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Real Estate Drone Photography: A Comprehensive Guide (Insider Tips)

According to market research, the global real estate market is currently at $4 Trillion and poised to expand to over $6 Trillion in the next 5 or 6 years.

This means the real estate market is booming.

With the market continuing to expand, there are plenty of opportunities for drone operators to benefit economically from this boom and offer aerial imaging services to realtors on a global scale.

In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss how to get started with real estate drone photography, the certifications needed to do so in the United States, suggestions for pricing real estate jobs and acquiring clients, as well as considerations for drones for real estate photography.

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What is Real Estate Drone Photography

Image Credit: Dan Bayne/AISCF

Real Estate drone photography uses drones to capture and highlight selling points of a particular property, whether it be:

  • Residential Property
  • Commercial Property
  • Vacant Land or Other

Because drones offer such a wide field of view and can reach heights that are generally inaccessible by handheld cameras and cell phones, the location and size of a property can be realistically represented, all while showing nearby landmarks or attractions, such as local bodies of water or local parks.

Image Credit: Dan Bayne/AISCF

Capturing aerial imagery of a property helps a potential buyer to really get an idea of a property for sale, putting in perspective how large the yard actually is in relation to the home, as well as how close major roads may be to the property.

Image Credit: Dan Bayne/AISCF

Additionally, drone photos help potential buyers to see, from a birdseye view, favorable additions to homes, in scale, such as solar panels, pools, entire landscaping, decks, boat docks, and more, prior to physically going to see the home.

Image Credit: Dan Bayne/AISCF

Getting Started

Prior to going out and taking real estate drone photographs, there is some aeronautical and photographic knowledge that will be required.

Licenses and Certifications

Prior to getting started in real estate drone photography, regardless of your country of residence, some sort of commercial license or certification will be needed if you plan to fly your drone to capture aerial imagery of real estate properties for sale.

If you are living in the United States, it is required that a real estate drone photographer be certified by the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) to fly drones for commercial purposes. This is referred to as being Part 107 certified (commonly referred to as a Drone License).

To be Part 107 certified, you must pass the aeronautical knowledge exam: “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)”.

Additionally, when doing drone real estate photography, it is required that a remote Pilot Certificate be carried at all times while flying.

» MORE: Become a Commercial Drone Pilot in 6 Easy Steps (Beginners Guide)

Photography Knowledge

While being a photography expert is a great skill to have (albeit unnecessary), when initially doing real estate drone photography, knowing the “basics” of photography is a must.

Because drones are flying cameras, cameras that have all of the same functions as your standard Sony, Canon, or Nikon handheld cameras, it is best to fully understand the following photography fundamentals:

  • The Exposure Triangle
  • White Balance
  • RAW and/or JPG formats
  • Drone Camera settings
  • Image Composition

Once this general knowledge is regularly practiced and understood, it’ll make taking real estate photos that much easier.

» MORE: Drone Photography: Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started

Photo Editing Knowledge

If you are new to photography, learn Adobe Lightroom or similar photo editing software.

Photo editing software, like Adobe Lightroom, is a type of software used to edit photos.

When we speak of editing, we are talking about the manipulation of a photo’s size, color, white balance, defect removal, texture, sharpness, exposure, etc., to get potential real estate buyers interested in the property, while retaining a realistic viewpoint of the home.  

While there are many courses on becoming editing professionals, learning the fundamentals of editing real estate drone photos will get you started in the right direction.

» MORE: How to Edit Drone Photos for Social Media Using Lightroom (Guide)

Equipment Considerations

If you are planning to go into the real estate drone photography field, there are quite a few features of any drone that must be considered.

Camera

When shooting real estate photography, a camera that shoots at least 12mp (megapixels) will be needed. 12mp photos are what many newer smartphones shoot, including the iPhone 13 Pro, and those images look great.

While not absolutely necessary for shooting real estate drone photography, there are also affordable drone options that shoot 20mp and even 48mp photos.

Even at those sizes, the MLS (Multiple Listing Service or Multiple Listing System) tends to compress images, lowering their resolution, oftentimes making it difficult to tell the difference between a 12mp, 20mp, or even 48mp drone shot.

Battery Life

When out shooting Real Estate photos, battery life is a very important aspect of the shooting project.

Case in point, let’s say a photographer is using a drone with an advertised 30 minutes or so of battery life.

The photographer can expect to get around 22 minutes of flight time per battery if landing at the recommended 25% to 30% mark.

Drones with higher-capacity batteries can expect longer flight times.

With the newer line of drones hitting the market in the past year or two, flight times of 45 minutes and even higher are quite common.

If landing at the 25% mark, these drones are able to get closer to 35 minutes+ of flight time

When shooting Real Estate drone photography, every minute of battery life counts, especially when having multiple shoots daily and charging options are limited.

Obstacle Avoidance

In the fast-paced world of real estate drone photography, obstacle avoidance is a great feature for drones to have, and many drones do have this feature built-in.

The reason obstacle avoidance is useful is that it allows you to have to focus more on flying when trying to get the right composition for a home or property, while not necessarily worrying about trees and branches.

Having obstacle avoidance allows you to focus on the photography more, while still being alerted to nearby obstructions and avoiding them.

Size and Type

As a whole, consumer and prosumer drones are trending smaller and lighter in weight. Which is a very good thing, especially with real estate photography.

When choosing a drone for real estate photography, you’ll want something that is small enough to get into areas that a larger drone might have difficulty accessing, for framing purposes.

Additionally, as drones get newer and smaller, their propeller pitch gets a little more manageable.

This is an added bonus as the newer drones tend to garner less attention, which leads to less confrontation or at least conversations with neighbors wondering why pictures are being taken of their neighbor’s home.

Suggested Drones for Real Estate Photography

As it currently stands, DJI is the market leader regarding consumer and prosumer drones. Many, if not most of these drones are well-suited for real estate drone photography.

Based on pricing, size, and features, below are a few recommended pro-level DJI models for real estate drone photography.

Mini 3 Pro

The Mini 3 Pro has a lot of Professional features that Real Estate photographers would appreciate, in a tiny footprint.

While the Mini 3 Pros camera does not have a larger 1″ sensor, like that of the Air 2S, its 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor takes excellent photos at either 12mp or 48mp.

The large f1.7 aperture lets in plenty of light, essential for twilight photography.

With its small size comes less annoyingly pitched propellers than most of the larger drones we’ll touch on. This is a great feature as it attracts less attention than larger drones.

The Mini 3 Pro weighs in at slightly less than 250g, but that does not mean it is exempt from registration in the US.

Regardless of a drone’s weight, if you are using a drone for Real Estate photography in the United States, it must be registered.

Where the Mini 3 Pro excels is in its ability to get into smaller, obstacle-lined areas, due to its very small footprint. This is something photographers will appreciate.

Of course, having tri-directional obstacle avoidance aids in keeping the drone safe when taking photos amidst trees and other obstructions.

» MORE: DJI Mini 3 Pro Long-Term Review (Worth Buying?)

DJI Mini 3 Pro (DJI RC)
$909.00 $799.95

Lightweight and Foldable Camera Drone

  • 4K/60fps Video
  • 48MP Photo
  • 34-min Flight Time
  • Tri-Directional Obstacle Sensing, Integrated RC and screen
Buy from Amazon
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03/06/2024 03:36 pm GMT

Air 2S

The mid-tiered Air 2S, while being the oldest drone of the bunch, has to be one of the best “bang for your buck” drones that DJI has released in the past few years, meaning its features-to-cost ratio is impressive.

While the DJI Air 2S is the oldest of the bunch represented here, it has much of the same “newer” technology found on the Mini 3, Air 3, and even the Mavic 3 lines of drones.

Sporting a large 1″ CMOS Camera sensor (which was previously reserved for DJIs prosumer line of drones), the Air 2S takes excellent, high-quality 20mp photos and includes many photo modes that are perfect for taking real estate drone photos.

Weighing in double that of the Mini 3 Pro, the Air 2S is more stable in flight in windy conditions than sub-250g drones, which equates to easier shot framing since the Air 2S isn’t moving as much in the wind as the smaller and lighter Mini 3 Pro.

Additionally, while flying more stable, the Air 2S benefits from having the added protection of 4-way obstacle avoidance: Up, Down, Front, and Back.

» MORE: DJI Air 2S – A Complete Real-World Review

DJI Air 2S Fly More Combo
$1,249.00

Drone with 3-Axis Gimbal Camera, 5.4K Video, 1-Inch CMOS Sensor, 4 Directions of Obstacle Sensing, 31-Min Flight Time, Max 7.5-Mile Video Transmission, MasterShots, Gray

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03/07/2024 05:16 pm GMT

DJI Air 3

Currently, the Air 3 is the newest mid-tiered entry to the bunch and has been lauded as nearly the perfect drone by many.

Taking design cues from the prosumer-level Mavic 3 lines of drones, the Air 3 has omnidirectional obstacle avoidance, giving the drone complete 360-degree protection when flying and performing active-track functions.

As is the case with DJIs newest lines of drones, the Air 3 benefits from advertised flight times of around 46 minutes, although real-world usage will vary. These flight times are crucial when doing multiple real estate shoots in a single day.

Surprising to many, like the smaller Mini 3 Pro, the Air 3 uses an updated 1/1.3-inch CMOS sensor, a sensor that is smaller than the 1″ sensor found in the Air 2S. The Air 3s camera can shoot 12mp and 48mp photos.

However, also surprising to many, is that the slightly smaller sensor has fantastic image quality, both in regular daylight, as well as in low light situations, actually performing better than the larger 1″ sensor of the Air 2S.

Editor's Choice
DJI Air 3 RC 2 (Fly More Combo)
$1,549.00

DJI Air 3 Fly More Combo with DJI RC 2 (screen remote controller), Drone with Medium Tele & Wide-Angle Dual Primary Cameras for Adults 4K HDR, 46-Min Max Flight Time, 48MP, Two Extra Batteries.

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03/06/2024 03:46 pm GMT

Mavic 3 Line

DJIs prosumer Mavic 3 line has a lot to offer professional real estate drone photographers. There are plenty of models to now choose from:

  • Mavic 3
  • Mavic 3 Cine
  • Mavic 3 Enterprise
  • Mavic 3 Classic
  • Mavic 3 Pro
  • Mavic 3 Pro Cine

The Mavic 3 line introduced quite a few firsts, such as a 4/3 image sensor and now, as seen in the Mavic 3 Pro, single-housing triple cameras ranging from 24mm 20mp to 70mm 48mp to 166mm 12mp. Impressive doesn’t convey how innovative this is.

Having these three focal lengths in one camera means that real estate drone photographers can get various shots of properties with a vast array of interesting perspectives, not previously possible.

Of course, the Mavic 3 and Mavic 3 Classic are also excellent drones in their own rights for taking stellar aerial photographs.

The large Mavic 3 line of drones also have omnidirectional obstacle avoidance and are very stable in a variety of wind conditions, making flying the Mavic 3 a pleasure.

» MORE: Mavic 3 Review: Is This the Best Camera Drone? (Find Out Here)

Our Pick
DJI Mavic 3 Pro (Fly More Combo)
$2,999.00

Flagship Triple-Camera Drone with 4/3 CMOS Hasselblad Camera, 15km Video Transmission, three Batteries, Charging Hub, and more.

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03/07/2024 03:12 am GMT

Acquiring Clients

As with any business, clients, in this case, realtors, are the driving force of real estate drone photography. In order to gain clients, a comprehensive marketing plan is essential for growth and retention.

1. Build a Portfolio

Building a portfolio is an essential step when doing real estate drone photography. You will need to have a means for potential clients to see the services you provide, and how well you provide them.

To break into real estate drone photography, you can either find a friend with a home that has a nice pool or yard or use your own home, if it shows well.

Pick the best angles that show off the exterior of the home and surrounding neighborhood and edit the photos to be, at the very least, the same quality or better than the local offerings in your area. Use those shots in the portfolio.

Many first-time drone business owners also do well initially offering free photo sessions for potential real estate clients, to build their portfolio.

Many realtors will gladly use your temporary “free” services, sometimes even if they are currently using a drone photographer.

After your initial shoot/project, repeat the process a time or two to build a portfolio. Once you have physical proof of your quality of work, you can begin building a paid client base.

2. Hand-Distribute Flyers

With your examples from your portfolio, create flyers that highlight your real estate drone photography and distribute these, in person, to local real estate brokerages or new home builders in the area.

Meeting with realtors, their brokers, or even builders in person allows you to network with a deeper pool of realtors or salesmen/saleswomen all within the same office.

Getting your face and photos out personally can go a long way, as opposed to an email that might immediately get forwarded to the Spam folder.

3. Cold Calling

It seems these days that there are real estate offices everywhere, even in very small towns. Although visiting these offices and brokerages in person is preferred, cold calling these offices can be beneficial.

Prior to calling, have a script or plan in place, one that highlights the benefit of using your services. The reason is, many realtors either have drone pilots doing work for them or are Part 107-certified themselves, taking their own photos.

If you have something to offer that stands out from the crowd, be sure to showcase this on your call to aid in getting their business.

4. Google Business Page

With a Business Profile on Google, your drone business will show up on Google Maps and Search.

A Google Business Profile not only helps people find your real estate services online quickly and easily but also includes a space for clients to review your services.

With a verified business on Google Business Pages, you will be able to:

  • Define your done business service area and region
  • Post photos from your portfolio
  • Receive and respond to customer reviews

Google business pages are also a great way to advertise, for free.

5. Website

With a website, you will be able to allocate an entire area for your real estate portfolio, so realtors can see examples of your work.

In addition, you’ll be able to post your pricing structure, as well as highlight any addon real estate photography services, such as 3D modeling and video.

Websites are also great ways to display information about your company, testimonials, and any drone-related licenses and/or certificates your company has acquired that will be beneficial to real estate clients.

6. Client Referrals

Something that can not be overlooked is the benefit of referrals. Strive to build good relationships with your realtor clients, all the while networking when possible.

As your work is proven time and again, realtors will begin to refer you to other realtors in their network.

This is where visiting realtors at their offices is essential. When you have a regular client, visit them periodically at the office and continue to network with other realtors in the office.

This will ensure they think of you when services are needed or when your client talks about your work.

Pricing Real Estate Jobs

When it comes to pricing for real estate drone photography, there is no real “one size fits all” solution. Extensive research for specific location markets is needed.

This is because economies are different from state to state, as well as the demand for real estate drone photography.

However, despite this, in the US, sites like ZipRecruiter and Thumbtack show real estate drone pricing to be between the $100 – $200 mark for 10 simple photos.

Of course, there is a +/- range, but the averages are generally between $100 and $200.

As a pricing starting point, below are pricing suggestions by US city size:

City SizePopulation SizePricing @30 Minutes
Small50k – 100k$100/30 Min
Medium100k – 400k$150/30 Min
Large400k – 1 Mill$175/ 30 Min
Mega1 Mill+$250/ 30 min
Pricing by US City size

Again this is just a suggested starting point for pricing options. You may find your particular area may benefit from increasing or decreasing the numbers mentioned here.