Whether you are outsourcing the work or doing it yourself, it’s smart to learn from others who have gone before you.
Here are a few guidelines the think about before planning your first drone shoot:
Hire a local drone professional.
There are several reasons you don’t want to start taking drone shots on your own, day one.
First off, it takes many hours (weeks) of practice to learn how to fly and take great shots in 10-minute flights, over and over again.
Second, in the US, you need a pilot’s license (COA) and FAA approval (Sec. 333 Exemption) to fly a camera drone for real estate marketing – even if funds aren’t changing hands.
Third, you can learn a lot from a professional, just by talking, watching and listening. So if you’re business plan calls for buying and operating your own camera drone, go ahead and visit the first shoots, ask questions and use our 10-point checklist below to learn how the pros do their job.
Bottom-line, if you’re experimenting with your first one or two listings, then definitely outsource the work.
That said, it’s not THAT hard to learn to fly and shoot great video and images with a drone. Many agents today are flying their own shoots with easy-to-fly camera drones made by DJI, 3D Robotics and Yuneec.
Have realistic expectations.
Getting high-quality drone shots will cost more than a land-based photographer, and shooting aerial footage takes more time than ground-based photo or video shoots.
It’s not an order-of-magnitude change, but you’ll need to be flexible with your photographer’s time, especially if s/he is new to drones.
Take long, steady shots.
Those awesome real estate drone tours listed above? Yeah, they were edited-down from much longer clips.
You’ll need to capture raw footage that can be cut down to size after you return to the office or your home.
If you want to shoot 1-minute fly around, then shoot two or three 90-second trips in a row.
Always use a 3-axis gimbal.
A high-quality 3-axis gimbal like the integrated set used on the Phantom 4, above, cradles the drone’s camera in a gyroscopically-balanced mount that holds the camera steady while the drone moves around. It also uses electrical motors to orient the camera while in flight.
3-axis gimbals enable super-steady, flowing shots and insulate the camera from most vibrations. They are the secret to getting those gorgeous, flowing videos you see online.
Do NOT fly your video shoot using a camera drone that isn’t equipped with a 3-axis gimbal, or you won’t like the result.
The best camera drones for real estate (see our three picks, above) tightly integrate their gimbals with their flight control and camera control systems, so you can control more aspects of your shots like zoom, pan and tilt.
Add Glidecam/Steadicam footage to create a seamless video tour.
A Glidecam/Steadicam (like DJI’s Ronin pictured above) is a hand-held version of the same 3-axis gimbal that most high quality camera drones use to keep their shots steady and vibration-free.You mount your DSLR or HD video camera on it and use your hands to orient the shot. The camera swings freely in its mount, insulated from sudden moves and vibrations.In real estate marketing, Glidecams & Steadicams are used to take smooth, immersive ground-level video tours, especially walk-ins, walk-throughs, and walk-outs.Because the quality of video shot from a steadicam looks identical to a camera drone’s video, using both of these methods on your shoot means the end result will look seamless. This is especially important if you want to mix-and-match interior and exterior shots into a single clip.Watch this short video by Stephen Garner for a more detailed explanation of how Glidecams are used in real estate photography.
Shoot your most important footage 2 or 3 times.
Lighting changes, weather changes and vibrations come and go during each flight.
You won’t catch these subtleties by watching the live streaming video on the controller’s screen. So shoot every shot 2-3 times. You can edit-out the bad parts later.
Fly with the wind, not against it.
This is important. Most camera drones are quadcopters, and quads do not fly well in winds greater than 20-25 knots. It’s not just fighting the wind, the higher the wind speed the greater the turbulence, which generates less predictable movement and vibrations.
Also, wind gusts happen more frequently the higher you fly.
You best bet is to choose a near-windless day for your shot.
If it’s windy and you have to shoot, then stick to flying below the tree line.
Prepare a flight plan + a camera plan in advance.
This is where the flight control software that comes with your drone really matters.
The best integrated camera drones like the Phantom 4, 3DRobotics Solo and Inspire 2.0 are equipped with integrated flight planning + camera control software that let you map-out each camera position in 3D, over time. You can also plan camera angles, tilt and zoom on some models.
Lean on Automation.
The newest models like the Phantom 4 (read our review), are equipped with advanced automation features like object detection & collision avoidance and a automated trick camera shots that make taking professional footage a breeze.
By selecting the right RTF camera drone from the get-go, you’ll save a ton of time and get far better shots than trying to control everything yourself.
The three key obstacles for a drone operator to manage around are trees, wires and people. Failing to navigate two of these safely will destroy your drone, and hitting the other could destroy your bank account – or put you in jail.
So, if you are going to operate your own camera drone for commercial purposes, then definitely get professional training before you start shooting.
There are local drone safety courses available in most cities. Take one.
Another great option is to take the 3-day intensive flight training & safety course offered by FLYSAFE, starting around $500.
Learn how to shoot like the pros.
Yes, many of the leading camera drones are easy to fly and shoot. But getting great video and photos is mostly still about knowing how to set up your shots correctly, and how to avoid making rookie mistakes that ruin them.
Learn as much as you can from professional photographers who have years of experience flying aerial shoots.
To do this, you can take an inexpensive 2-hour course on Udemy, for example. Or a more in-depth 6-hour one.
There are online and local drone flight schools available, too.
A Typical Real Estate Drone Shoot
To give you a feel for how an typical real estate drone shoot works, watch the following video by Brisbane Real Estate.
In it, you can see how they use a Glidecam, a camera drone and DSLR cameras to produce a high quality property tour in less than a day.
How Much Does Drone Photography Cost?
If you’re outsourcing the work to a camera drone operator, like Aerial Photography, you should expect to pay $500 to hire Aerial Photography to produce a 1-minute video plus a dozen high-quality still photos. For detailed video tours of every room, you might pay in the low $1,000s.