As far as drone pilot networks and platforms go, I have found some success in connecting with clients for paid work in the relatively short time I have been at this. For the past 2 months, I’ve been securing missions and projects from Droners.io, I’ve officially turned my pursuit to fly, photograph, and capture video from the sky, a professional endeavor.
Droners.io was acquired by PrecisionHawk in 2018, creating the largest on-demand drone pilot network, with over 15k pilots. This platform is a little different from the other platforms I’ve reviewed (DroneUp and DroneBase), in that it provides a little more transparency and curation for the pilot credentials and portfolio. The onboarding was more like filling out an application and uploading portfolio content to be reviewed and approved as well as providing ongoing access to update your portfolio at any time. Another aspect that differentiates this platform is the access to search and browse for other pilots in the network and learn about them as a client would. This has proven very helpful in understanding what this market looks like as well as skills and experience I need to focus on improving. The client information and their missions are also very helpful in identifying what the deliverable expectations are, by providing examples of other previous missions or projects as the goal. Finally, the missions are launched for pilots in the market to bid on, sometimes with a client budget in mind. While this does make the market a bit more competitive, it also provides pilots with more information to base their decision on, to accept or decline a mission and how
Soon after onboarding, I received an alert that a new mission was available close by, really just about a 20 minute drive from here, at a location I was already familiar with. This location was a relatively new storage facility just off the highway and surrounded by gorgeous Western North Carolina mountains and views. That said, the property and buildings were not as sexy or interesting as luxury homes, photographically speaking, but this was definitely an opportunity to get out on a real shoot and do my best to grab the best shots and learn from the experience. Fortunately, my bid was accepted fairly quickly after submitting it and having time to review all the specs and documents included in the mission. The client had everything I needed to successfully complete this mission including several examples of previous deliverables and a real estate photography style guide, which came in very handy in preparing to head to the site to fly.
The next day, I headed out and arrived about an hour before high noon to try and take advantage of less extreme lighting conditions. I was also hoping to be there when there were no customers using the facility. I put the drone in the air from an upper section of the property to get a little better vantage point as I flew the drone around the area. I was able to grab most of the shots I needed utilizing the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) setting and trying various cardinal positions to capture various angles and perspectives, as I have seen done in other similar work. This is also the standard formula for the other platform missions, as the onboarding and training missions specified. My only speedbump encountered on this day was the fact that a customer was there unloading/loading a lot of stuff in one of the front storage units, making my close ups of those frontage buildings less attractive than I hoped. I really wanted this first mission to be successful, so I landed the drone and reviewed the shots for a bit on my laptop, waiting to see if the customer would finish up. They didn’t, so I left with plans to organize the shots I did get and make another trip out the next morning to re-shoot a few.
There were actually more trucks and trailers the next morning when I arrived, but I had to wait a bit for the fog to burn off anyway, which proved to be the time I needed. I sent the drone up when the sky turned blue and soon after I reached ~300 feet for some full property shots pointing straight down, the facility manager drove up to chat. He was just curious as to what I was doing and we talked for a bit (and I landed the drone for this extended conversation). I learned a good bit about the business and the manager while we chatted and it gave the customers some time to wrap up their loading/unloading and clear the property. It only took me about another 15 minutes to get the shots I wanted from the front, with no cars or trucks blocking the buildings, before heading out.
Per the mission instructions, no editing was required, but being my first go at this and really wanting to better understand the entire process, I did spend some time merging and tweaking the sets of AEB photos after organizing the shots and uploading them for the client and completing the project. A few lessons learned for sure, especially considering the AEB function and output, camera settings, and gaining more comfort flying in this mountainous region. All in all, a successful mission and I’m looking forward to the next one.