Drone Photography for Real Estate

Drone businesses are flourishing all over the world. It all started with the idea of creating audiovisual content from a bird’s perspective, but soon after, other industries realized the potential these small unmanned aircraft had, so they started using them for industrial inspections, photogrammetry, etc.

Real estate photography is one of the most common uses of drones today. This relatively easy way to make money with your UAS has grown significantly in the past few years. Property managers understand that great aerial images and video footage can show their buildings in unique ways, which further improves their chances of getting a sale. 

The demand in real estate for aerial content is increasing, but are you ready to offer these services? In this article, we will look into what are the best drones in this field, and what shots work best, as well as some other nice tips on how to become a pro real estate drone photographer.

What makes a good drone for real estate?

You need different cameras for different situations. You wouldn’t attach to your chest a full-frame DSLR to record yourself snowboarding, would you? Choosing the right camera for the right job is an essential task for a photographer. Therefore, you should carefully determine the best drone for taking photographs and video footage for real estate. Here is a list of a few things to take into consideration:

  • RAW: The most basic feature you need in a drone for professional photography is the possibility of creating RAW files. This file format is uncompressed, giving you the best quality for post-production purposes. Simply put; a must-have.
  • AEB mode: If you want your pictures to really pop, you will need to use the Auto Exposure Bracketing mode, which consists of taking a set of pictures with different exposure settings to create a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.
  • Megapixel count: Basically, more is better in certain situations. If you plan to enlarge or print your images, the more megapixels the camera has, the better it will look.
  • Field of view (FOV): It can be measured horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. In drone cameras, it usually appears as HFOV. In short, it is the area that your camera can capture. Having a drone with a wide-angle lens allows you to capture wider real estate.
  • Bitrate: The video quality of your drone depends on several factors; one of them is the bitrate. This feature indicates the bits per second that your drone stores in the file. The more bits per second, the better the quality of the footage, but also the bigger the video file will be.
  • Weight: Depending on your local regulations, performing your real estate drone operations with an aircraft that weighs less than 0.55 lbs (250 g) could mean that you don’t need to apply for waivers or permits.
  • Price: Clearly, shooting with a DJI Inspire mounting a Zenmuse X5 would give you outstanding results. However, how long would you need to get your investment back? Buy what is right for your business, but also for your budget.
  • Size: In the same way as before, the Matrice 600 Pro is without a doubt an amazing drone, but probably not the most practical for real estate aerial photography. Sometimes the space for shooting is limited, and for others portability is necessary.

Many drones offer what you need to sell amazing photographs to real estate agencies, you just need to know which one is best for you.

Best real estate drones (for photography and video)

So, you have decided that you want to earn some money with your drone in the real estate business. Finding the best aircraft to do the job is one of the keys to making your company profitable in the short term, which I am sure you plan to do.

Let’s have a quick look at what are the best drones for real estate photography and video recording:

BEST DRONES
Below are the best drones for real estate work, including the pricey options.

  • DJI Mavic 2 Pro: If we could only recommend one drone to start your real estate photography business, it would be the Mavic 2 Pro. It is quiet, has a long flight time, offers great quality, and is super easy to transport. The new Mavic 3 will eventually take over this category, but its prohibitive price at the moment makes it a bad choice for small businesses starting out.
  • DJI Phantom 4 Pro: The all-time standard professional drone had to make it to this list, indeed. The typical downside for this UAS is its weight and poor portability, but the pro features that put on the table, like 4k video at 60 FPS, together with its price in second-hand markets, make it a fantastic option.
  • DJI Mavic Air 2S: The new best bang for the buck drone, no debates here. The Air 2S has a 1-inch sensor, takes 20 MP stills, and shoots 5.4K video at 60FPS with a bit rate of 150 Mbps (the highest of this list). The Mavic Air 2S is the best drone for real estate photography and video shooting. The $1300 price tag for the Fly More Combo makes it as desirable as a bag of candy in a primary school.
  • DJI Mavic Air 2: This one usually gets overlooked, but the Mavic Air 2 has a unique 48 MP camera and shoots video at 4K/60FPS. The big disadvantage in comparison with the other drones is the small half-inch sensor it equips, sacrificing image quality in low light conditions.
  • Autel Evo II: Being the drone market leader, it is no surprise that DJI is dominating this list, but that does not mean that we cannot find other interesting options. The Autel Evo II is a great alternative for those who don’t like the UAS from the Chinese giant (for whatever reason). It has a half-inch sensor, 48 MP camera, up to 4x lossless zoom, and 8K/25FPS video recording capabilities with a bit rate of 120 Mbps. The downside? It is a bit expensive in comparison with other options listed here.
  • DJI Mavic 3: I could not finish this section without talking about the new DJI Mavic 3. Its current market price and issues make this drone a tricky purchase. In terms of video and picture quality, the Mavic 3 is the new king. The Hasselblad 4/3” sensor of the main camera is the same as the one mounted in the Zenmuse X5 series. However, this aircraft has a great downside at this moment; its price.

LOW BUDGET OPTIONS

Next, we will present two low-budget options. They will not get you the same quality that more expensive products offer, but you will be able to get paid working with them as well.

  • Parrot Anafi: The first one is the Parrot Anafi. This drone has a shorter flight time and a much smaller sensor size (1/2.4”) than the previous aircraft. However, it is capable of taking 21 MP pictures and shooting video at 4K/30FPS. I bought mine used for 300 EUR ($340) with 4 batteries, and I couldn’t be happier with it. The Anafi is great for taking photographs and videos in good light conditions. Includes a P-Log video profile for color grading in post-production, AEB photo mode, and the possibility of creating Waypoint missions in the official app.
  • DJI Mini 2: The king of the market, the dream drone for travelers, can also be used for real estate photography and video recording. Its low mass makes it perfect for certain scenarios, like in urban areas with drone weight restrictions. It has the same limitations as the Anafi; small sensor, standard video settings, and it only shoots 12 MP images. However, when the light is right, the Mini 2 can record amazing 4K/30FPS footage and take beautiful HDR images.

As we have seen, there are many options to choose from, but actually selecting the best drone for your needs and budget is up to you.

How to shoot real estate photography and video

Now that you have your drone to do real estate jobs or you have a clearer idea about which one to buy, we are going to show you some standard practices in this field of work.

But first, let me remind you that to work professionally as a real estate drone photographer, you need to have the Part 107 certification (if you will be flying in the USA). Additionally, make sure that you purchase drone insurance that covers you from any work accidents and damage that your aircraft may suffer or cause.

Tweak your settings

Setting up the drone in a way that makes your work smoother is essential for your day-to-day operations. Here are a few tips to do that.

  • Customize buttons: The C1/C2 buttons if you are using a Mavic 2 drone or the function button in the DJI Fly app. By doing this, you can perform certain tasks quicker.
  • Gimbal speed/smoothness: Change these settings no matter what app you use. Smoother gimbal movements will give you better video footage, the cinematic kind of look that we all love.
  • Pro Photo Mode: Automatic photo mode is great for quick pictures, but to make the most of your camera, you need to turn on the pro mode. Set a high aperture to get sharper backgrounds and a 100 ISO to make sure your image has the least noise possible. We usually shoot in daylight, on a clear sky day, so you shouldn’t change that ISO setting.
  • AEB Mode: As we talked about earlier, your drone for real estate photography should have an Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) mode. This fantastic mode gives you the option of creating stunning HDR (high dynamic range) images, meaning that your pictures will be more expressive.
  • RAW: As you will be processing the images in Photoshop or similar software, you need your pictures to be of the highest quality possible. The RAW file format saves them without compression, widening the possibilities to tweak them. Yes, they will take much more space on your hard drive, but this is the way you need to do it. Make sure to manually select this format before starting to take shots.
  • Grid: Great image composition is one of the key elements of good photography, so activate the rule of thirds in the camera settings to help you with this task.
  • White Balance: You can leave this setting on auto for taking pictures. However, if you are going to record videos, you should first set it on auto, then switch it to manual. This will help you avoid sudden changes while recording the video, which happens when there are light changes.

Use tripod mode

If you have a drone that uses the DJI Go app, such as the ones that we have recommended earlier in this article, using tripod mode is as easy as ‘one, two, three’. You just select it in the intelligent flight modes section of the app. If your drone works with the DJI Fly app, for instance, don’t worry, as this useful mode can be simulated.

The main characteristic of the tripod mode is how slow the movements are, both in the drone and its gimbal. To emulate this mode, or to make it even more cinematic, you only need to adjust the drone and gimbal speed to make them both move very slowly.

Shoot at different heights

To properly capture the beauty of a property, you need to try different perspectives, and height is one of the elements that can make the difference for the job.

For example, you can divide your shots into three different levels; low, medium, and high.

The low level could capture the entrance of the house, the garage, the pool, the garden, and other important elements of the building, almost at the same level as a person would see it, but making use of orbital shots and other common techniques. This is great for the intro or the outro of your video montage.

The medium level could be composed of the upper floor/s of the real estate. Maybe there is a nice balcony with a hot tub that needs to be highlighted, or it could be a very spacious outdoor area. On this level, some shots can be taken from the low level. For instance, you could fly from the entrance over the roof, then orbit the balcony on the second floor. There are many possibilities.

Lastly, the high level is probably the most important of them all. It gives you the chance to show the surrounding area of the building, but also display the zones that you have already exhibited with a nice extra view. Is there a nice river enclosing the property? Nothing like an aerial view to make it stand out, or any other thing you might want to highlight. Maybe the house has a beautiful fountain in the entrance that you could record in a zenithal view while spinning around it. My goodness, I am getting excited just thinking about it!

Shoot at different angles

Getting a set of AEB pictures only takes you a few seconds, so don’t skimp on images. When shooting at the different levels that we talked about, take pictures from several angles, as if you were recording an orbital video. However, do not lose your mind taking pictures, as you need to check them all, later on, to see which ones you choose to present to the client.

To make sure you have captured all the angles, it is a good practice to take pictures and videos of the front, back, and sides of the building.

Shoot at different distances

We have taken our shots at different heights and angles and now we should use distance to complete the job. You can get a nice intro by approaching the building from a faraway location. Inverting this shot would make a nice outro for the video montage.

Additionally, do an orbital shot and make sure to keep the real estate in the center of the image. This is especially important if there are many buildings that look similar, so avoiding confusion is imperative.

Top 10 real estate shots

We have already given you a few ideas about how to shoot real estate photography and video in this section, but let’s dig deeper into this important topic. Some of the following shots are a combination of two, so feel free to combine them in your own unique ways.

  1. Approach: One of the most common video shots with a drone is approaching the subject. You can do this in several ways, such as approaching a pool horizontally and also vertically from a zenithal view.
  1. Approach and Orbit: This combo works very well for wide outdoor areas, such as gardens. You can show the surrounding area of the real estate and then approach it while orbiting. A bonus combo could be ascending or descending while keeping the subject centered.
  1. Pull away: In contrast to the approach shot, we have the pull away. Center the focus on the shot and then move the aircraft away from it. Make sure that this shot is long, so you can speed it up and slow it down in postproduction (a very common editing technique for drone videos).
  1. Orbit: Probably the most common drone shot. Do you know why? Because it works! Orbiting the subject is a good way to showcase it from different angles in just a few seconds. The orbit shot is often combined with many others, as we just saw.
  1. Straight up rising: Have you ever used the Rocket Quickshot on the DJI Fly? That is exactly what I mean here. For those of you who have not tried it, it consists of focusing the shot from a zenithal perspective, then flying up as a rocket would do. This shot works very well to show a large area from a smaller one. Imagine starting the view from the roof of the house and then discovering a huge garden surrounding the building as you fly up. Beautiful!
  1. Flyover while focusing on the building: This shot can be performed in several ways, depending on the pilot’s skills. The simplest is to fly over the building or the whole property, while keeping the subject centered. Another way could be flying over the subject and then focusing on another one for a combined shot. Again, many possibilities, right?
  1. Spin around: This shot is usually taken from a zenithal view, and can be combined with a straight-up or straight-down shot. Does the garden have a labyrinth? This shot would be great to create a dizzy moment. Use carefully, of course.
  1. Rising reveal: Is the property surrounded by trees? You can fly your drone behind one of them and reveal the real estate once your view isn’t blocked. As we have talked about, you can vary this shot by inverting it, creating a nice fade away for the outro.
  1. Forward reveal (approach): Another two-in-one shot, and a super popular one as well. With the forward reveal, you can fly from far away and slowly reveal the property to be displayed. It comes really handy to demonstrate some places near the area to be sold, then focus on the subject.
  1. Sweeping: We couldn’t finish this Top 10 without another popular shot: sweeping. Doing it is simple. First, center your subject in the frame, then move the drone to either left or right. Tap on record and start going sideways until you have reached and passed the subject.
    You can also do it without having a subject centered, as what you might want to showcase can be a garden or any kind of large area in the property.
     

Real estate photography composition

Another important aspect of photography is how you arrange the visual elements within the frame, also known as composition. This is an essential part of your job as a real estate drone photographer.

The most common composition guideline used in photography is the rule of thirds. The proposition of this guideline is that images should be imagined as if they were divided into nine equal parts made of two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines.

For real estate photography with your drone, a good starting point for achieving a nice image composition could be aligning the building with the grid lines in your screen (don’t forget to activate the rule of thirds in the app to do this). Another way could be looking for natural lines in the image, such as roads, and lining them up with the grid.

It is critical that you try different angles and perspectives before taking the shot, or you could take several photos so you can decide later what is the best option to show the client. However, keep in mind that more pictures mean more time selecting the right ones later on.

How to edit real estate photographs?

So you have a lot of pictures that you took considering the factors that we have discussed. Now what? It is time to edit the material in Photoshop or whatever software you prefer. Yes, editing your pictures is a must as you need to enhance some aspects that might be too dull for a professional job.

My recommendation is that you create a template to perform this task quicker, as you will be doing it many times. You can set some parameters that are usually very similar, such as the image sharpening. I have a few to choose from, but you will always tweak the image independently, so it is not a must.

We could divide my approach for choosing which images I should edit into two:

  1. Selecting the picture which I consider to have the ideal exposure.
  2. Merging of the AEB images to create an HDR image.

The second option is by far my favorite, although the first one can work very well too. The thing that makes HDR images the best option in my opinion is that they offer a much higher dynamic range, making the picture pop more naturally.

Once you have merged your HDR image or you have selected your favorite one, these are the parameters that you should tweak a bit to enhance them:

  • Contrast: This slider darkens the darker mid-tones and lightens the lighter mid-tones. Images with higher contrast are more appealing to the human eye, but make sure that you don’t overdo it.
  • Highlights: On some occasions, images can appear too white in some areas. To correct this, move the highlight slider to correct the bright values. For example, if the white wall of the house that you are shooting appears too white, changing the highlight setting will help you see the bricks.
  • Texture: This slider has a little effect on contrast, and it increases/decreases the amount of medium size texture in a photo. Using a little bit will make the lines of a building pop, while using too much could make the picture look unnatural.
  • Clarity: This global adjuster will affect the entire picture, so use it with caution. The clarity slider increases the contrast on the mid-tones, which result in brighter shadows. I like to boost the clarity a bit in every picture, as it makes the whole image look clearer.
  • Dehaze: This filter elevates the overall contrast of the photo and fixes the haze. Very useful to highlight landscapes where distant objects appear eroded.

Drone video editing – basic key aspects

If editing your photographs is a must… That is right, you guessed it; so is editing your videos. Once again, it does not matter what software you use, although some work better than others depending on your hardware and operating system. I like Adobe Premiere, but DaVinci Resolve has gained some serious good critics in the past years.

There are many styles of drone videos, and each one of them has its own standard practices. Real estate drone footage also uses certain video editing techniques that make the footage more entertaining and effective, like specific transitions. However, there are certain key aspects that need to be corrected before any transition or FX are implemented.

  • Naming / Tagging: This should be obvious, but most of the time it is not. Having a quick look at your recorded footage and renaming or tagging the files will speed up your editing process later on. It is not the same as trying to create a montage where all the videos are properly described, as doing it without the content of every clip.
  • Video Frame Rate: Drones nowadays can shoot at frame rates of up to 120 FPS, like the new DJI Mavic 3. However, the final product usually is exported at 24 FPS. Why? Because this is the frame rate used in films, so it gives a cinematic look to our final product.
  • Playback Resolution: Many colleagues have told me how they can’t edit drone footage because their computers are incapable of handling 4K videos. In some cases, if the hardware is too old, there is nothing we can do about it but upgrade. However, under certain conditions, reducing the playback resolution will allow us to edit and playback our video productions at that moment. The image quality will be greatly reduced, but once we export it, the quality will appear as intended.
  • Music: The soundtrack of your video is more important than many believe, as it sets the mood of the product. Your recorded footage could be the best in the industry, but if the music in your video is more suitable for a funeral, the client will not be impressed. Determining the right music will also help you choose the duration of the video, another important aspect.

Combine drone and ground content

Needless to say, real estate photography is about showing the entire property, not just the outdoor areas that your drone can capture. If you are hired only to do aerial shots, that is awesome. However, if you can complete the whole job yourself, your chances of being hired will be greatly increased.

We have talked about the best drones for real estate photography, but what about the equipment needed to do the job indoors? Let us take a look at some basic gear that you may want to consider buying to grow your business.

  • Full-Frame DSLR Camera: The core equipment for shooting indoors is the DLSR camera. This piece of gear is costly, but it should last you quite a few years, so you probably shouldn’t be cheap about it. A good option is the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II.
  • Camera lens: To take pictures and record videos indoors you need a wide-angle lens, around 14-20 mm for a full-frame camera. This is the only way to capture the whole room, so it is also pretty necessary.
  • Gimbal: Last, but definitely not least, the gimbal. In the same way that your drone records stabilized video, you need a gimbal for your DSLR camera, and these are not cheap either. The Ronin SC is a good starting point.

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