The Beginner's Guide to Drone Photography for Real Estate

We discuss what you need to know to get started in Drone Photography for Real Estate

Buckle Up! Because this week we’re taking to the skies to discuss one of the hottest topics in th world today: Drones.

Well, that isn’t exactly the case in 2021.  When drones first gained popularity in 2015 (from a purely consumer standpoint), so many were being sold, and the FAA did not even know if they were legal! The so called drone-craze of 2017 which culminated in the “million-drone Christmas” is safely behind us, but drones have become an essential artistic tool for a number of professions.  In this article, we are going to cover all the bases in terms of drone piloting for real estate—including tips, tricks, and some advice for freelancers who are looking to monetize their skills.

The first point that we must hit before proceeding is certification.  In order to work as a commercial drone pilot, you must first be certified as a commercial drone pilot. As we have previously mentioned the government agency that deals with these matters is the FAA.  As per FAA regulations (federal law) you must take what is called the Part 107 exam at a federally authorized testing center, before you can begin servicing clients.

The second most important part of being a drone pilot is equipment. As a drone pilot, your skills as a photographer and pilot are only as good as your tools.  And especially in a results-oriented business such as real estate there can be no excuses when it comes to the performance of your technology. Naturally, features such as durability and battery life are essential.

A solid drone will run you anywhere from $500-$2,000.  A purchase like this is more of an investment than anything else. An investment in your business. An investment in yourself.  Within this price range, you should expect the following features at a bare minimum.  First, your drone should have the capability to take professional quality photos—whether that means a high-quality built in camera or the option for a customizable payload—high picture quality is a must.  We love drones with payload options as they allow us to toggle between a variety of cameras and lenses even while on the job.

Second, battery life is huge.  Picture this: you’re standing outside in the California sun, sweat pouring down your face as you struggle to capture the perfect angle of a recently updated golf course, and then you receive a low-battery notification.  Not only do you have to race against the falling battery levels to get your drone back to your location before it falls out of the sky (!!!), but you have to charge it while on-site—wasting valuable time that could be spent doing literally anything else.  So…moral of the story? Charge your drone? Not exactly.  How about buying a drone that has the battery life to meet your needs? That is much better.

And as a rule of thumb, expect residential shoots to last around an hour and commercial shoots to last longer.  We put a disclaimer here though, because duration is highly dependent on each unique project. So, use your judgement. We also recommend bringing an extra (backup) drone, just in case.

After equipment, there are generally a few types of projects you will come across as a real estate drone photographer.  The most common is residential real estate—homes, apartments, and housing complexes that are ready to hit the market—are all examples of the most common jobs.  Apart from that, there is commercial—which includes shopping complexes, office buildings, and malls—that are much larger than residential properties.  Finally, you may also be asked to survey open expanses of land that are in pre-development or even ready to sell as-is.

With regard to business, it is absolutely essential to understand the vision of the client before you begin.  Do they want to showcase the location? Or perhaps they want to avoid a certain angle.  All these factors make the job highly unpredictable which is all the more reason to request a brief from your clients to ensure that you are both on the same page.

When on the job, you can choose from an unlimited number of angles and perspectives but we thought it would be super useful if we shared a formula for photographing a residential site. The most common shot that we execute for nearly every property we photograph is the Bird’s eye shot.  The Bird’s eye view is your foundational shot.  It gives potential buyers an understanding of boundary lines, lot size, and possible development opportunities.  This shot is very important to get right as it really puts the property in perspective with respect to the surrounding area.  Next are any photos taken from an oblique angle.  These shots are where your creativity can shine through.  Whether you prefer to shoot from a higher or lower degree angle—this is all up to the pilot.  These types of shots will constitute the majority of your exterior shots, so don’t be afraid to show your creative side.  Last, is the pole shot.  This is sort of a grey area and draws upon an unrelated form of photography (pole photography), so bear with us.  Pole shots are useful in highlighting oblique angles of a property while still remaining in close proximity (as to preserve detail).  In these cases, the camera or drone is positioned about 20-30ft from the point of interest and slightly above the roof level in order to obtain this shot.  

When it comes to real estate photography using the drone, the convergence of a wide range of skills comes into play: client acquisition/management, raw photo skills, pilot ability, and many more.  Hopefully this piece gave you some ideas for your first shoot and helped you avoid some tricky pitfalls.

Happy shooting!

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