Drone Wedding Photography: The Ultimate Guide

Do you want to hire a drone wedding photographer or sell drone wedding photography services?

We cover both in this guide:

Selling Drone Wedding Photography: A Guide for Freelance Photographers

I’ve been doing wedding photography for about thirteen years.

When I first got started, I charged less than a thousand dollars for each wedding I shot. And I felt lucky to have the work.

But over time I built up my portfolio and my reputation.

Now, I make a solid six figures a year as a wedding photographer.

Why am I sharing this? Because adding drones to my wedding photography helped me increase the value of my work—and increase my prices.

drone-wedding-photography-guide

The goal of this in-depth guide to drone wedding photography is to help you get the most out of drones in your wedding shoots. 

In the guide, I share all the insights I’ve gained over the years, including tips on composition for drone wedding photos, how to get the best wedding shots with your drone, and how to package your drone services.

Here’s a menu to help you navigate this guide:

A Note on the Authors

Two people wrote this guide to drone wedding photography:

Daniel Lopez Perez is an award-winning wedding photographer based in Guatemala. His work has won the Junebug Photography Award, the Fearless Photography Award, and in 2019 he was selected 1 of the 30 Rising Stars of Rangefinder Magazine. Recently, Dani’s wedding photography was featured in Condé Nast.

Zacc Dukowitz is a contributing writer at UAV Coach and the former Senior Communications Manager at Swiss drone company Flyability. Zacc has been writing about the drone industry since 2016. In that time, he’s written hundreds of articles on commercial drones, spoken in dozens of drone-related webinars, and led panels at EDRC and Commercial UAV Expo.

This guide is written in the first person, since Dani will be sharing his first-hand experience as a wedding photographer who uses drones in his work. However, Zacc contributed extensively, especially on the sections devoted to legal and regulatory considerations for using drones in your work.

Let’s dive in.



Are You a Drone Pilot or a Wedding Photographer?

If you’re reading this guide, you’re probably a wedding photographer who wants to add drone services to their offerings, or who is already using drones and wants to get more out of them.

But you might be a drone pilot who is looking for new revenue streams.

Either way, we’ve designed this guide to be helpful to you.

A quick note to the drone pilots reading—most couples who are looking for wedding photographers will assume that drone photography/videography will be included as an add-on, not a separate service for which they need to find a drone pilot.

For this reason, we suggest you try to partner with wedding photographers to sell your services for weddings, and not market yourself directly to couples. (Though if a couple finds you, of course you should take the work!)

To get the most out of this guide, we recommend you jump around using the menu above, reading only the sections you find interesting.



Do Wedding Photographers Need a Drone ?

Here’s the quick answer—if you’re not an established wedding photographer, you probably need a drone.

But if you are established and doing well, you may not need to get a drone.

Here are the main reasons to use a drone as a wedding photographer:

  • You want to stand out in a crowded local market
  • You want to add an extra wow factor to your work
  • You want to offer add-ons or new tiers of packages
  • You work on difficult terrain, where a drone can allow you to take shots that just aren’t possible on the ground
  • You have a second shooter

drone-wedding-photography-first-dance

Here are the main reasons you may not need to use a drone as a wedding photographer:

  • You’re established and just don’t need extra offerings
  • You don’t have a second shooter
  • You’re good at taking establishing wide shots from the ground
  • You like to use as little gear as possible
  • You mostly shoot indoors 
  • The weather is often bad where you work
  • Drones are illegal where you work

Keep in mind—you don’t have to make a choice between using a drone or not using one. You can experiment with using a drone for some of the weddings you shoot and see how you like it.

[Worried about legal considerations in your photography work? Check out our guide, How to Start a Photography Business Legally]

Here are some of the ways you can try testing a drone to see if it’s for you in your wedding photography work:

  • Partner with a second shooter who uses a drone in exchange for payment, services, or exposure for the second shooter.
  • Hire a drone pilot for the ceremony only.
  • Rent a drone for a few days.
  • Borrow a drone.
  • Buy an inexpensive new or second-hand drone (do your research if you plan to buy a used drone).

The way I see it, drones provide more value to my work. 

My wedding clients love drone shots—they’re fresh, dynamic, and provide a perspective you just can’t get from the ground.

By providing this extra value, you can delight your clients and their family and friends. The more delight you can provide, the more people will refer you, and the more business you’ll get.

And the more business you get, the more you can raise your prices in the long run. 

So, for me, using a drone as a wedding photographer is an obvious yes. But due to all the reasons listed above it may not be so obvious for you.

Dive deeper: Read this article on whether wedding photographers need a drone.

How to Let Clients Know You Have a Drone

Drone wedding photography can help elevate your portfolio and differentiate you from other wedding photographers in your area or niche.

But it can only do this if potential clients:

  • Know you offer drone shots as part of your wedding photography packages.
  • Understand the value of having drone shots in their finished gallery of wedding photos.

Here are some ways to make sure people know you offer drone photos and understand their value.

1. Share Your Drone Wedding Photography on Instagram

Since photography is what you sell, you probably have an Instagram account. (Here’s mine.)

Your Instagram account is a great place for you to share your work. And that’s why you need to share your drone photos there.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Daniel Lopez Perez Photography (@lopezperezphoto)


Sprinkle drone photos into your posts, and include highlighted stories with the words drone, drone photos, or drone wedding photography. Use a variety of types of aerial shots—of the couple, of the landscape, of the venue, and so on, to highlight both the value and the fact that you offer these services.

2. Put Drone Photos on Your Website

In addition to an Instagram account, you also probably have a website.

Make sure to share your drone wedding photos there—post them prominently throughout your site, including on your homepage, your services page, and your About Us page.

Post a drone photo or two in prominent places on your site, including your homepage and your services page, so people can see that you offer drone photography and videography as part of your wedding photography services.

3. Mention Drones in Your Wedding Packages 

You can include drone services in your base wedding packages, as an add-on for your upper packages, or sell them as an extra standalone package. 

Whatever you do, make sure people understand that you offer drone photos so that couples know about them, and don’t have to guess or remember to ask you.

4. Talk about Your Drone Wedding Photography

Almost all couples will want to talk before they hire you to shoot their wedding.

In that conversation, make sure to mention your drone services as part of the overall package of what they’ll get by hiring you. (Mention everything else that makes you unique too, of course—and don’t be shy about letting them know you’ve won awards or been featured in prominent publications.)

Dive deeper: Read this article on how to communicate the value of your drone services.



How to Price Your Drone Services

Do you charge extra for your drone services or include them in your existing packages?

Based on our research and first-hand experience, there are three main ways wedding photographers answer this question:

1. Drone services come free with existing package(s)

This approach seems to be the most common.

Here’s where we got our information:

  • I personally don’t charge extra for drone photos.
  • Other wedding photographers I know don’t either (if they offer drone photos, that is).
  • Also, I started a Reddit thread to see what other wedding photographers were doing and the consensus seemed to be that they either didn’t charge extra (if they offered drone photos) or they just didn’t offer drone photos.

Here’s why I find this approach appealing:

  • It’s flexible. You don’t have to shoot with your drone, since you didn’t sell that service specifically.
  • Flying a drone easy. For me, my drone is like another lens. So pulling it out and getting some aerial shots isn’t that hard.
  • Clients love it. Clients and their family and friends really love seeing drone photos. So the value add I’m providing by including drone photos is significant, and the fact that it comes along with the package they bought adds to the perception that they’re getting a really high value.

Here’s the takeaway: By adding more value without providing an itemized upcharge for each way I’m providing value, I can charge more overall for packages, making clients really happy while also getting to raise my prices over time.

2. Drone services come with a higher, more expensive tier 

In this approach, clients get drone photos as part of a higher-tier package that includes other premiums or upgrades.

I like this option because you’re not specifically highlighting drone services as an add-on, but rather a higher tier of services in which drone photos are included.

This means you still have some flexibility. Which is important, since bad weather, legal restrictions, an indoor venue, or other challenges may keep you from using your drone. And you don’t want to be in a position where you have to return money due to a situation you couldn’t control.

Pro tip: Include a clause in your contract that protects you from having to deliver any specific photo—and include drone photos in that clause.

3. Drone services are sold as an extra add-on 

If you want to have several pricing tiers or à la carte options, this could be a good way to price your drone services. 

You might also want to do this if you’re hiring a third party drone pilot and need to pay them separately.

Wondering how to price this add-on?

Here’s a framework to help you get started:

  • Establish a base hourly rate. Do research into how much drone pilots are getting paid per hour. This doesn’t need to be strictly for wedding photography (that might be hard to find). You can look at real estate marketing or other types of aerial services and get a rough hourly or per-package rate for what drone services cost, either in your area or in general.
  • Estimate your hours. How long will you fly? And how long will you need to edit? Pull together a total number of hours so you can calculate a price for your drone work.
  • Do the math. Multiply the hourly rate you found times the projected hours and there you go—that’s how much the package costs. You can also use this approach to calculate different types of drone packages based on number of photos, or include video too.

Pro tip: You may want to build a buffer into the above to account for extra time spent. Included in that could be the time it takes you to become proficient in flying a drone. There may be an upfront investment of dozens of hours, or even more, and it’s OK to pay yourself for this time.

Dive deeper: Read this article for a closer look at drone wedding packages.



Key Drone Shots to Take at a Wedding

Drones are loud. 

And when a drone is flying, it quickly becomes the only thing everyone is looking at—and not the bride and groom.

For this reason, while it may seem like a great idea to take drone photos during the ceremony, it’s usually not. (Unless you have a drone with strong zoom capabilities that will allow you to take the shot from a distance.)

The pro tip here is to be very careful about timing—you don’t want to distract from the main reason people are there, like the ceremony, or a speech during a quiet moment at the cocktail party.

Another tip for getting the best drone wedding photos is, if you’re working alone, to make sure you’ve got your ground shots covered before you move on to getting aerial shots. But if you’re working with a second shooter, one of you can get ground shots while the other gets drone shots.

Keeping these two tips in mind, here are eight of the best drone shots you should try to get as a wedding photographer.

1. The Venue

One nice thing about shooting the venue is you have all the time you need and you don’t need to post anyone. Just fly and look for the best shot. I’d recommend getting there early the day of, so everything will be out for the ceremony and you’ll still have time to get some good aerial shots.

wedding-photographers-need-drone-rough-terrain

2. The Landscape (or Cityscape)

Remember—the landscape or cityscape surrounding the venue is often just as beautiful as the venue itself.

3. The Couple

Pull the couple aside and grab some couples shots with your drone, either on the wedding day or on a day leading up to the ceremony. If it’s the day of, make sure to have everything planned out so you don’t waste their time, and discuss in advance whether they’re open to lying on the ground.

4. The Ceremony

We’ve already warned you not to shoot the ceremony by drone. But sometimes the stars align and you can get a great drone shot of the ceremony that doesn’t distract from the couple. Aside from using a drone with a zoom camera, you can also fly above the ceremony, dip down to get a shot, then zip back up to avoid too much distracting noise.

5. Cocktail Hour

The cocktail hour is when I fly my drone the most. It’s a great time to get candid shots of guests mingling with the decorated venue as a backdrop.

6. Group Photos

People at weddings love getting together for a big group photo. And drones are a great way to take these shots, since they can fly at a distance and capture the entire group without much rearranging.

drone-wedding-group-photo

7. First Dance

The first dance can be a magical, cinematic moment to capture with a drone, especially at open-air venues. 

8. Outdoor Reception

The romantic mood in an outdoor reception can make for a great drone shot. Try to get it when people are still out and mingling, ideally when you still have a little bit of daylight (unless you’re using a drone that can shoot in low light conditions).

Dive deeper: Read this article for more tips and information on each of these drone wedding shots.



6 Composition Tips for Drone Wedding Photography

If you work as a wedding photographer, you’re probably already familiar with basic composition guidelines.

Most of these transfer fairly directly to working with drones. 

But there are some important composition guidelines for working with aerial shots, and it can be hard to pick these up unless you’ve done it for some time. 

And keep in mind, these composition guidelines are meant as a jumping off point, not a strict set of rules. You’ll find the best shots simply by staying open-minded and trying different things on.

“Composition tips should be used as a source of inspiration rather than a list of concrete rules. The most important thing is to get out there and try finding new creative inspiration.” 

– DJI

Here are the composition tips I’ve picked up over the last several years doing drone wedding photography.

1. Stay on the Move, Flying Around to Find Interesting Angles

Moving around helps you find new angles and perspectives that you’ll never discover if you stand in one place.

This rule applies to using a drone, too.

Before you actually start shooting, fly around and see what the location looks like through the eyes of your drone. Go high, go low, tilt your camera’s gimbal around, and see if anything catches your eye.

The key here is to play. Stay on the move for anything that looks interesting—then shoot it.

2. Balance the Couple in the Shot

In a drone shot, it’s easy to make the couple too small. When you do this, your subjects become tiny dots, and you lose the magic of the photo.

But if you’re too close you can lose the beauty of the surroundings, and the wow factor that comes along with aerial shots.

Make sure to balance the couple in your drone shots by experimenting with different framing options as you’re shooting. The more options you capture, the more you’ll have to play with when you start editing.

drone-wedding-shots-couple

3. Take Vertical Shots

To take a vertical drone shot your drone’s gimbal has to be able to rotate a full 90 degrees.

Only three drones have gimbals that can do that right now—DJI Mavic Pro, the DJI Mavic Mini 3 Pro, and the Autel EVO Lite.

BUT—

There’s actually a simple way you can get a vertical shot with any drone.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Shoot 2-3 drone photos of the same location, from the same distance, but make them overlapping.
  • As you shoot these photos, tilt your camera up and down (imagine the coverage you need to provide a vertical image).
  • After you have your photos, stitch them together like a panorama in your editing software of choice.

4. Create Interesting Contrasts with Light and Shadows 

Shadows and interesting lighting are a photographer’s friend.

When the light is low, either at sunrise or sunset, the lighting makes for longer shadows and starker contrasts.

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Wedding Photographer Worldwide (@sobokar)


Use these shadows and contrasts to get interesting drone shots, playing with the ways the shadows elongate on the ground depending on where you’re shooting from.

5. Look for Shapes, Patterns, and Interesting Layouts on the Ground

Have you ever seen the Nazca Lines in Peru?

They’re massive designs depicting what look like giant spiders and other creatures.

But they’re only visible from the air. From the ground, you might not know they’re there.

Keep this in mind when shooting with your drone. There could be patterns, shapes, or other interesting features that you’ll see once you get in the sky that you might not notice from the ground.

If you can incorporate these patterns or shapes into your shots, using them as elements in the composition of your drone photos, you’ll be able to significantly step up the quality of your aerial work.

6. Fly Slow and Stay Alert

The best shot may not be from high in the air. It could actually be quite low to the ground.

Because drones are fun to fly, it can be tempting to shoot straight into the air, only looking for a good shot once we get pretty high.

But instead, try flying more slowly, staying alert for good shots the entire time. 

You can also try a thought experiment—stand in the venue, or the reception, or wherever you’re shooting, and imagine where you think the best location might be to get a great shot. 

If that location is in the air, fly your drone there and get the shot.

Dive deeper: Read this article on composition in drone wedding photography for more tips and information.



Hiring a Drone Wedding Photographer

Planning a wedding in the 21st century has its perks. You can mail invitations at the click of a button, take a virtual tour of a venue, and research DIY ideas to your heart’s content.

And now you have access to a tool that didn’t exist until recently—you can use a drone to get gorgeous birds-eye view wedding pictures and video.

 Drones are a lot safer and significantly cheaper than sending up a helicopter, and the footage can be more creative. 

Don’t take our word for it. Check out this wedding shot taken on a dock in Guatemala:

drone-wedding-photography

Now that’s just not a shot you can get from the ground. 

In this post we’re going to break it down so you can decide if drone footage is right for your wedding. 

Step 1: Set a Budget

Hiring a drone pilot to shoot your wedding could cost anywhere from $500 to $3,500, or more. The specific price will come down to what the drone pilots in your area charge—as you can imagine, the prices in Los Angeles are probably going to be higher than those in a smaller city, like Chattanooga, TN—and what you want.

Remember,  you’re not only paying for the shoot but also for all the work required to turn your raw footage into a beautiful final product, which can include editing, color-grading, transitions, and possibly combining ground-based shots with aerial shots. There’s also liability  insurance, certification, and the work your pilot might have to do to secure special permissions for flying at your wedding, such as airspace authorization or waivers.

So, in order to create a budget for drone photography / videography at your wedding, start by deciding what you want. Would you like a dozen photos, or do you want a 3-minute video and 100 photos?

If your budget is on the low end but you want a video and a lot of photos, you may have to scale back your expectations or find a way to grow your budget.

Step 2: Search for Your Drone Pilot

When it comes to finding a drone pilot to shoot your wedding, you have three options:

1) Hire a wedding photographer / videographer who also uses drones. 

The upside here is that all of your photos and videos will be shot by the same person or team, so everything will be centrally located, and you won’t have to coordinate with two different parties on the day of the wedding. Another upside is that you might be able to get a lower rate for drone footage as an add-on versus hiring a separate drone pilot.

2) Hire a drone pilot.

The upside here is that you’re hiring someone who focuses on getting great aerial shots. There is also a higher likelihood that they’ll be commercially certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (if you’re looking for drone pilots in the U.S.), have drone insurance, and have a general awareness about how to keep people safe while they’re flying.

How do you find a drone pilot? Droners.io, SkyTango, and FlyGuys are online marketplaces that connect you to local drone pilots.

You can also try using Google: “hire a drone pilot in [your city, state]” and other variations like that can work well.

3) Ask a friend who flies drones.

We’re always a fan of DIYing your wedding projects, so if you have a friend who is happy to volunteer their services, this can be a great solution. 

Of course, your friendmay be a novice drone pilot or an amateur photographer / videographer,, but hey, at least it’s free! Keep in mind that shooting is only the first step—your friend would also need to have editing and post-production skills to create finished images and video.

Also,  the law on having a friend shoot your wedding is a little murky. In general, drone pilots doing any kind of commercial work in the U.S. are required to have a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA—even if you don’t pay your friend, but you do give him or her in kind payment, then the work would be categorized as commercial. If there’s any kind of direct compensation or in kind payment taking place, make sure your friend holds a Remote Pilot Certificate.

Step 3: Interview Your Drone Pilot Candidates

Here are five questions to ask when considering drone pilots for your wedding:

1) Do you have an FAA Remote Pilot Certificate, and can I please see it?

This question applies to the U.S. If you’re getting married elsewhere, we recommend looking into the specifics of what the law requires there.

2) Do you have insurance? 

Drone insurance isn’t required by law in the U.S., but it’s a good best practice for professional pilots, and it allows you to structure your contract with the drone pilot so that he / she will be held liable for any issues that may arise from their drone operations.

Typically, commercial drone pilots carry at least $1 million in liability insurance.

3) Do you need any airspace authorizations, waivers, or other kind of special permission to fly where we’re getting married?

Whether you’re getting married in the U.S. or elsewhere, some locations may not allow drones at all, or may only allow them after securing special permission from a regulatory body like the FAA. Make sure your drone pilot is aware of potential issues about flying at your venue so that you don’t run into any surprises down the road.

4) What does your drone portfolio look like? 

5) Tell me about your equipment, what other crew members will be present with you, and what your plan on site looks like.

Step 4: Create a List of the Shots You Want

Work with your drone pilot to make a list of shots that you want to get the day of the wedding. 

Some scenes are perfect for aerial shots, and others aren’t. Here are some ideas:

  • External shots of the venue building(s)
  • Surrounding area / landscape / cityscape
  • For beach weddings, shots of the ocean and beach 
  • Shots of the couple / wedding party / family / guests
  • Outdoor reception

drone-wedding-photography-guatemala

Remember that drones are noisy, and although you might want aerial shots of your reception or ceremony, it may not be practical.

As a solution, you could shoot the rehearsal instead of the actual ceremony, or wait until the party is underway to get a shot of everyone dancing (but don’t let the pilot fly overhead if you’re in the U.S.—make sure they fly to one side, in accordance with U.S. law).

Step 5: Create a Plan for the Day of the Wedding

If you’re going to hire a separate drone pilot, make sure they  coordinate with the photographer(s) on the ground so that no one gets in each others’ way, and everyone is working together.

An easy way to do this is to give different windows of time to the photographer and drone pilot. For example,  for shots of the bridal party, have the photographer do his or her shoot, and then the drone pilot do his or hers.

Regarding safety, even if flying over people isn’t illegal where you’re getting married (it is in the U.S.) it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid doing it.

And that’s all folks—those are our five steps to hiring a legal drone pilot to get unbelievable aerial footage of your wedding.

We hope this post helped show you that getting amazing aerial images and videos of your wedding is totally doable, and that you feel inspired now to go out there and make it happen.

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