Ever since I got my drone, I basically keep it in my car at all times in case I happen upon some cool spot while driving. It turns out that all these random excursions have become something very useful to me: profitable stock photography.
We all know that drones can provide a new perspective that allows unique, rarely before seen imagery. Such a trait is a huge boon in the stock photography world, where the images produced from the air can stand out from the incredible volume of images currently in catalogs. Adobe Stock has recognized this, naming February's Visual Trend "View From Above."
For the longest time, I didn't really pay much attention to stock photography, not because I didn't see the value, but because the majority of my work was contracted on a case-by-case basis and directing my attention to developing stock assets was just another thing on my already overloaded plate. However, when I got my Phantom 4 last year, I began shooting for pleasure much more. At the time, while I was loving the shots I was getting, I couldn't really see how I was going to monetize them beyond just selling prints. Then, I realized I was being dense (a recurring character trait of mine). People are generally excited about drone shots, because even non-photographers can look at them and instantly recognize how they stand out from most others. And so, I began my taking drone to shoots just to try to incorporate it at the end as a little something extra. Within weeks, I was flooded with requests from clients wanting to book drone portraits or have them as part of their wedding package (you haven't seen skill until you've seen me shooting with two camera bodies while also flying a drone).
Still though, my landscape drone shots remained largely for pleasure. Then, Adobe offered me the chance to work with Adobe Stock, their quickly burgeoning stock service. I had seen the work of some very talented colleagues on there and knew that it was becoming a unique destination for truly high quality stock assets. I uploaded a bunch of my work, gave it a day to be accepted, then checked back a few days later, and to my surprise, the drone shots were a hit!
Just like the unique perspective captured my photographic imagination, the aerial images captured the imaginations of those looking to purchase stock assets. So far, my most popular image has been the one below:
The process was incredibly easy: I simply exported my drone images from Lightroom, and Adobe's uploader automatically read my keywords and applied them appropriately. From there, I made a few quick tweaks, and within 10 minutes, I had uploaded 40 images. Days later, all I had to do was check my dashboard to see how much I had made and which images were bringing in the most income.
Shooting drone work with the aim of stock photography is enjoyable in that the uniqueness inherent to the mode of capture allows one to explore their creativity while still creating viable images. The standard stock caveats apply in that one must attain model and property releases when the situation calls for them. But beyond that, you're only limited by FAA regulations and your imagination. As Adobe notes, "the flexibility is an artist’s dream." It's really a golden age for drone photography:
A number of key factors are aligning behind the drone photography trend — drone camera prices are down, the technology is solid, the public is interested, and artists are inspired. All of this suggests a sweet spot for photographers who want to give drones a try.
In addition to all of this, drones are still very new, and that means there's much to be explored and the time to establish yourself as a figure in the industry is now. And it's not just the creators who are embracing drones:
Searches for drone photography in Adobe Stock grew 5% from the beginning of 2015 to the start of 2017. Based on similar trends we’ve tracked in the past, we predict interest in drone captured images and footage could grow as much as 14% in 2017.
Those who use stock assets are often drawn to drone work because it surprises the viewer: they know the subject matter they're looking at, but the perspective is startling; it's like seeing someone you've known for decades for the first time, and that feeling generates excitement that translates well to design work. I know that I personally feel a genuine emotional response when I'm reminded of just how small I am and how beautiful Earth is, and drone photography is how I replicate that emotion in my work. I think it harkens back to the human fascination with flight and the view from above, as Tobias Hägg notes:
When I was younger, I used to wonder about how things would look like from above, from the nose down.
My style tries to capture the fact that Earth is weirder and more beautiful than anything I could ever dare to conjure. And that's what has me so excited about drone work and its use in stock assets: now is the time for individual photographers to develop a trademark style and make a name for themselves while this sub-industry is still in its infancy. Ryan Longnecker is one such photographer; his beautiful drone imagery has garnered him well-deserved accolades, and his thoughts on the genre and using it to create stock imagery are well worth reading. As Adobe notes:
Our analysis of social media underscores the emotional power of aerial images. People mentioned drone photography on social media with relative consistency throughout the year, with minor spikes in spring and fall and, overall, social sentiments were positive. But in June, when 'Unequal Scenes' began to trend, social sentiments turned notably negative, suggesting that the images made their mark on viewers in a deeply emotional way.
Just like any genre of photography, though, good drone images don't just happen. There's a tendency in aerial photography to want to lean on the unique perspective, but just like all photography, good light, good subject matter, and good composition make a great image. In particular, composition sometimes requires a different eye; geometry on the macroscale often becomes more important. Since you're often quite far from your subjects, you'll want to be especially considerate of the lines and shapes they create within the frame.
If you're just getting started, Adobe Stock has a great guide for beginning flyers. If you want to understand the thought process more, Tobias Hägg is an excellent example of someone who understands the technical side of drone photography and the unique visualization skills it demands, as he talks about in this interview. And as Ryan Longnecker notes, as the popularity of drones continues to soar, it's going to challenge photographers to really hone those skills:
Aerial photography is not at all new, but with the flexibility and accessibility of this incredible equipment, it’s going to take really learning the equipment and developing a style to stay on the front edge of innovation. It’s inexpensive enough that hobbyists will be alongside professionals, forcing them to progress, be experimental, be brave.