Over the past few weeks, I’ve been really busy with some new projects, and fortunately, they have mostly been right here in Western North Carolina, just a short drive from home. I really enjoyed getting out and exploring the surrounding counties, tracking down and identifying 8 properties to capture photos and video of. This set of properties ranged from just under 3 acres to over 32 acres and were located in Graham, Swain, and Jackson counties.
The prep work for this took a little more than usual, to be sure that I was at the right locations on each of these visits. Plotting dozens of GPS coordinates, saving Google Maps for offline use, and printing out copies for each location, since my experience with maintaining a cell connection in the region is spotty, at best. But, utilizing the offline maps and simply having some cell connection (and being able to tether my iPad Mini 6) was enough to keep me on track.
A few of the properties needed to be explored a bit more to find and capture footage of the natural springs that the client wanted to make sure he could market in the videos and photos. The largest property, over 32 acres in Jackson County, also had over 2800 acres of National Forest Lands as its “backyard!” I spent a few hours at this property, walking to all the corners, and found the National Forest Boundary markers on several trees along the property line. It was a little sketchy flying the drone back there, but getting the aerial 360 views from up there was a must, and well worth the anxiety of the drone props clipping a branch as it broke through the canopy.
After flying and shooting many of these vacant parcels of land for marketing video content, I’ve become a little more comfortable finding my way up through the trees to fly in the open sky, but it never makes me feel any easier about it. This time of year is really the only time it’s feasible where I can maintain visual line of sight (VLOS) on the drone once it makes it above the treeline. Even then, my field of view for flying is still limited which make flying cinematic maneuvers a little more challenging.
All that said, I believe the week of exploring the mountains and the resulting photos and videos created for the client, was successful, and I’m planning the next set of property visits as soon as I finish this post. I hope you enjoy a few of the videos from this past project and if you are looking to have similar marketing content created for your investment property, rental, or home to be listed for sale, please email us at email@example.com to discuss.
You can find more from this recent project as well as others from around the region on my Vimeo Showcase page.
The gamification of building drone pilot experience that the DroneUp app developed continues to hold my interest and there are just a few remaining badges I’m pursuing at this time. My plans of completing the requirements for a couple of them were put on hold during the holidays due to getting ill and weather not permitting drone flights. But, just before the holidays kicked in, I was able to complete my EagleView Assess onboarding requirements and earn the related badge as well as being on deck to fly Assess inspection missions.
EagleView provides geospatial software, aerial imagery, and analytics solutions for construction, solar, government, insurance and utilities industries. Among these solutions, their Assess product leverages proprietary technology, exclusive partnerships, and a growing drone pilot network to provide efficient and cost-effective visual inspections for insurance claims and adjustments. Their partnership with Skydio, an american drone manufacturer based in Redwood, CA, has developed a drone inspection solution that is incredibly efficient, safe, and a pleasure to operate, in this drone pilot’s opinion. EagleView leverages the DroneUp pilot network to recruit, train, and onboard pilots to provide this service through their app.
I first engaged DroneUp to inquire about the requirements for this badge a few months ago and they connected me with the EagleView team, who work closely with the DroneUp operations team. The onboarding process was similar to other networks in establishing the credentials of the pilot, verifying insurance, and providing online training in the form of videos, thorough SOPs, and sample deliverables. The last step in the process is the test flight, which as mentioned above, includes utilizing the Skydio 2 UAS to capture the roof imaging for the inspection. The EagleView Assess app is used to guide the pilot to not only fly the rof capture, but also guides the comprehensive home/property walk and image capture using a mobile device. Overall, the app itself is very intuitive and provides a great framework to capture all the images needed for a remote adjuster to complete their work. For my test capture, I was still using my iPhone 8, which is certainly a capable enough device, but I found it lacked a large enough screensize to make the tasks most effective. This, among other experiences over the past few months was the final deciding factor to invest in the latest iPad Mini as my dedicated drone operations device. While I still intend on using the DJI Smart Controller for most flight operations that don’t require iOS specific applications, I’m looking forward to the iPad Mini to make flight operations, image capture and review, and delivery of assets more efficient and effective while in the field.
EagleView provided me with a complete Skydio 2 drone kit, equipped with everything needed to complete multiple inspections per day. I spent a little time with software and firmware updates for both the drone and the EagleView Assess app ahead of my mission date, which the team scheduled. The test flight simulates an actual client inspection and my brother-in-law agreed to let me use their home as the subject.
The first task in the inspection is a thorough walkaround of the outside of the property and home to capture elevation and detailed views of doors, windows, siding, gutters, and other notable features, taking note of any anomalies, large personal property items, and making the appropriate notations. Image management via the app was easy and intuitive, even on the small screen of the iPhone 8.
The next step is the drone flight to capture the roof images, definitely the more exciting and interesting aspect of the inspection. This was the first time I had launched the Skydio 2, but I had watched a number of videos reviewing its flight operations. Based on all the onboarding documentation and videos, the Skydio 2 operation steps were spot on as expected and its performance flawless.
The Skydio 2 technology for obstacle avoidance is top-notch and while I had a few anxious moments as I watched it buzz over the ridgelines of the 3-story roof, it performed its automated flight plan quickly and without incident. The flight plan starts with a validation step, where the Skydio 2 flies to about 90′ above the home to take a top-down mapping image for the app to analyze and map out the roof facets. The drone pilot confirms the facets are mapped accurately and ensures the boundaries of the home are mapped to safely avoid any overhanging obstacles or detached buildings in close proximity that may have been included in the overview image. Once the facets are verified, the drone mission is ready to launch.
The Skydio 2 goes to work flying in a mostly-predictable flight pattern, back and forth across each facet of the roof, adjusting to maintain a safe, but close enough distance to capture the detailed, high-res photos. At times, it seemed to move on to another angle or facet before completing its current target, but the various angles and directions actually contribute to the overall exceptional resolution of the model it creates from the flight capture. For the size of the home, I expected to possibly need a few battery swaps, which the app facilitates without too much fuss, but was able to complete the entire flight pattern with just a single battery swap. The Skydio 2 returned to its launch point and continues the flight from that same point with extreme precision.
Once both the roof and home photo captures are completed and all annotations and QA of the operation are finalized, the app stitches together all the assets to deliver over wi-fi and/or cellular connection in the background so the pilot can continue to the next job location. The pilot simply marks that job complete and the EagleView team takes it from there. The DroneUp team is available throughout the mission for any support needed and once the job is verified as complete, payment is scheduled and the pilot is ready to take on the next mission.
If you’re interested in learning more about the EagleView Assess product, flying the Skydio 2, or the DroneUp pilot network, feel free to reach out or leave a comment/question below to start a discussion. You can also find more information about my experience with acquiring badges for DroneUp in my previous posts.
There are a lot of options and specialties for drone pilots to pursue, and for the most part the platforms and networks I’ve written about support drone pilots for hire across the most common industry applications. Commercial and residential real estate seem to get the most activity on these platforms, but 2D/3D orthomosaic mapping, solar farm inspections, agriculture, construction, and wedding/event needs are in demand. Roof and home inspections is in demand as well and being able to deploy a local drone pilot to handle the job is a more efficient, cost-effective, and safe means of gathering data needed for a proper insurance claim adjuster to process.
One such business that I’ve completed training and onboarding to supply these services for is Loveland Innovations. Their IMGING product offering enables drone pilots across the country to deploy missions at client homes and businesses to capture detailed roof and exterior photos that enable their clients to get insurance claims processed quickly and affordably.
Clients can simply connect with a drone pilot in the IMGING network, like myself, or visit the IMGING website to start the process. Clients will provide a property address or location information, the certified drone pilot will be scheduled to visit the property as quickly as available, and once the data gathering mission is completed, the client will receive their deliverables including images, AI-powered damage detection, and/or damage report, depending on the package purchased. Packages for these inspections start at $279.
Having done a couple of these missions so far, they are quick and really do not require much from the homeowner or client, as far as being on property at the time of the inspection. Most of the work is completed without the pilot even stepping foot on the property. Drone pilots carry liability insurance for the drone and general liability for any incidents that may occur on property. One property I completed an inspection took less than an hour for a 3 story home with multiple roof facets at each level and was perched on the side of a steep mountain hillside.
The outputs of these inspections include the highest quality images, measurements, architectural-grade 3D models, and IMGING’s AI damage detection. You receive everything needed to process a claim from anywhere you are.
If you’re in Western North Carolina or surrounding areas, contact me to find out more information and discuss these inspection services. You can also find some example roof inspection photos here. I’ve posted to see the level of detail and coverage your inspection will get. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have. Likewise, you can learn more about IMGING and contact Loveland Innovations through their website and contact form at the bottom of the page.
It has been a little while since I first posted about my experience with the Droners.IO pilot network, and that’s because it has been keeping me busy. The Droners.IO network has been by far the most active platform I’ve used to connect with clients in need of drone photography and videography services. With over a dozen projects secured through this platform, I’ve been able to find a niche in residential and commercial real estate marketing after completing projects that also include roof inspections, test shoots for commercial production, and insurance inspections. It has also highlighted a number of considerations for our own business operations that require some adjustments.
Looking back on my training and practice flights around our little valley nestled in the Western North Carolina mountains, with densely forested hills, steep elevations, and limited visual line of sight aside from nearly directly above us, this area was a great proving ground to develop the skills and situational awareness that has been invaluable on my commercial missions. Some of these missions have fortunately been located relatively close to us in the surrounding towns of Western North Carolina, uplands of South Carolina, and Eastern Tennessee, which isn’t too bad on the travel expenses and provides a beautiful setting to capture aerial images. This region certainly does come with some challenges as well, when trying to capture the best views and perspectives that potential buyers want to see in a mountain property. Visual line of sight is the biggest of these challenges, which is a requirement per the FAA guidelines for drone operations. Many properties are fronted by narrow single lane roads winding up and around the hillsides with trees over 75′ lining the shoulders, leaving a narrow view of the sky above to fly up through and above. So, moving around and exploring clear views is key to getting the best shots. Also, a good bit of research and familiarity with the property boundaries, any notable landmarks, and a good eye on the screen to ensure the property is properly composed in the viewfinder are imperative and skills that need to be developed.
There have been some fortunate opportunities to bundle multiple shoots into a single day of travel as well, but some limitations have been identified here as well. Clearly, more shoots with the same or just a little more mileage can cut costs, but based on client specifications, weather, and the amount of time needed at each location, scheduling can be tight. Some clients specify the time of day, so that the business or property owner is aware of the activities or for the optimal lighting during the day. Not every shoot is looking for that cinematic golden-hour look, so that is a consideration for visiting multiple location shoots to still create an efficient travel plan.
Ultimately, the Droners.IO platform works as a marketing network to connect drone pilots and clients looking for our services and its really up to the jobs being a good fit. The better your portfolio, the more likely a client is to consider you for the job. But, as expected for a platform based on bidding for work, it can also result in the lowest bid winning. For myself, I will continue to provide the highest quality work for my clients without sacrificing value for our business. With those as guiding principles for our business, I’ve been working hard to optimize workflows, both in the field and in the editing suite, to ensure sustainability and growth.
If you’re interested in learning more about the early stages of a commercial drone service business, reach out and we can find some time to chat more.
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.
If you read my first post about DroneUp, I mentioned that the badges are somewhat grouped or at least have a few that are related in what drone pilot requirements or skills they represent. There are some just basic documentation and certification requirements and then there are these current badges that are all skill and experience related. With the Cinematic Pilot badge completed, the next series I’ve chosen to pursue are the Aerial Mapping badges that are given when a pilot can demonstrate an appropriate understanding of the concepts, software, and relative flying acumen required to capture footage and photos required for client mapping requests. Later the same day, I sat down to try and figure out what I would need to pursue these mapping badges.
Drone Deploy is one of many mapping solutions in the industry and is relatively popular. I actually registered for a trial early on, before I even had a drone that it supported, and didn’t get very far with it for that same reason. So, revisiting the requirements and dusting off my log in to the cloud-based platform, I come to find out that I still don’t have the right mix of equipment. This time, I have the right drone, but not the right controller. The DJI drones work really well with Apple iOS devices that you simple plug into the standard DJI controllers to fly your drones. It can access maps through your cell signal or wifi, you can download maps ahead of time and have them to use if you’re out of signal range somewhere, and its a little less extra equipment to carry unless you want to use a dedicated iPad. Well, I purchased a bundle of gear with my Mavic 2 Pro that came with one of their Smart Controllers, which also has a lot of benefits, but one glaring issue in this case.
The Smart Controllers are Android based and currently, Drone Deploy does not support Android. There are a few of these proprietary mapping platforms that have built autonomous control software that you plan ahead your flight with and simply launch the drone using their flight program to capture your desired photos and video. Unfortunately, I do not have the standard controller to use the iOS version of this app at this time, so this was another dead-end…a bit of product research I hadn’t picked up on.
Down the list of badges, there is another for a platform called Pix4D, so I did some searches and did identify this was probably going to work for me, but not without some legwork. So, while their platform does have an Android app on the Google Play Store, the Smart Controller doesn’t come with the Play app installed. Fortunately, some smarter people out there put together a quick how-to on how to get it installed on the controller so this app, and others I might need in the future, can readily be downloaded and installed. I do live in the mountains, in a fairly rural location, and the internet is horribly slow, making this task take much longer than it really should have. But, I got it all installed, loaded, and began planning my mapping mission.
I knew this would be a tough one to do with my property and house as the subject, since it requires the drone to fly along a specified set of gridlines to capture dozens of photos at a certain height for the right resolution. So, I planned for the next day to go flying out around the area and specifically head over to the county recreation park where they have several ball fields and a soccer field that I could use for my subject.
It was an extremely sunny day out at the park and everyone was doing their thing…walking, running, playing hoops, eating lunch, and the groundskeepers were in full force. So, I sat patiently to see if activity would settle down a little so I could fly and take all the shots needed with minimal interruptions and folks getting in the shots. I flew the first grid that I had programmed with no issues. I was quite surprised at how accurate the Pix4D flight control was, even to the point of its conclusion and returning to the home, landing in the exact same spot it took off from, something I haven’t seen with the standard DJI return to home function. I checked the images and realized they were entirely over-exposed.
Good thing I brought my neutral density (ND) filters, which I selected one to snap onto the drone. Creating or duplicating a flight plan is pretty simple in the app, and to ensure I got the most out of it, I changed the flight plan to capture a few more rows in the grid. This flight plan took just a little over a minute longer to run through completion and again, landed back at my feet where it took off from. A quick review of these photos looked great, so packed up and headed home.
Having mentioned this before, living in these mountains is wonderful, until you have to upload a few hundred high quality photo files. I set the upload process to work and went about my business and was pleasantly surprised that it only took a couple of hours to push nearly 400 total images up to the cloud application. Little did I know that the processing would then take another two hours. It was well worth the wait and effort, as the orthomosaic map created were really detailed and interesting to interact with, including being able to measure spaces and volumes, add annotations, and move the map around in a 3D space to look at different perspectives.
The next day, I decided to run a few missions over our property to see how this worked with elevation changes, trees, and a lot more “3D” elements to be mapped. I got the setting right this time and ran a few overlapping missions that just grabbed different angles of flight over the area, figuring it would capture images from those various angles and produce a higher quality output. The flights only take around 10 minutes to complete, each, then to the upload, process, and review. After a few more hours of all that, I finally get to see the output and its really interesting. The tall trees seemed to be the biggest obstacles but also some of the coolest features, as they rise up from the ground and really only the canopies of them obstruct the ground resolution. Otherwise, the 2D orthomosaic map looks incredibly detailed compared to a simple top-down view from a similar elevation. The 3D map is full of holes and shadowy areas where the camera just didn’t grab enough in the photos, but the resolution is still full of a lot of detail.
This last mission and processing ran my trial account dry with Pix4D. I still need to try Drone Deploy and Measure Ground Control, both have some free trial runs available. I learned a lot in a short time with these and am definitely looking forward to more of this type of work.
Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head….No better time than today to get my Cinematic Pilot Badge on the DroneUp platform, is what I told myself. I spent the weekend learning Premier to edit a bunch of footage that I’ve been collecting during my practice flights. One thing I definitely learned is I need to better plan my flights where I am going to capture footage for the purpose of editing it into an interesting video. Definitely something I have not done as of yet and it was made clear to me while trying to find usable clips to just piece together a clip of scenes that were pleasant to look at. A story, a progression through the scenes to a payoff, something more. At any rate, I also realized that I had already been capturing a number a really great shots utilizing the cinematic maneuvers that are required for this badge and really are used a lot in the cinematic videos that feature exclusively drone footage.
So, got everything charged up and cards formatted, went through my checklist for the weather and gear, and headed outside to get this done. In my head, I wanted to make one of the shots really more exciting and different than I ended up doing, but I also wanted to make some progress and knew I could utilize the additional flight time in the coming week of so to go out and capture more of what I wanted for other uses.
The Cinematic Pilot Badge requires four types of shots:
Orbit or 360
Tracking a subject
4-axis controlled maneuver while tracking a subject.
The first maneuver is an orbit or 360 around a subject. I’ve actually been getting pretty good at these manually, but both of my drones have this capability in their Quickshot modes. Basically, focus the camera on the subject (me in this case), lock it in, set your flight altitude and speed, and click go. As long as you have your desired focus on the subject and vertical and horizontal distances right, this shot turns out pretty good.
The second, the dronie, also creates a great effect as you reverse and rise away from a tight focus on a subject to a wide view of the surrounding area, which creates a dynamic perspective. This is a good real estate shot as you pull away from a close up of the front door of a home and rise up to show the surrounding neighborhood or even further out to show maybe its wider location and surrounding streets, parks, and shopping areas.
Tracking a subject is a little more difficult to do, even with some automated assistance from the drone program. You definitely need to take a hard look at your surroundings to ensure any obstacles will be safely cleared. I did test out the active track feature on the Mavic 2 Pro for this since I wanted to make sure trees and powerlines would be detected and avoided, but that the footage would not be too jerky or jarring. I was pleasantly surprised at its effectiveness and relatively smooth avoidance of these types of obstacles as I walked around my property and down a road a bit. It will looks focus on a subject in the case of a sudden change of direction though, at least at the height and distance I set it to follow.
The 4-axis maneuver while tracking a subject is a little trickier, especially with so many trees and obstacles in the area. I also wanted to do this as manually as possible to test out my skills. Basically, the maneuver I did was reverse pitch + climb + yaw + and roll while keeping the camera as focused on myself as the subject as possible, which also requires a little gimbal tilting. This turned out pretty good, though it would have been easier in an open field or over water tracking a boat.
Overall, not a bad set of maneuvers captured with good exposure, smooth movements, and was able to get it done in a pretty short amount of time. I took the shots into Premier and put together a short video collection of them to submit to DroneUp for my badge request. A short time later, an agent replied and granted me the badge as well as letting me know that I chose a really lovely location to shoot for this badge! I absolutely agree.
This is the first in this series sharing footage from in and around Western North Carolina. The final video below is also the first “full-length” video that I have produced in Premier with all my own footage and sound, aside from the music track. Scene selection and storytelling are certainly concepts I need to put more planning into when I go out and fly, but for this one, I had about 30 minutes of footage captured with the DJI Mini 2 drone that looked great and I wanted to share it.
Glen Falls is not too far away just outside of Highlands, NC, and easily accessible. This makes it a little difficult to capture without a ton of people sharing the views, but we got there really early on a weekday and were able to grab a few shots before it became too crowded. There are 3 tiers, or stopping points with views of the falls along a short descent down and a couple of places where you can step out onto some flat rock faces to get a better view. Heavily forest around it and in the middle of summer, it is densely covered with flowering rhododendron. The falls are created by Overflow Creek which flows off the Highlands Plateau down into Blue Valley below. The final shot, taken above the treeline, looks out over the valley towards North Georgia.
On another day, we explored a little bit down in the valley and found Picklesimer Rock House Falls, which is not far from the bottom of Glen Falls where Overflow Creek continues through the valley floor. We started to go up the Glen Falls trail, but it was sorely overgrown down there, not as well traveled, and decided against it for the day. Definitely want to go back. Picklesimer, though, is easy hike to get to once you find the trailhead along the dirt road. Lots of great camping spots out here as well. Picklesimer is a really cool rock bluff that a small stream flows over in a bit of veil.
A couple of notes about the video production. Footage shot in 4k looks amazing, so clear and crisp and there’s a lot to see on the screen. Editing this down for online viewing in normal HD gave me a lot of room to work with on cropping, positioning, and scaling the shots without sacrificing the clarity and resolution. Since the drone doesn’t grab audio in flight, I borrowed some running water audio from other clips taken along the Cullasaja river to develop a little more depth to the overall video. And, while I’m tempted to overuse transitions between clips, I just focused on timing with the music for the cuts. Granted, my music selection here is a little more epic than the footage, given the relatively peaceful water cascading over the rocks.
I came across the DroneUp platform just a few weeks ago, again saw a mention of it in some group discussion, so I figured I would take a deeper look. As of yet, I haven’t received any indication that I have been “verified” to begin accepting work, but this platform’s gamification has been giving me mission goals to complete or attain in order to gain more badges. I have to assume that more badges equal more credibility as a pilot, and thus more credibility will lead to job opportunities.
There were a few badges that required information that I was just waiting on from the FAA, North Carolina DOT and insurance to provide proof of drone registration, certifications and liability coverage. Once I rounded those up, it was easy to submit my information and receive the badges. These were the fundamentals, clearly.
The next set of similar badges available all validate the skills and experience of the pilot. These are based on flight hours logged, various types of videography skills, and experience using a few pieces of software that drone pilots use to record data and plan autonomous flights. This is where I am now, but what I find helpful and kinda fun with it, is that these are left up to the pilot to fulfill, for the most part, and they are helping structure some of my flight missions and practice.
Cinematic shots are what I have really been doing the most of right now, mostly since its so easy to walk out of my front door, launch the drone, and capture the scenery just above and around our home. The views are offering shot opportunities including landscape reveals, downward flyovers to capture textures, and parallax footage with the endless ridges extending in all directions. There are some challenges as well in being able to capture or even run some of the required maneuvers due to the landscape. Doing anything that uses the “active follow” function at any significant altitude is nearly impossible due to tree cover.
Beyond pushing my skills at capturing solid footage that is properly exposed and includes the maneuvers that result in gorgeous cinematic clips, it is the hours spent in the air that is a challenge as well. I’m currently working my way to 25 flight hours logged, which if you can imagine, also includes A LOT of video and photo files. Two more DroneUp badges are available at 25 hours and they are labeled “Expert” accomplishments. Then on to 50 hours, which are labeled “Professional” and the end of those series. I could put the bird in that air and capture hyperlapse shots to string together and create some need imagery, but just like flying around in this valley over and again, the footage is getting to be a little too much of the same. I do need to test out the hyperlapse function though.
Planning missions in the area and identifying safe airspace to fly in, both recreationally and commercially, are not that difficult either. But, choosing points of interest that are conducive to flying and capturing more that just long-range views of these spectacular mountains does require a little bit of research and planning. I spent a few hours the other day exploring some trails descending off the highway into the river gorge to look for suitable take-off points, which turned up a couple of good spots. The issue then is contending with trees that cover portions of the river and what I’m trying to capture and those trees taking the drone out of the air and into the drink. That said, the shots I’ve gotten were rewarding, even if just a little sketchy and nerve-wracking to get.
I hope the “Part 2” of the DroneUp series will be laden with follow-up and content from not only the completion of the cinematic badges, but more than likely my 25 flight-hour requirements being met and initial gig offerings being available.
During my free time while working towards becoming a full-fledged commercial drone pilot, I’ve explored a few gig platforms. Partly to keep some small amount of income flowing and partly to keep me busy. I dashed a few days, too little for too little in this area, not a whole lot of demand during the day time and I really didn’t want or need to work nights. I found a platform called WeGoLook, seemed interesting enough and offered some automotive and real estate opportunities to go out, inspect, take photos, and report back. More along the lines of what I am looking to apply my drone pilot skills to, but the opportunities have so far been pretty sparse. Again, this is a different market with different needs and these types of gigs aren’t quite yet supporting a side hustle approach.
The one platform I’ve really enjoyed working with recently has been Rover.com. We have been clients of Rover for several years, having found a great couple in Atlanta that stayed with our dogs, at our home, while we traveled a a few occasions. Overall, the cost wasn’t that much less than boarding them at a kennel or having them stay with a sitter, but at that time we had older dogs that seemed to be over the kennel environments. So, for their sake and our own peace of mind, this was a great arrangement. Fast-forward to current times, I managed a dog playground locally for a short stint and learned a few things about dogs, their owners, and local market factors. For a couple of months now, I have been walking, hiking, and watching really fun dogs for a dozen or so clients and have been loving it. I am now trying to ramp down my bookings to focus on drone gig opportunities that are popping up on the platforms that I’ve established myself on, like Drone Base.
As I recall, Drone Base was the first platform I came across in a group discussion on social media and began my sign-up process for. The website description of the platform, services offered, and what I should expect as a pilot applicant all made sense and I quickly realized I would be held up by a couple of key requirements. More on that in a moment. I also did some quick searches and found some YouTube videos talking about what doing Drone Base missions was all about and how much opportunity is really there. One pilot recounted being able to string together a few accepted missions in a single day to net a few hundred dollar and not have to travel all over the state to complete them. Seems like a possible source of work, variable, repeatable, something to start with.
The main challenge was that I was still early in the process and did not yet have my FAA Part 107 Certification for commercial work. So, I filled out as much of my profile as possible and moved on to other things on my to-do list.
Once I obtained my certification, at least a virtual certification ahead of getting my little plastic card in the mail, I was able to complete that portion of my profile Easy enough, right? Well, during my time focused on the other to-dos, flying my little Mini 2, and playing with a bunch of dogs, I also realized that to truly pursue legitimate commercial jobs, the little Mini was probably going to fall short of the capabilities and specifications required by potential clients and these gig platforms. I was able to confirm this quickly after getting my certification and attempting to onboard with a couple of other similar platforms. The other last piece of the puzzle was what every smart self-employed freelancer needs, maybe more so in other lines of work, was liability insurance. Well, some further Pilot Institute course watching, some group chats on Facebook, and some more videos watched on YouTube helped me identify the solutions to both of these requirements.
Spend a little to make a little…just not too much
At this point in the pursuit of becoming a commercial drone pilot, I had only spent a little over $1,000 on the drone, exam prep, the exam itself, and incidentals. Not too bad for a hobby, at least not by my experience with other hobbies and toys I’ve plunked down change for. But, I was about to go in for a bit more to really follow through. Insurance is reasonable, and honestly, I am still surprised at the quality of drone systems available out there in the market, as well as the kits available to ensure you can really fly as much as possible.
The Mavic 2 Pro sits at a good price point and does have the capabilities needed for commercial work. Its been out a few years and the rumors are there’s version 3 coming soon. That said, this model is recommended as one of the base levels for general photography, videography, and flying commercially, before stepping up to a larger system. Still light and easy to deploy and my bundle came with a smart controller that I can use for both of my DJI drones. The camera has a larger sensor as well. So far, I am really enjoying flying this unit.
Acquisition of this drone and insurance seemed to put me in play with Drone Base. I received an invitation to onboard for their Commercial Real Estate (CRE) opportunities, which consisted of some online training and a training mission. The training mission was to be done around my own home and property and follow specifications for shots they provide. I spent an hour or so taking some test shots based on those specifications ahead of the actual mission to identify any potential challenges. Well, our property is situated in a low area of a narrow valley surrounded by high ridges and dense forest. Awesome place to live, not ideal for grabbing long views of homes with a horizon. I did my best to get the shots with the angles and distances specified and just explained that in my submission. They accepted it and I got my badge. I’m excited to accept my first commercial gig now!
In the meantime, I’m enjoying flying, snapping, and filming and logging hours in the air. Running some flight drills and maneuvers, and editing footage. There’s so much more to learn here.