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Choosing the right drone pilot can seem like a daunting task – but it doesn’t need to be.  Follow a few quick and easy tips, and your aerial photography needs can be easily and affordably met.

1.    Think About Your Own Needs

At first, you might think your aerial photography needs are simple – just a few pictures, right? But an important first step in selecting a drone pilot is clearly understanding all your own, unique requirements.  Do you need only aerial still images, or do you need videos, too?  Are there specific shots you’re needing, or specific features you’d like the photography to highlight?  How soon do you need your images and videos?  What image and video sizes and formats do you require?  Do you need any of your images or videos hosted, or will you host them yourself on your own web site?  Depending on your needs, your list of requirements can be quite extensive.

Once you clearly understand your own requirements, you’re ready to search for pilots that meet your needs.  You’ll be able to clearly communicate your needs and gauge their understanding of your requirements – including their ability to deliver.  You and your pilot’s mutual success isn’t possible without mutually understanding your needs.

2.    Perform Your Initial Search.  Review Their Work

After getting references, or performing on-line searches for pilots, ask to see samples of their work – and especially samples of the types of products that will meet your specific needs.  This may be as simple as reviewing their web site, or the web sites of their customers.

This conversation will also give you an opportunity to understand your pilots’ equipment and its capabilities.  Don’t be afraid to ask about their drones and sensors – pilots love to talk about their equipment!  If they don’t want to share that information, consider that a red flag.  Likewise, shy away from anyone using drones from the “toy” or lower consumer end of the market.  Sub-$500 drones should be look upon with some skepticism.

3.    Narrow the List.  Verify Their Credentials

After narrowing your search to two or three pilots, be sure to ask if they’re licensed (or “certificated”) by the FAA.  Licensing not only ensures you’ll not be subject to FAA fines (a rare occurrence, actually), but also ensures you’ve selected a pilot who’s demonstrated the knowledge, and gone to the trouble necessary to be legally licensed to fly drones commercially.  Licensed pilots are likely to be safer, more reliable and more thorough in their work than a “pilot” who hasn’t made the effort to be licensed. You can double-check their Remote Pilot Certificate on the FAA’s Airman Inquiry search page.

Of course, also confirm your pilot carries drone insurance.  In the unlikely event their drone causes damage to you or your client’s property, you don’t want to be left holding the bag for those costs.  While most all drone flights are safe, drone operations are inherently more risky than ground-based photography.  Make sure you hire a safe (and insured!) pilot.

4.    Agree on Your Products.  Confirm Cost & Schedule

By now, you should be down to one or two pilots to select.  Now is the time to have the detailed discussion about your unique requirements and the products you’ll be provided. Once you both agree on the scope of your project and its deliverables, you’ll be able to more accurately estimate total cost, as well as your delivery schedule.

Make sure to ask about any additional “hidden” costs, like travel costs, or additional “post-production” costs.  Your pilot should be able to provide a solid estimate with no surprises.  If they can’t or won’t, consider that a red flag, too.

Finally, ensure you both agree on exactly when your products will be delivered, by what method, and whether you’ll require web site hosting for your deliverables.  (Many of our clients ask us to host their videos.)

And lastly, if you have questions about any of these tips, please feel free to contact me here at Airworks Imagery.  Even if you select another pilot, I want to ensure your drone experience is a positive one!

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  • AirWorks Imagery, LLC
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