, federal law requires that you be certified by the FAA as a commercial drone pilot.
To obtain an FAA certificate you must meet a number of requirements, including passing the FAA’s Aeronautical Knowledge Test, also called the Part 107 test. Learn more about how to get FAA certification to be a commercial drone pilot here.
Want help preparing for the Part 107 test?
We’ve trained over 30,000 drone pilots, and over 99% of our students have passed the FAA’s Part 107 test on the first try. Learn more about how we can help you pass the test and become a commercial drone pilot at DronePilotGroundSchool.com.
Follow Up Resources for Real Estate Drone Photography
Here are some free resources to help you learn more about real estate drone photography:
- How to Build a Real Estate Marketing Business that Includes Drones
- The Real Estate Section of Our In-Depth Drone Jobs Guide
- Real Estate Drone Photography Profile: How Derrick Ward Went from Free Flights to $250 an Hour
- Real Estate Drone Photography Profile: How Jonathon and Beth Russell went from 0 to 200+ Clients
Want to step up your drone cinematography skills? Check out the paid Drone Cinematography Masterclass created by our friends over at Drone Film Guide.
The course was made to help drone pilots master aerial cinematography, and provides professional instruction to help you level up your aerial videos. Learn more about the Drone Cinematography Masterclass on the Drone Film Guide website.