A Guide to Aerial Commercial Photography

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

In this blog post, we will look at what matters when you shoot a video or a photo with your drone in order to sell your content with full rights & avoid being in troubles along the road.


There are several points to consider other than if you have the right to fly your drone over there or not which is independent. You can get a first idea by checking your country's post for this, from the Commercial Drone Rules World Map.


Before jumping into the post, please note that we aren't lawyers & do not pretend being some. The content shared below remains for general use and consideration & cannot be interpreted as your country's photography regulation. Always refer to your local authority's body regulation to look up to current laws & jurisdiction.


As this will be a long topic to cover.. here's a little summary to help you find your way

  1. What is commercial photography?

  2. The difference between commercial & editorial use.

  3. What do I need to fly a drone for commercial use?

  4. What to consider before taking a commercial drone shot?

  5. Final thoughts.


1/ What is Commercial Photography?


The term commercial photography differs based on the country you're from but as a starting point, almost all countries will agree on this generic description: "Commercial photography is any media used to help sell, advertise or market a product, service, person or persons" Some countries will add in this description that it includes any media use that helps you save money; for e.g., you do your own rooftop inspection with your drone.


Note: the use of your media in your social media accounts can be considered as commercial use if you make some kind of profit/benefits from it (can be a simple promotion of another product/service).


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2/ The difference between Commercial & Editorial use


One category to not confuse with commercial photography use is the editorial one. How often have you seen a famous newspaper printing a logo, monument or person on their front page? Well this is exactly what they can do, in essence, if your media content is not considered fit for commercial use, it may be classified fit for editorial use.


An editorial image can only be used to illustrate a news-related story. It cannot be used to sell or promote a product, service or idea. This rules out most websites, including your grandma's knitting one (sorry grandma..👵).


3/ What do I need to fly a drone for commercial use?


Well a short answer is everything & nothing or as much as you can.. In fact, there is no real straightforward answer here as this is entirely depending on where you're shooting & based on your own circumstances (are you a citizen, licensed pilot, etc..). But below are some main points to consider.


A Pilot's license


Many countries will require you to have a pilot license to fly your drone for commercial use. This is based on the facts that you will most probably fly bigger drones, closer to cities with more people around you.


There is also a less obvious reason which is linked to licensing that is often controlled by local authorities; doing a commercial job with a drone can compete with aircraft pilots hired to spray on a field for example.. Think about Uber & Taxis & you will get the picture 🚖


Permission


This one makes more sense for all scenarios, you should avoid shooting something that isn't yours & make some kind of profit with it without asking permission first (preferably in written); seek for a permit or a written consent.


Note that some public monuments or landmarks might have image rights, there are also privacy rights which are sometimes really restrictive which will approach a little further below in this post.


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4/ What to consider before taking a commercial drone shot?


Where to start? Again, in this post we will only consider the imagery rights.. which are independent from the fact of flying here or there. In essence, you should always consider:


Trademarks


Any object, design, pattern, or logo that is easily identifiable can be considered as a trademark which mean another person or body corporate paid to protect it & use it for their own business.


For instance, you can take a photo of a plain tractor without any visible logo but if this one is painted in green & yellow (🚜), it could be considered as the trademark of the easily identifiable John Deere brand, & you should seek their approval.


Another example with a plane, taking it from below is usually fine as you can't recognize the model or the airline company, but if you see a logo, then you should ask here again.


Public Space vs Private Space


Where you fly your drone, & shoot your photo matters. A public space is a space not privately owned or occupied. So for instance a shopping mall, unless belonging to a public authority is considered as a private space, despite welcoming public.


Note: vice versa, in most countries, you can take a photo of a private space from a public one (a street) as long as you do not enter/fly above the private space itself as this would be considered as trespassing 🤐. Be careful however that in any case, you do not cross the privacy rights border line.


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Privacy Rights


In most countries, you need someone's authorisation to use their image for commercial photography use. You should not take a photo of someone in a commercial intent without their awareness & content (ideally written).


Note: if a child or children are involved in your photo/video, there is a high chance you will need to ask the authorisation to his/her parents or legal representative. Often courts will look into more severe sanctions for under age models or models considered as 'fragile'.


Landmarks


Many countries have established protective rights onto their landmarks, this can be national parks, recognizable buildings, monuments or even a council's park. Local councils are usually the way to go here as they would be in charge of eventual fees/permits of the given landmark.


Many world-known landmarks/attractions are very clear, designed to give you a chance to photograph & resell your work; income for you, free advertising for them 👌 Best is to always check ahead, for e.g., you can photograph the Eiffel Tower during daytime, but night is another story as the building invested heavily in a lighting system & intends making a return on it.


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Adult Content


Aerial adult content is not a real thing today but wait for it... There are no excuses here in terms of getting written consent from your models, making sure the person is an adult & that your content is displayed in a way that asks & identifies your viewer's age.



5/ Final Thoughts


As for a final thought, understand that many other people can be afraid of drones as they sometimes never saw one. We would suggest to always be understanding, avoid confrontations with people you may have photographed. If you're asked to delete an image you took of him/her in the public or private space, maybe its best to just listen & do it.


Laws are sometimes over protective, its true.. but they are rarely designed to simply annoy you, sometimes its just a matter of "we don't know yet". It's your responsibility to show that they are not always needed or too restrictive but in a constructive way. Remember, the more you fight a system the hard way, the further this same one will buff up to answer you.


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Empathy is a needed skill in aerial drone photography.. with emerging privacy concerns around the world & the emergence of this exciting technology, anything made to ease further its adoption is a help to all of us.


We hope this blog post helped you consider a few of the key elements of drone commercial photography. Once again, please remember that these rules will differ immensely based on where, (sometimes when) & what are you shooting.


If you wish to react or share your inputs, please reach to the community via the Forum.


More interesting reads

Differences between Recreational & Commercial drone use

10 Commercial drone uses you probably didn't know about!

Drone Insurance, seriously all you need to know in 2020

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Source & Disclaimer: There are no one source for this topic as its entirely dependent on where you shoot & based on your personal rights in a given country (citizen, tourist, etc). However, we got inspired by the Australian Photographer's Rights which you can find here. Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information researched, we take no responsibility for any loss, harm or damage caused as a direct or indirect consequence of relying on this information. It's your responsibility to seek advice from qualified local & relevant authorities for needed information.


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