How to Start a Drone Photography Business
Do Business the Right Way
Interested in starting a drone photography business? Opportunities abound for the small business entrepreneur in this field. The global drone service market is expected to double in size between 2020 and 2025, expanding from $22.5 billion to $42.8 billion. If you have a hankering to put your drone to work, now is a great time to lay the ground work for a successful drone photography business!
Below, we’ve done the legwork for you to provide a free guide to starting a home-based drone photography business today.
Not interested in starting a drone photography business? Visit our generic Start A Business Guide.
What Does a Drone Photography Business Do?
A drone photography business captures expansive perspectives of special events, businesses, and real estate in ways impossible using only traditional photography. Drone photography adds clear value because it’s something people get excited for, such as a wedding party photo that includes a sweeping shot of the venue, a stage shot of a band that includes the entire crowd, or a real estate photo that includes the house and the property in an encompassing way.
Until recently, commercial drone photography has been hampered by want of clear regulation, which means the market is unsaturated. But, unless you have hundreds of existing clients, you’ll likely want to start small—establish your business structure, gain the proper certifications, obtain the licenses, and then begin to build your clientele.
Steps to Starting a Drone Photography Business
Create a Business Plan for Your Drone Photography Business
Before you get started, you’ll need an idea of what resources you’ll need—and how to monetize your business in a practical way. We’ve answered the biggest questions about clients, costs, and profits below.
How do I get clients?
One of the unique challenges faced by event photographers is they cannot rely on repeat customers. A drone photographer will be under the same pressure. For this reason you will need to pay close attention to your marketing and website. You’ll want to make your portfolio readily available to potential clients, and keep constantly updated Facebook and Instagram pages. The value of adding drone photography to most events may be obvious once seen, but getting examples of your product in front of people who would otherwise be unfamiliar with it will be crucial.
Your services may also appeal to established traditional event photographers looking to benefit from an added drone photography/videography component. To tap this market, seek out and network with established wedding and event photographers who may be interested in offering your services as an upsell.
Drones also offer compelling marketing for real estate sales. For this, market your services to real estate agents and network in your local business groups such as the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to traditional event and real estate photography, drone photography has the advantage of being novel and exciting. Lots of businesses may be interested in having drone footage of their companies for their websites. Making cold calls to local business for this type of service will pay off. Networking in local business groups to market this type of service is also beneficial.
How does a drone photography business make money?
Like a traditional event photographer, a drone photographer/videographer makes money by charging clients to shoot photos and video of their special events, businesses, or real estate. You should decide ahead of time on the rates you want to charge and have them ready to offer potential customers.
How much money will it take to get started?
A drone photography business has higher barriers to entry than that of a traditional photography business, mainly because commercial drone operators are required to obtain a Part 107 drone license through the FAA.
The Part 107 drone license applies to anyone operating a small drone (under 55 lbs) for commercial use. To obtain the license, you’ll need to pass a knowledge test and register your drone through the FAA. The FAA has provided prep material, available here. You can study this material on your own or invest in a private prep course such as Pilot Institute, Drone Pilot Ground School, or Drone U.
The largest expense will be your drones. Just like a professional photographer needs a back up camera, you’ll need at least two drones, in the event of break down or maintenance issues. You’ll also want to have good flight support software, such as AirMap or Skyward. Additionally, you’ll be required to carry liability insurance for your drone. Hull insurance, which covers the cost of your drone in the event of a crash, is also a very good idea.
- Part 107 prep course: $300
- Part 107 drone license: $160
- Drones: $1,500-$2,000 each
- Liability insurance: $600-$1,000 per year
- Hull insurance: $500-$750 per year
- Photo/video editing software (Adobe Premiere): $15.99 per month
- Weather and flight support software (Skyward): $300 per year
How much do drone photography businesses make each year?
ZipRecruiter reports the average drone photography salary to be $50,260 per year. But the spectrum is wide. There are many who report annual salaries of $16,000 per year, while a few report salaries of $148,000. If anything is to be learned from the traditional photography industry, these business take years to build and are best approached with that in mind—as something that will provide supplemental income at first and than slowly become a full-time job.
How much should I charge?
The best advice is to charge by the event or by a set number of photos/videos per event. That way the focus is on the work produced and not on the time spent. This way if you are able to obtain the desired footage in less time than anticipated you won’t have customers demanding discounts like you would if you charged for full-day or half-day or even by the hour.
Drone photographers typically charge:
- $800-$1,500 per wedding or other event. (photo/video package)
- $150-$300 for a real estate still photography session (10 photos)
- $300-$1,000 for real estate video (5-minute video)
Select a Name for Your Drone Photography Business
Have a great name idea? Before you start marketing and branding your business, you’ll need to ensure your name is available. Most states prohibit or restrict businesses from adopting names that are already in use. Even if it’s legally allowed, a copycat name puts your business at risk of a lawsuit.
See if your business name is available in your state with our Free Business Name Search.
Trademarks and Domain Names
Plan to trademark your business name? You can see if the trademark is available on a website like Trademarkia. It’s also a good idea to see if the domain name is available, which you can do on websites like Network Solutions and GoDaddy. Even if you don’t plan on putting together a website right away, you can buy the domain name to make sure no one takes it in the meantime.
Choose a Business Structure
Should you form an LLC? A sole proprietorship? Your choice of business structure will affect many aspects of your business, from liability to taxes.
Sole Proprietorships & General Partnerships
If you don’t file any paperwork to legally form a different kind of business—you have a sole proprietorship or general partnership. Essentially, these are “default” business structures. A sole proprietorship has one owner, and a partnership has multiple owners.
These structures have a few initial benefits. They’re easy, fast and cheap to start and maintain. However, the limitations and risks of these business structures quickly become more apparent as your business grows. In both of these business types, you are your business, legally speaking. Your company’s legal business name is YOUR name—so you’ll need a DBA to operate under any other name. Any business debt is YOUR personal debt. If anyone sues your business, they are suing YOU personally.
LLCs & Corporations
Limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations are business entities formed at the state level. The entity is legally separate from its owners, meaning the owners are not personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. As a separate entity, the business also has multiple tax election options. For example, both LLCs and corporations can choose to be taxed as S-corps if they meet the requirements.
LLCs and corporations are not quite as simple and inexpensive as default structures. LLCs and corporations come with formal requirements like state reports. They also have more fees than default structures, such as formation and annual report fees. However, the benefits of an LLC or corporation—especially liability protection and tax flexibility—are significant.
Legally Form Your Drone Photography Business
If you opt for a sole proprietorship or general partnership, there’s no formal paperwork to file to legally create your entity—you just start selling your product or service. However, you will not have anyliability protections or tax flexibility.
LLCs and corporations are formed by filing paperwork with a state agency, typically the Secretary of State. To start an LLC, you file articles of organization. To start a corporation, you file articles of incorporation. In most states, you can file these forms online or download a paper form from the state’s website.
Whether you’re forming an LLC or corporation, your articles will require certain basic information about your business, such as your company’s:
- business address
- registered agent and office
- business purpose
- members/managers or directors/officers’ names and addresses
- number and type of authorized shares (for stock corporations)
You’ll also need the signature of someone authorized to sign on behalf of the business, along with the state’s filing fee. Fees vary by state but are typically between $100 and $200. If you hire Northwest to form your LLC or corporation, we complete and submit your formation paperwork on your behalf for just $100 plus state fees.
Create Internal Policies and Procedures
It’s important to put your company’s internal policies and procedures in a written document, especially if you’re starting your business with others. Partnerships have partnership agreements. LLCs have operating agreements. Corporations have bylaws.
These documents look a bit different for each kind of business, but they serve the same general purpose. They ensure there’s a clear path forward for any major issue that may arise, from changes in ownership to closing the business. LLCs and corporations also typically need an operating agreement or bylaws in order to open a bank account.
Get an EIN and Register for Taxes
Nearly all LLCs and corporations will need to request a federal employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. If you file corporate income taxes, have employees, or file certain franchise taxes, you must have an EIN. An EIN is also a common requirement for opening a business bank account. Most businesses can request an EIN by filling out the IRS’s online form.
Your EIN is for federal taxes—but you’ll likely have state and local tax obligations as well. You will most likely need to set up an account with the state’s Department of Revenue, and you may need to apply for a state tax ID or a sales tax license as well.
Learn more about how to Get an EIN for your business.
Open a Bank Account
A business bank account keeps your personal finances separate from your business finances. For LLCs and corporations, keeping separate finances is essential for maintaining liability protection. To open an account, LLCs and corporations typically need to bring to the bank a copy of their articles, their operating agreement or bylaws, and their EIN.
Next Steps for Your Drone Photography Business
After your business is up and running, there are a few additional steps you may want to take as you grow:
- Get online: With your domain name, you can create a business website. You can hire a professional or use a website-builder like Wix or WordPress. You may also want to invest in online ads through a program like Google Ads.
- Hire employees: Hiring employees requires quite a few steps. You’ll need to collect W-4s and I-9s from employees, report the new hires to the state, set up withholding, pay for unemployment insurance, distribute any required documents and notices to employees, and display wage and safety info in the workplace. Employer.gov is a good place to start, followed by your state’s tax or labor office.
- Get business insurance: While LLCs and corporations protect you from personal liability, you don’t want your business to go bankrupt in the face of an accident, injury or other disaster. Commercial drone operators are required to carry separate liability insurance for their drones.
Is a Drone Photography Business is Right for Me?
What’s it really like to work in a drone photography business?
Making money with your amazing drone skills will only be possible if you first focus on laying the groundwork for your business. That means obtaining the licenses, structuring your business, and investing in marketing. This is a marketing-heavy business because many people who need this service do not know they need this service. So you’ll need to sell it. Sound awful? You may want to look else where. Sound worth it? This business may be for you! In addition, keep in mind that weddings and other events take place on weekends and evenings, which means you will be working those hours.
What does it take to succeed in the world of drone photography?
To succeed in this industry, you of course need great flying and photography skills. But the real key to your success will be proper scaling and attention to marketing. In the best case, you will start your drone photography business very small as a side gig and let it slowly envelope your day job. During this time you will work fastidiously on your marketing game, your portfolio game, and your website game, making sure that each gig you land results in a happy customer and a story that you can attach to your professional development. Start right, get your business structured, your book-keeping systems in place, your website up and running, and then start looking for clients!
Ready to Form an LLC or Corporation?
Northwest Registered Agent is here to help with all your small business ideas and needs. Answer a few simple questions about your business, and we’ll prepare and submit your formation paperwork to the state. We also provide your new business registered agent service, free business forms and guides, and much more.