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How to Make Money With Your Drone

Updated on May 9, 2018
Timothy Anderson profile image

Tim Anderson is a freelance writer/researcher with articles published in The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy magazine, TV Guide, and others.

Drones with cameras are offering exciting new ways to make money.   Experienced operators can work solo or with real estate, law enforcement agencies or businesses and make money while having fun!
Drones with cameras are offering exciting new ways to make money. Experienced operators can work solo or with real estate, law enforcement agencies or businesses and make money while having fun!


There's an old saying: find a job doing something you love and you'll never work another day of your life.

Well... here's your chance to have some fun AND make some money as well!

The drones for sale today have never been so popular or affordable, and the demand for drone with camera photography is at an all-time high. And the recent government decision dropping the requirement that drones must be registered will only make ownership much easier.

In 2015 it's estimated that more than one million drones -- also known as unmanned aerial vehicles -- were sold during the year to American consumers, and drone manufacturers are busy keeping up with the growing demand. There are several types of drones available to the public, but the most popular are the four-propeller types called "quadcopters."

While most of them were sold to hobbyists and amateurs, there is a growing demand for drones in many business and commercial areas. Why not have some business cards printed, and consider creating a web site where you can display the various types of aerial photography your drone is capable of doing.

You can decide what types of fees would be appropriate for your efforts, but $50 to $125 an hour or more for your service is not out-of-line for most jobs. Or you might consider applying for full-time work flying a military drone, or possibly a police or traffic-observing drone.

So if you own a camera-equipped drone and consider yourself an advanced or professional drone-flyer, here are some nifty ways to make some extra money doing the thing you love!

Have Fun! Go Camping! Make Money!

1. Promos For State and Federal Government

The possibilities here are much greater than those of just a city or county.

Think BIG!

TV ads for tourism need updated photography. Imagine being paid to travel and visit state or federal parks and monuments to do the thing you love. This is where you can involve your family and/or friends and get in some fun traveling, camping, and get paid for some good drone footage!

Whether it's fishing, hiking, camping or visiting national parks and monuments, great aerial footage is always needed for websites and TV commercials, whether for city, state or federal government!

And once you've shown you're able to deliver professional material, they'll keep coming back for more!

Video Tips For Real Estate Drones

2. Real Estate Offerings

One of the hottest commercial areas for drone photography today is in online real estate ads.

Find the area in your city that has the nicest and most expensive homes. Capture various homes that are well kept and appealing. The best times for these types of shots are usually shortly after sunrise, or shortly before sunset. The shadows can add some depth if done correctly.

Once you feel you've taped your best stuff, edit it down to three or four nice homes in a two- or three-minute "presentation" clip. Make sure it's absolutely high quality!

Print up a one-page introduction on your computer, adding two or three color stills from your shots, put in some pertinent information, then go around your city and visit individual real estate offices. At the very least, leave one of your printed intros and a business card. When possible, ask to see a senior realtor or office manager and show them your short video clip.

This is a GREAT area where if you do your job right, you'll get a lot of future call-backs!

AND! In case you missed it, check out the drone video above for some great real estate/drone tips!

Drones And Golf Courses!

3. Golf Courses and Aerial Surveying

More golf courses are starting to make drone videos of their courses available to the public. It helps give the golfer a new perspective of the challenges that lie ahead.

They're also very useful in helping landowners determine property lines in rural or forested areas. Or, your drone might help a surveyor planning a new road have an aerial view of the area being worked. It could even assist someone who wants to see their mining claims from a different point-of-view.

Any kind of expansion of a large business, golf course, or recreational area can benefit from your drone skills. Many times a high-quality video of the area being worked can be of immense help to the planners and builders.

4. City Governments

All sorts of possibilities here!

Contact your city or county's public works department. Drones can be used to inspect roofs, smokestacks, canals, and do damage assessment after a storm or natural disaster.

Or perhaps the city wants some creative aerial shots of its annual Fourth of July parade, or other type of celebration for their website. Or the county fair needs some great footage for the TV ads it plans to run!

If you live in an area where people ski, a ski resort might want some aerial footage.

The potential here is limitless.

5. Weddings

Here's another hot area: weddings.

A lot of weddings hold outdoor ceremonies and the bride and groom will forever cherish a well-done aerial fly-around as they're exchanging vows, or mingling with guests at their reception.

There are two ways to approach this: you can contact some local still-photographers who actually hire you to assist them, or you can watch your local newspapers for wedding announcements and contact the bride's family directly.

Again, if you contact the family directly, have a nice-looking flyer with several color pics. If you arrange a pre-meeting, have some edited tapes to show what you can do. You may want to tape a couple of weddings for free in exchange for getting the footage you'll later share with future customers.

6. Local TV Stations

People have been selling on-the-spot photos and video footage to local and national TV stations for decades.

If a crime occurs near you, or a disaster hits your city or country, or if anything relevant happens that might be newsworthy, you might just be able to pocket a nice fee.

Check with your local TV stations and see if they purchase amateur news footage, and if so, what they're willing to pay. If you were to get some great aerial shots of a local mudslide, flash flood, or some type of weather-related disaster, local TV news stations love to buy footage because they can't be everywhere at once, and it's a lot cheaper to buy footage from you than send out a field reporter and cameraman, especially after the drama has passed.

You may wish to invest in an inexpensive police scanner and when there's a newsworthy incident occurring, you can be one of the first responders. After a quick review and edit, send the footage directly to the TV news station and then enjoy watching the next newscast which you've contributed to!

Always check your local city ordinances as there are different rules for different cities. And as always, obey FDA regulations or you could face a stiff fine and/or possible confiscation of your drone.

Having an "eye-in-the sky" can help rescuers locate victims and lost children.
Having an "eye-in-the sky" can help rescuers locate victims and lost children.

7. Search and Rescue

Most counties have search-and-rescue teams. There may be occasions where an "eye-in-the-sky" could come in handy.

A drone would facilitate finding a drowning victim in a large lake or reservoir. The search for a lost child in a forest or wooded area could be performed. Or in a mountainous area, a drone could be sent up steep and dangerous terrain to locate a victim and determine whether to send up a medical team, or, a deceased victim recovery team. There are many types of emergencies where a drone flying overhead can be of great assistance, and sometimes drones can go places where helicopters cannot.

In this case, you want to make sure your drone has a powerful battery for longer flying time, and backup batteries ready to use.

In the devastating 2017 hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, drones were employed by rescuers to search for stranded people and helped to save dozens of lives.

In these rescue situations, consider the fact that most of the rescuers involved are donating their time and risking their lives to help others. You may want to offer a special lower rate for your assistance, or, even donate your time as well.

Police Drone Helps Catch The Bad Guy!

8. Police and Fire Departments

Most major cities in the United States have police helicopters. Smaller cities can't afford them, and this is where you can help.

And fire departments may find a drone giving them a bird's eye view of a large or complex fire to be of great assistance, and help protect the lives of firefighters. Or it can be used to spot people who are trapped and need rescue. The possibilities here are endless.

If police are searching an area for a suspect on the run, locating the bad guy will be a lot easier if a wide area can be surveilled from the sky. And if at night, a FLIR-equipped camera can be immensely helpful in assisting the police do their job.

Drone banners get noticed!

9. Flying Banners

This is a new and largely untapped area that can prove to be very financially rewarding: flying small banners overhead during parades, sports contests, amusement parks, or any other public gatherings.

In the 1950s, sky-writing was a popular way to advertise many products. Now you can do the same thing, but on a slightly smaller scale. You don't need to actually fly your drone into a stadium (check FDA regulations) to advertise Nike sportswear, but you may be able to fly around the outside, over the parking lots, and streets leading to the stadiums.

Local businesses would be good to approach. Car dealers…. restaurants…. or simply to advertise your business! Expect them to provide the banner you'll carry, and make sure you meet all the safety regulations required.

Learn and obey all the FDA rules regarding sporting events or flying over crowds.

Tips For Success!

If making money with your done appeals to you, here are a few business-related tips to help you achieve success!

Know and obey ALL local and federal regulations regarding drone ownership and flying.

Mind your appearance: don't show up to a scheduled job wearing shorts and tennis shoes. Dress appropriately (especially social events like weddings) and act appropriately.

There are many drone manufacturers in the market today. Four well-known companies include Parrot, DJI, GoPro and Yuneec. All of them offer different models of both hobby and professional drones. Do a little internet research to compare quality and prices. Make sure you have the right drone for the right job. Not just any drone camera will do. High-quality (HD) photography and flying expertise are a must!

Deliver your video as quickly as possible, especially for news organizations.

If the job requires extensive travel, estimate your travel costs, especially if the job requires an overnight stay.

You determine your fee, and present a potential client with your written estimate, signed and dated by both parties.

When you first begin your business, check to see if you have any competition and find out what they charge, then, charge slightly less. As your reputation and client list grows, you can then raise your fees accordingly. Expect to lose a little money in the initial phase of your aerial photography efforts, but if you're doing your job right, it won't be long until you're soundly in the black!

© 2016 Tim Anderson


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