BerandaComputers and TechnologyWhy is Drone Photography so Expensive?

Why is Drone Photography so Expensive?


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According to Thumbtack, drone photography in 2020 costs $150–200 on average. Drone operators justify charging these amounts based on:

  • Cost of purchasing and maintaining a drone (Mavic Air 2: $799)
  • Time and money spent on Part 107 certification ($150)
  • Time required to become proficient at flying
  • Travel time to the job

Comparing the drone industry to the ride-hailing industry, however, undermines the justifications for pilots’ high rates. To be an Uber or Lyft driver, you are required to own a car, obtain a driver’s license, be a proficient driver, and travel to pick up riders. The costs in this industry are very similar to that of the drone industry, but we discount them in the valuation of ride-hailing services. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that Uber drivers generate $11.77 per hour in income.

Without taking traditional justifications into account in the valuation of drone work, a more precise explanation arises for why pilot rates are so high: Flying a drone and delivering high quality images is viewed as a high-skilled job.

Manually flying a drone and creating professional content is often complicated and intricate, while driving for a ride-hailing app is not. Uber drivers pick someone up at Point A and drive them to Point B. Drone pilots face an amorphous task: to plan and capture the best images for a client. Whereas the ride-hailing industry provides a well-defined set of instructions for drivers, the drone industry relies on pilots to determine what is needed for completion of a job.

Ride-hailing has evolved into a product industry, while drone photography remains a service industry.

In economics, a service is “a transaction in which no physical goods are transferred from the seller to the buyer. The benefits of such a service are held to be demonstrated by the buyer’s willingness to make the exchange.” Service professions include lawyers, plumbers, accountants, among others. These jobs charge hourly rates and feature work that is not well-defined. When a plumber comes to fix the pipes in your house, it requires investigation and problem solving. Lawyers need to research and formulate arguments to best serve their clients. Drone work requires flight planning and manual flying, thus qualifying as a service and coming with high hourly rates. If a realtor hires a drone operator to take pictures of a listing, they have no way of specifying exactly what they need. They might have ideas of good angles to take pictures from, but they still require the service of the pilot to get what they need. But what if the realtor could specify exactly what they need? If the realtor could give the exact latitude, longitude, pitch, and heading that pictures need to be taken from, the drone work would cease being a service, and would instead be a product.

Economic theory states that “Products are items that satisfy human wants and provide utility, for example, to a consumer making a purchase of a satisfying product. A common distinction is made between products which are transferable, and services, which are not transferable.” Products are generally less expensive than services, as there is a well-defined set of instructions of how to create the product. Ride-hailing has become a quasi-product because of how clear the job is to transport riders from Point A to Point B. For all the conceptions about what drone work is, it is objectively creating a product: aerial images of a location. If a well-defined set of instructions can be developed for drone photography — like there is for ride-hailing — pilot hourly rates will fall.

As mentioned, for the realtor that wants to feature aerial images of a listing, they have no way of requesting the product that they want, and must rely on the pilot for their service.

With DroneHub, the realtor is able to request the aerial images in the form of requesting a product. Using Google Earth, the realtor can select the exact views that they want to purchase. Google Earth attaches geo-positional information that specifies the exact latitude, longitude, pitch, and heading of a view. With a series of Google Earth images, a drone flight plan can be generated that captures images of the views. Many drone apps are available that provide pilots the ability to autonomously fly their drone with a pre-programmed flight plan. With the Google Earth flight plans created by DroneHub, pilots simply need to upload the plan to their drone and let it fly itself. This gives pilots a well-defined set of instructions for creating the product for the realtor.

Google Earth is an extremely powerful tool, as it lets you explore the world in an accurate 3D virtual environment. The Google Earth algorithm combines aerial imagery from different angles to precisely reconstruct views.

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Central Park, NYC (Google Earth)

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At DroneHub, we challenge existing notions surrounding drone photography. We believe that the drone industry should not be qualified as a service industry, and are working to transition it into a product industry.

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Skaneateles Lake, NY (Left: Google Earth, Right: Drone)

We provide clients with aerial imagery for $75 instead of the $200+ that is currently charged by most drone service companies. We work with clients to choose Google Earth views, then generate flight plans and have our network of Part 107 certified pilots capture the images. In addition to the drastically lower costs that we offer, there is an added benefit of reliability — clients know exactly what they are getting based on the Google Earth previews.

If you are looking for more affordable and reliable drone photography, or interested in reading about how we are changing the drone industry, check out our website to learn more:

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