How to Become an Aerial Photographer


If you want to become an aerial photographer, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits.


If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for this occupation:


• You have a passion and eye for photography

• You are comfortable in airplanes and other aircraft

• You have knowledge of the limitations associated with taking photos from an airplane

• You are able to use digital editing software

• You have the patience to gain the necessary experience by working as an established aerial photographer’s assistant

• You have good manual dexterity and good vision


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as an aerial photographer. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education You Might Need 

You don’t typically need formal academic credentials to become an aerial photographer. You do however need a good understanding of basic and advanced photography techniques, an understanding that is crucial for a career in photography, aerial or otherwise.


Pursuing a diploma or degree in photography is a great way to gain this knowledge base and skill set. You may also be able to hone your aerial photography skills by completing short-term training such as seminars and workshops that focus on specific facets of aerial photography.





Aerial Photographer Job Description

Aerial photographers work in aircraft with specialized photographic equipment, and are responsible for taking precision high and low altitude GPS guided aerial photographs of buildings, geographic features and tracts of land.


They use various types of photographic and sensory equipment to produce black and white, infra-red, colour and three-dimensional aerial photographs and images for a variety of purposes and applications, including:


• News

• Scientific research

• Town planning

• Rural development

• Cartographic

• Natural resource monitoring 

• Real estate sales and marketing

• Corporate sales and marketing

• Economic

• Military purposes

• Producing artistic photographs 



General Job Duties

• Take photographs of segments of the earth from an airplane to produce pictures used in surveying, mapping or other purposes

• Setup mounts and cameras in the aircraft

• Communicate with pilot during flight to ensure flight plan is adhered to

• Confer with pilot regarding speed, altitude, area to be photographed and plotted course

• Maintain camera in level position and oriented to flight path

• Calculate number of exposures and time lapse between them

• Use standard formulas to determine requirements for adequate area coverage

• Adjust camera shutter speed, focus and lens aperture opening



Who Creates Jobs for Aerial Photographers?

Aerial photographers with experience, a good eye and technical understanding of the job are usually employed on a part-time, full-time and contractual basis by many different types of organizations, including:


• Residential, commercial and industrial real estate brokerages

• Real estate development companies

• Federal, state/provincial and municipal government departments

• Legal firms

• Computer software firms (design, surveying and mapping software)

• Photography studios

• Aerial photography and survey companies

• Oil, gas and mining companies

• Police forces and the military

• Architectural and construction companies

• Television stations, newspapers, magazines

• Self-employed, as a freelancer or artist





Experience Needed

Being creative and having an eye for photography will not be enough to get you a job as an aerial photographer. It's recommended that you gain aerial photography operations experience, as it takes quite a bit of practice to figure out how to obtain crystal clear and highly detailed aerial photographs from an aircraft that is moving at least 150 km per hour.


Although some employers may hire you without experience, it is best to gain experience by first obtaining an assistant position with an experienced aerial photographer that can take you up in the air and teach you first-hand about the creative and technical aspects of aerial photography. 



How Much Do Aerial Photographers Earn?

The income level of aerial photographers can vary, depending on their personal qualifications, their level of aptitude, the size and type of their employer, and many other factors.



Aerial Photographer Salary - Canada (Alberta): According to the 2012 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (latest information available), Albertans working in the Photographers occupational group earn an average salary of $44,192 per year. Unfortunately, there is no salary data available from reliable sources for the rest of Canada.


Aerial Photographer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary level of American workers in the Photographers occupational group is $28,490 per year.



Skills Needed to Be Successful 

In order to become a competent aerial photographer, you need to posses a certain set of skills. These skills will allow you to effectively perform your job duties, and they are frequently listed on job postings.


• Knowledge of the limitations associated with taking photographs from a moving aircraft

• Good eyesight and colour vision

• The ability to visualize the finished product before its completion

• Manual dexterity

• A good sense of photographic timing

• Able to determine what kinds of cameras and equipment is needed to capture clear photographs from mid-air

• Able to use digital photograph editing software

• Entrepreneurial skills (budgeting, marketing, etc.), needed to become successful as a self-employed photographer



Characteristics & Traits Needed

In order to enjoy performing the duties of an aerial photographer, you need to have certain personality traits. These personality traits will help keep you interested in your job, and career as a whole, and will help you maintain a positive attitude towards your job duties.


• An interest in photography and developing one’s own style

• Enjoy taking and arranging original pictures

• Enjoy working with digital and computer equipment and software

• An appreciation of the composition and feel of visual images

• A patient and methodical approach to work activities

• A willingness to put in the long hours needed to properly hone skills

• An interest in keeping up with technological changes

• Not afraid to fly in airplanes and other aircraft



Aerial Photography Jobs

Our job board below has "Aerial Photographer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.





Similar Careers in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to 'Aerial Photographer', as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist

Land Surveyor

Map Editor





References for This Career Guide

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as an aerial photographer.


Occupations in Alberta:Photographer.” (January 1, 2012). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved October 19, 2019.

Occupational Outlook Handbook - Media & Communication:Photographer.” (September 4, 2019). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved October 19, 2019.

How To’s: How to Become an Aerial Photographer.” (n.d.). Steve’s Digicams website. Retrieved October 19, 2019.

Career Spotlight:Career Spotlight: What I Do as an Aerial Photographer.” Andy Orin (June 9, 2015). Lifehacker website. Retrieved October 19, 2019.




Scholarships for Relevant Majors

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming an Aerial Photographer can be found on our Geography Scholarships and Fine Arts Scholarships pages.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming an aerial photographer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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