Aerial Drone Photography - Who Do You Hire?

Services for Real Estate Pros with Visual Approach Aerial Photography (Visual Approach Photography) Remote Pilot - FAR 107

As a realtor, your business as the seller's agent is to present the property in a way that attracts potential buyers.  You decide that showing a new perspective, via aerial photography using drones, will be an asset to that achieving that goal and your client is willing to pay for it.  So, who do you choose among the many drone operators available?

One thing you may not be aware of yet, is that the FAA changed their rules in late August 2016.  Prior to that, commercial aerial photography, even using drones, required an FAA exemption.  As of late August 2016, the FAA implemented 14 CFR Part 107, which allowed any drone operator to gain a new license, the Remote Pilot Certificate (with sUAS rating), which is now required for ALL commercial drone aerial work, photos or videos.  What defines commercial work?  The drone operator receives any type of compensation (not just money) for the photos and/or video.

That means that one of the first things you need to verify when hiring an aerial photographer using a drone is that they are licensed (you can even verify that they have a license in the FAA Airman Registry).  If they cannot produce their license (or a subcontractor with a license), you should scratch them of your list of companies to use.  There are countless drone operators out there that are doing real estate photography without a license, which is illegal (and unprofessional).

The next thing you should incorporate in your research for aerial drone companies is that they carry drone liability insurance.  Drone operations require a different "addendum" to their general liability insurance, which will cover their drone operations.  Hiring someone without this insurance could potentially leave you liable for any damages that could occur during the aerial filming.  

Another thing to keep in mind, which is not necessarily your responsibility, is the location of the property in terms of restricted, or controlled, airspace.  Where I am, in the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach area, many (if not most) of the homes fall under some sort of airspace that requires additional authorizations to fly legally.  Again, this part of the operational legality likely will not come back to haunt you, but it wouldn't hurt to make sure proper FAA authorizations are acquired before local law enforcement potentially shows up (granted unlikely).

Another option you should look into when hiring an aerial drone photographer is if they are also professional real estate photographers.  A professional photographer, combined with being a drone operator, can tend to offer real estate photography packages which include aerial drone work.  Many drone operators offer these type of aerial and real estate photography packages, but quite a few are not actually professional photographers, and thus their indoor photos may not be adequate.  HDR photography is one way many can pass as professionals, but make sure that their images are of  high quality before you hire them.

And the last aspect of hiring an aerial photographer/drone operator is the quality of their work.  A professional photographer can capture awesome images with just about any equipment, likewise a good drone photographer/videographer can capture good imagery using any drone camera (almost).  That being said, the quailty of the camera, and thus the final photos and video, does matter.  Many drone operators are using some variation of the DJI Phantom (3, 4, 4 Pro, 4 Advanced), which is generally adequate for professional quality imagery.  However, a DJI Inspire 2 with an X5S (or X7) will capture much better photos and video, much like a professional DSLR will always have a better quality image than a smartphone.  Personally, I use both, depending on the job.

Portfolios are one way to verify the quality of your potential aerial drone operator's work.  Review what they show online, and ask what type of equipment they will use for your client's property.  Your final selection on what drone operator to hire for your real estate listing needs to be a culmination of all operational aspects, and not just price.  I will leave pricing for another post sometime in the future.

If you have any questions about hiring a FAA Licensed drone photographer for your next real estate listing, even if you aren't hiring myself, please contact me and I will be happy to help the best I can.

Comments (4)

Deepak Chauhan
Versailles Property - Irvine, CA
Irvine, CA ... the place to be

Wow, a lot of hurdles and challenges to get the aerial photography done. thanks for the good info...

Jan 29, 2018 01:53 PM
Robert D. Ashby
Visual Approach Aerial Photography (Visual Approach Photography) - Plantation, FL
Turning Visions into Photographs (and Videos)


The number of hurdles depends on the location. The big thing you, as a realtor, need to be certain of is that you are dealing with a licensed professional.  That means they have their FAA license, carry adeqaute insurance, are knowledgeable about airspace and how to get authorizations, and provide high quality work.  A professional drone operator can cover all of that in a very short period of time.

Jan 30, 2018 06:23 AM
Erika Rae Albert, Austin Real Estate Expert
E*Rae Realty - Austin, TX
Exceeding Expectations in Every Transaction

I didn't know about the insurance part of this equation. Thanks for sharing.

Jan 30, 2018 08:12 PM
Robert D. Ashby
Visual Approach Aerial Photography (Visual Approach Photography) - Plantation, FL
Turning Visions into Photographs (and Videos)

Erika, my apologies for a late response. Insurance is often not asked for, but if you hire someone without drone specific liability insurance, you may be opening yourself up to liabilities if an accident occurs.

I will be posting soon on how much in can cost you to hire an unlicensed drone pilot. Believe me when I say it is not cheap.

Jun 04, 2018 03:18 PM