Aerial photography is a new and emerging business that has changed and helped many industries. With the emergence of drones and commercial pilot licenses, individuals are able to make a living off shooting aerial photography.
In this article, we will discuss the different amounts an aerial photographer can get paid per job and what you can expect on average based on the industry the aerial photographer is providing photography to.
Aerial Real Estate Photography
One of the most common jobs for an aerial photographer is a real estate shoot. Real estate agents or landowners might contract an aerial photographer to come out and shoot a property overhead.
Often, the aerial photographer will also shoot ground-level photos. However, for the sake of this article, we’ll just focus on the pilot shooting aerial photography.
Depending on the company contracted to shoot aerial photography, or in the case where you’re an independent contractor, the aerial photographer may charge different rates.
Oftentimes, a new pilot will charge less than an experienced pilot or a large company.
It’s hard to put a definite figure on any aerial photography service, but for real estate shoots, most of the time, an aerial photographer will charge between $50 to $200 for a job.
This can change depending on drive time, expenses of travel, and the type of drone or camera the pilot is using to capture aerial photography.
For example, if an aerial photographer was using a DJI Phantom 4, which is considered to be outdated, the photographer might charge closer to $50 to $100.
However, if you have an aerial photographer using a Mavic 3 or a Matrice drone with a DSLR camera attached, the aerial photographer may be charging $200 or more.
A lot has to do with what the client is willing to pay and the budget they have. Many drone platforms where pilots might find work offer low-budget jobs, which for a professional drone pilot may not be suitable in the price range.
Most drone pilots doing professional aerial photography don’t charge by the hour because real estate shoots often last for less than an hour. This is why there is a flat rate as discussed above.
Supply and demand also play a part in what the aerial photographer might charge. If the client is demanding, such as if the shoot has to be done the day that the client contacts an aerial photographer, the aerial photographer might be able to charge more than they usually charge for the same service.
Another factor that may increase the price an aerial photographer can charge is the availability of drone pilots in their area.
For instance, if an aerial photographer is the only drone pilot in the county, it is likely that a real estate agent would have to meet the aerial photographer’s higher price in order to complete the job.
Real estate shoots are oftentimes going to pay less than other types of aerial photography. However, this is only when dealing with residential real estate.
When shooting commercial real estate, the budget of the real estate agent may be higher, meaning the area photographer can charge more without fear of losing the job to another drone pilot.
For example, a residential home only has a certain value, and the real estate agent will make a smaller commission than if the agent was selling a skyscraper in Manhattan.
If the aerial photographer was to shoot a skyscraper in Manhattan, not only would they be able to charge more for the risks involved, but also because the budget of the real estate agent is higher.
Aerial Wildlife Photography
Moving on to another sector of aerial photography, next, we’ve got wildlife photography.
This form of aerial photography is not as common but aerial photographers can still make a decent amount of money because the need demands it.
If this is the case, a construction company may hire an aerial photographer to take photos of wildlife sitting or nesting in areas where they plan to build.
A construction company usually has a relatively large budget. The aerial photographer may be able to charge more.
An example of this is if a construction company wishes to demolish a building, but there is an endangered bird living in the building nesting eggs.
This situation actually happened when a company called Unmanned Aerial Operations was hired by a construction company to investigate and photograph an osprey’s nest.
As shown below, the osprey did indeed have eggs in the nest, which meant the construction company would have to wait for the eggs to hatch before tearing down the structure and building a new one.
Other forms of wildlife photography are in documentaries and magazines such as National Geographic.
Shooting wildlife photos for National Geographic or a company of a similar size will prove to be extremely profitable, and an aerial photographer might be able to charge upwards of $1,000.
The aerial photographer may be able to charge even more if travel is involved because of expenses and time on site.
Aerial Photography of Construction Progression
An aerial photographer conducting a construction progression photography job may benefit from being able to charge a moderately high rate because construction companies have fairly large budgets, as mentioned.
With that said, usually, construction progression only calls for an orbit around the project site, which means little to no skill is involved.
Oftentimes a construction company, whilst having a large budget, does not wish to spend any more than they have to. It’s because the more money they have in the bank, the more interest will incur, so they will want the aerial photographer to do it for as little as possible.
Negotiating with the construction company for construction progression photographs can be a difficult process, but most of the time, an aerial photographer can charge $100 to $200 per visit to the site.
Since these projects can take years to complete, an aerial photographer can make thousands of dollars throughout the year, returning to the same project site as it turns into a completed site.
Aerial Photography of Roofs
An aerial photographer documenting the state of a roof or structure may be able to charge more or less depending on the size of the building and what is entailed to photograph it.
For instance, if the aerial photographer finds themself conducting a roof inspection on a residential building, it is most likely that they would be only able to charge $100.
It is often because your client will be an individual not familiar with the industry nor will they be in a place to increase the budget.
However, if you are conducting a roof inspection with aerial photography on a commercial building, you may be able to charge much more.
This is similar to the discussion of the real estate agent hiring the aerial photographer in Manhattan. The risk of crashing into the building and causing damage to a commercial building would result in a higher payout on your end.
Since this is the case, the aerial photographer may be able to charge more. If the building the aerial photographer is taking photos of is a large building, residential or commercial, the aerial photographer may be able to make upwards of $300.
Artistic Aerial Photography
Aerial photography for the sake of photography usually doesn’t pay very well.
However, finding the right people willing to pay for your aerial photography isn’t as tricky as it may seem.
Here are some options.
One of the best ways to find clients willing to pay for your artistic aerial photography is by posting photographs on stock image websites.
This is amongst one of the worst-paying forms of aerial photography because even though you may charge your regular rates for a series of photographs, the stock photo website that is hosting your photographs and advertising them to clients will take a percentage of the pay. It’s often a large percentage.
You also want to keep in mind that your competition is charging low prices for aerial photography because they have such a high number of aerial photographs they can use.
Just remember, you could be producing the video that a billion-dollar company is going to use, so price it high but reasonably.
Another way to sell artistic aerial photography is at art expos and festivals or in coffee shops and restaurants.
At an art expo, you’ll be in competition with many other aerial photographers and ground-level photographers alike.
It’s important to keep in mind that for all these following avenues, you need to print out your aerial photography and usually frame it, which will undercut your profits.
Competing with other aerial photographers is not an easy task so your aerial photography will have to be top-notch to sell at a higher rate. At art expos, the prices for aerial photography may vary from $100 to $1,000.
Festivals are of a similar nature to art expos in that you’ll be competing with other artists. At a festival, there are many people are looking to spend money, so it may be slightly easier to sell your aerial photography here.
Depending on what you spent to take the aerial photograph as well as frame it and print it out, you may want to charge prices between $100 and $200. Charging low prices will mean that you will sell many of your aerial photographs.
With any luck, putting your aerial photographs in coffee shops and restaurants allows for the establishment to have art on the wall so often, they will not charge you anything for having your aerial photography displayed.
You’ll need to put a price tag on your aerial photograph so that people within the coffee shop or restaurant know that it is for sale.
This is going to be one of the lowest-priced forms of selling aerial photography (for $15 to $100 per piece), so you want to make sure you have plenty of prints within the coffee shop or restaurant.
Investigative Aerial Photography
Another interesting way that aerial photographers can make money is by doing private investigation work.
In some places, you must have a license to be a private investigator. However, working with a private investigator to collect information is possible without a license.
There are cases where no private investigator is necessary but when working with a private investigator you may be able to charge more for your work.
It’s tough to put a price tag on this kind of work but it will likely be based on what the private investigator is making themselves.
However, when conducting investigatory work by yourself in a legal fashion, such as being hired by a client to investigate a property for squatters, you can charge up to $500. This is on the higher end of aerial photography work in this area since there is great risk associated with the work you are doing.
Shown below, a client hired Unmanned Aerial Operations to conduct a search taking aerial photographs of the client’s property.
Since the client lived in another state, they wouldn’t be able to investigate the property themselves. As an aerial photographer, this is a situation where you’ll be able to charge more.
The client had heard news that there were people living on that land and asked Unmanned Aerial Operations to take photographs of the property to identify the area they were staying in and if they were staying there at all.
What Unmanned Aerial Operations found was that during their aerial photography mission, there was a base camp in a block of woods where the squatters cleared out an area to post up their tent as well as gather supplies.
For this job, $500 was the baseline price.
As an aerial photographer, make sure you’re charging your worth so you don’t devalue the industry!
Unmanned Aerial Operations (link)