Real Estate Drone Photography: A Comprehensive Guide

Real Estate Drone Photography: A Comprehensive Guide

According to the multiple listing service (MLS), homes and properties with drone images are up to 68% more likely to sell than those without them.

Aerial photos allow buyers to get a better understanding of what the property looks like, its dimensions, and the surrounding area. In this post, we dive deep on real estate drone photography – why it's useful, how to get started, tips for the best results, and places to learn more and expand your drone photography knowledge.

Benefits Of Using Drones For Real Estate Photography

Benefits of Real Estate Drone Photography

At the moment, real estate drone photography is still a novelty, which means that one benefit is to make your listings stand out.

Using drone photography in real estate marketing has many other benefits that will outlast its place on the cutting edge, though.

Using Drones to Show Dimensions on the Property

Handheld cameras provide a personal point-of-view, but they can be really bad at capturing dimensions and spatial relationships realistically.

Overhead drone stills can give prospective buyers another data point to help them understand what they're getting before they take an in-person tour. How far is that boat dock from the house? Is there a side yard? How big is that patio in relation to the grassy yard? How do the house, the yard(s), and the garage all relate to one another?

For larger properties, like ranches, drone video can do an incredible job of providing a similar sense of space on an even grander scale.

Using Drones to Put the Property in Context

Well-executed drone photography can showcase a property's context in an easily digestible (and impressive) manner.

Sure, a map or a list of distances to various amenities can give a prospect the bare essentials, but a drone photograph (with a few helpful labels) can provide all that and more.

For example, they can see the condition of nearby buildings, roads, and sidewalks for a better sense of walkability. They can tell at a glance how convenient the property is to major roads and how close they'll be to the neighbors. They can even screen for neighborhood eyesores or inconveniences.

Using Drones to Highlight Inaccessible Features

Drone photography can help real estate agents feature amenities that are otherwise hard to show off.

Whether it's a new roof or a solar-panel setup, you'll be able to give them a good look at these features (and their condition) without climbing around up there yourself.

How to Get Started with Real Estate Drone Photography

If you're a real estate agent or a broker, the first question you should ask yourself is whether you have the aptitude, patience, and capital for taking drone photos yourself.

While DIY can seem appealing, the truth is that you probably won't get the rockstar photos you've seen elsewhere by yourself without a lot of practice. This is especially true if you're new to serious photography in the first place.

And drone photography is a whole set of skills and steps layered on top of taking flattering shots. You'll need to get a drone pilot license, learn how and where you'll be allowed to fly, and invest in high-quality equipment, all before you ever take that first shaky, poorly lit photo. For polished-looking shots, you'll also need photo processing software and the skills to use it properly.

Luckily, there are plenty of professional drone photographers that specialize in real estate, so you can hire someone to take the photos of your dreams.

But for those who want to tackle the challenge of drone photography themselves, there are a few essential steps.

  • Get Your Drone Pilot License

    To legally use a drone for commercial purposes, you need a Remote Pilot License from the FAA. It's often referred to as a Part 107 certificate or license, which is a reference to the regulation that mandates it.

    To earn your license, you need to pass an aeronautical knowledge exam specific to UAGs (Unmanned Aircraft General – Small) with subjects like airspace classifications, flight restrictions, emergency procedures, aeronautical decision-making, and more.

    You're going to want to take at least an online training course to help you study and prepare.

  • Buy Your Photography Drone

    Drone pilots in real estate photography will tell you that the minimum specs you're looking for include:

    • A 3-axis gimbal (but a 6-axis gimbal is better)
    • At least 12 MP photo and 4k/30fps video capability
    • RAW file setting
    • Live first-person view (FPV)
    • Automatic takeoff and landing
    • Altitude hold

    If you're starting from scratch, experienced drone pilots suggest you learn to fly on a cheap drone model, like a $50 GoolRC. You'll be out less money if you crash, but you'll still be able to practice maneuvering and get some fairly decent shots.

    Lists of the best drone models for real estate photography often include the:

    Model Price
    Ruko F11 Pro $300.00
    Holy Stone HS720E $400.00
    DJI Mavic Air Quadcopter $800.00
    Autel Robotics EVO $900.00
    DJI Phantom 4 Pro v2.0 $2,200.00
    DJI Mavic 3 $2,200.00

    When shopping, you'll need to consider your intended use and the resulting needs. Pay attention to specs like:

    • Battery life
    • Range
    • Transmission
    • Flight safety features
    • Intelligent flight modes
  • Dot the Other i's

    There are a few other things you need to secure before takeoff:

    • Register your drone: Each commercial drone needs its own FAA (and maybe local) registration.

    • Get liability insurance: Most general policies don't cover drone usage, so you need a specific policy or rider to protect you, should you damage any property with your drone.

    • Check local laws: Beyond the FAA, local governments have their own laws. The stickler for real estate photography is when it's illegal to fly a drone over private property without permission. This makes those whole-neighborhood shots dicey.

Tips for Taking Excellent Real Estate Drone Photos

Aerial Drone Photograph of Neighborhood

Here's a secret: good real estate drone photography is as much about what you do before and after the shoot than it is during. Here are some tips to help you succeed at every stage.

Tip #1: Stage the House Beforehand

You probably take steps to spruce up the outside of a property before you take photos with a handheld camera – you need to do all that and more when preparing for a drone shoot.

It's not just about cleaning up the yard, staging any lawn furniture, and making sure the lawn manicure and landscaping are on point. You also need to think three-dimensionally – make that roof spick-and-span, and garage all the vehicles.

Think about aesthetics from both a human and a bird's eye view.

Tip #2: Plan for Traffic

One of the charms of drone photography is its ability to capture the bigger picture. Just as you tried to reduce the clutter on the property, you're going to want to consider the traffic patterns around the property.

Think about the kinds of activity that are likely to affect your shots – vehicular traffic, pedestrian traffic, people waiting at bus stops, and even boating, if you'll be near the water.

Try to determine the times of day or week when there won't be too many distractions from what you're trying to feature.

Tip #3: Plan for Weather & Light

You also need to keep a "weather eye" on the forecast.

Obviously precipitation and wind are bad from both a piloting and photography perspective. But the time of day and the degree of cloud cover will also make a huge difference in terms of light.

You can correct for problems with light and shadow to some degree in post, but it's easier to process photos when you don't have to, and you can never eliminate these problems entirely.

Do a little reconnaissance to figure out how the property is oriented and when the important angles are lit the best. Midday is often best for minimizing shadows, but if it's full sun, the light will be harsh. Shooting through a neutral density filter can help reduce glare.

Partly cloudy days can look great in the background, but an obvious cloud shadow over the property can ruin a shot, and if there's no wind, you're stuck. Mostly cloudy days can give you more even light and less harsh shadows, as long as you aren't trying to get too much sky in the background.

Early morning or late afternoon, you're likely to end up with a drone shadow from at least one angle.

Tip #4: Pick Settings for Success

First, use autofocus. For real estate drone photography, autofocus will almost always get it right, and that's one less thing to worry about on-site.

Second, you always, always want to shoot photos in the RAW file format. When you shoot in RAW, sensor data gets preserved in the file that just isn't saved in other formats like jpeg. This gives you a lot more room to correct and enhance things in post, particularly in regard to light, shadow, and color.

Finally, set your camera to an aspect ratio of 3:2 or 4:3 if possible. This will get you photos at the maximum resolution. Greater resolution means photos can be viewed at larger dimensions while maintaining quality and gives you greater freedom for cropping the shot if needed.

Tip #5: Pack Your Supplies

Before heading to the job site, make sure you have everything you'll need.

  • Bring extra drone and remote batteries, and make sure they're fully charged.
  • RAW files are huge, so err on the side of bringing too many SD cards until you get a sense for what you need.
  • Pack neutral density filters, just in case.
  • Bring lens wipes and anything else you might need to clean or fix your equipment.

Tip #6: Know the Property & Pick a Focus

For every property, there will be one or two areas worth spotlighting in a drone shot – a pool, patio, balcony, or gazebo.

Consider the angles and the architecture and make a plan for drawing the viewer's eye to that area.

Tip #7: Shoot for Variety

With experience, you'll probably build up a portfolio of "sure winner" angles and approaches, but as you start out, make sure you try a variety of angles and heights.

Shooting too high for too many shots is often a rookie mistake – just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Real estate drone photographers often get some of their best shots at an elevation of around 20 feet. It's high enough to be novel and offer a different perspective, but low enough for a good view of the architecture, landscaping, and other features.

You'll also want to tailor your approach to the property. Top-down shots don't do much for a small property buried deep in a maze of other houses. On the other hand, they're critical on a large property or for a house that's close to attractive amenities.

Tip #8: Take Multiple Shots

When you've found a good shot, take multiples. It's hard to tell a photo's quality on-site, where you have a small screen, a drone to fly, and other distractions.

There are plenty of problems that are unsightly on high resolution but invisible in the field. You might be slightly out of focus or have motion blur from a gust of wind, or there might be a child running through the corner of a neighboring yard that is gone a second later.

If your drone has burst mode as a setting, turning it on can ensure that you always get at least two or three shots from every angle. But it's easy enough to just make it a habit.

Tip #9: Enhance Photos in Post

Photo processing is honestly what makes the difference between amateur and professional-looking shots.

The most popular applications for processing are Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. Adobe offers a subscription with both bundled together, but if you're only going to get one, go with Lightroom. It's specifically designed for photo correction and enhancement, rather than photo manipulation, so it better suits your purpose for real estate drone photographs.

Lightroom has tons of helpful presets that will speed your learning curve, and changes are always "non-destructive," meaning the original file is preserved.

Things to learn and play with:

Changing the White Balance

No matter what your camera setting was, you can change it in post, as long as you have a RAW file. As you learn, try changing this setting to find the "truest" or most attractive version of the shot.

Reducing Highlights and Shadows

With RAW files, you can easily reduce contrast and restore details that are lost in glare or shadow. Intense glare or shadows will still be a problem, which is why you want to proactively minimize them when possible.

Cropping for Aesthetics

Your first instinct is probably to crop only to remove eyesores, but you can reframe a shot in post to improve the composition and draw attention where you need it.

Chromatic Aberration

You may find, in high contrast or harsh light conditions, that dark objects against light objects will have purple/pink or yellow/green halos along the border. Very high-quality lenses don't have this problem, but if you're purchasing in the budget to mid-quality range, you can learn to minimize or remove these in post. It takes some practice to do it well. You'll find the settings under "Lens Corrections."

There are other options that take a lot of practice to use at a professional-quality level. You can make colors pop by playing around with the "presence" settings like vibrance and saturation, but it's easy to overdo it. Similarly, you can touch photos up with the spot removal or adjustment brushes, but it's hardly a replacement for keeping distracting objects out of the shot to begin with.

Learn More About Real Estate Drone Photography

Woman Learning to Fly a Drone

Let's face it, even a "comprehensive" blog article can only teach you so much about a vocation that combines three different, complex skills – flying, photography, and photo processing.

Luckily, there are plenty of sources for learning more and building your skills, free and paid.

Courses for Earning Your Part 107 License

There are tons of online courses to help you prepare for your written exam.

Some of the biggest names include:

Courses to Learn Drone Skills

The FAA doesn't require a skills test, but with so many variables that affect drone piloting, you may want to learn from an experienced teacher, rather than trial and error. These courses can be online or in person.

For in-person instruction, you'll obviously need to see what's available in your area. However, several programs have multi-state campuses. That includes DARTDrones (24 nationwide locations) and Drone U (currently offered in AZ, NM, OH and NY).

Drone U also offers online courses on a monthly subscription model on a wide variety of task-specific topics, ranging from flight techniques to building a drone-related business. They have specific courses related to drone photography and videography, even some that are tailored to real estate.

DARTDrones also offers online and "live virtual training." Courses cover beginner skills, business skills, and photography/videography.

Popular online providers also have plenty of drone-related courses. Udemy, Skillshare, and others.

Places to Research the Best Drone Models & Prices

Although we gave you some top-quality drone models in a range of prices above, these things are constantly changing. It's always worth doing fresh research.

Look for professional reviews that test performance benchmarks (not just reciting specs), ask around on drone photographer communities, and check out the customer reviews on popular websites for any nasty surprises.

Courses to Learn Photography & Photo Processing Skills

To take truly stunning shots and process them for maximum impact, you need to develop photography and photo processing skills as well.

In many cases, you can find courses in places we've already mentioned, including Drone U, DARTDrone, and Peltier Photo Courses.

Photography fundamentals can be learned in too many places to mention, including your local community college or camera shop.

There are tons of online courses for mastering Lightroom, but if you're starting from scratch and really want to become a pro, check out this almost-24-hour, complete guide class on Creative Live for $59.

Courses for Real Estate Continuing Education

Whether or not you're an aspiring drone photographer, as a real estate professional you can't forget the basics. To keep up with your continuing education credits online, check out our catalog of self-paced, state-approved courses!

Written and Published by: VanEd

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