Missie Ellis VantagePoint drone

How one photographer earns passive income from drones

Meet Missie Ellis, the owner of small business Vantage Point Drone, which does aerial photography for a range of work, from residential to commercial projects like cell tower inspections, construction progressions and roof assessments.

Do you know an awesome drone girl I should profile? Contact me here. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Drone Girl:You just started earning passive income from drones. I think that’s any business owner’s dream! How did you earn your first royalty payment?

Missie Ellis: Accidentally (with some determination to capture footage of a replica of an Air Force One plane on a tug traveling down the Potomac River)! I was determined to get some footage of the unique sight of a 747 on a tug boat. I researched the name of the tug boat, downloaded the Find a Ship app, tracked it’s progress, and mapped out a good location along the Potomac River in Class G airspace. I was literally bouncing up and down when I spotted the plane on the river.

DG: So you came home and uploaded the images to Instagram, and what happened next?

ME:I tagged the images “National Harbor” and “Air Force One Experience.” The next day I woke up to Storyful, a social media intelligence and news agency, on my Instagram requesting if I had any footage. I gave them the rights to shop it around for me. BOOM! The process was easy and fast. Money is still coming in 6 months later.

DG: That’s incredible! How can other people get in on making money like this?

ME: I realized my images weren’t doing me any good sitting on my computer or SD cards. You can earn passive income through your photography by uploading your images to stock agencies sites like Envato Market, PhotoDune, Envato Unstock, Alamy, Crestock, 123rf, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Corbis, Getty Images, AdobeStock and Stockxpert. 

DG: And what about earning royalties by selling drone videos? Is there a market for that too?

ME: There is an all-time demand for stock footage right now. I decided on BlackBox. It is a free platform and you still maintain the rights to your footage. They will get it to all the major stock agencies like Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, Pond5, Storyblocks, and VimeoStock. You get a portion of the revenue when the content sells and this continues for years. Upload your professional grade content and pull in monthly passive revenue.

DG: Do you have any tips for making sure your footage actually gets purchased?

Missie Ellis drone passive income
Courtesy Missie Ellis

ME: Create white space on your images, so businesses can easily place their logo or text on it.

DG: A lot of people say, “Wow, wouldn’t it be fun to get paid to fly drones all day?!” Yes, it would be fun! But I’m guessing there’s a lot more that goes into your business than just flying drones.

ME: Administrative tasks take up about 15% of my time — invoicing, updating SOP, checklist, logbook, contracts, and QuickBooks journal entries. I hate accounting. It’s a necessary evil for the business to operate, but I make time for it when I can’t procrastinate anymore. I even went back to college and took an accounting class recently. I still hate it.

DG: Hah, same! So how much time do you spend on various aspects of your business?

ME: My breakdown looks like this:

  • Outreach/Networking: 50%
  • Post Production: 20%
  • Administration: 15%
  • Droning: 10%
  • Training: 5%

DG: So what is an average day in the life like for you?

ME: My typical day starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m.. I start out pursuing social media, looking at images that capture my interest in seeing for myself. I screen shot them and later place in a folder marked “drone places to go to.”

Then I’m getting equipment ready for a shoot. While batteries are charging, I place purchasing orders, invoice clients, confirm shoot/demo/networking appointments, and reach out to possible clients. Once everything is packed I leave for the shoot.

I do what I love, flying drones and taking pictures/footage, return to upload and check out the images. I end the day like I started on social media checking any leads to a job or questions someone might have asked that I too would gain knowledge from.

DG: Your business, Vantage Point, flies for a range of projects. Which ones are the most profitable?

ME: Construction is financially the most lucrative for me because I am not only going out once (translation: only 1 paycheck), but multiple times (translation: lucrative) over a 10-12 month period. The process is easy and painless as no post-editing is generally required. Recurring jobs with little to no post production gives me more time to concentrate on the creative projects. This gives me a balanced schedule.

Missie Ellis construction drone VantagePoint

DG: And which are your favorite?

ME: My favorite projects are the ones that tap into my creative side. I have been doing videos for wedding venues in my county, showcasing the venue for out of town brides/grooms to get a better idea of the layout of the property. The county (in Northern Virginia) is fast becoming a go-to wedding destination with vineyards, barns, country clubs, and estate properties.

DG: Do you shoot at the actual weddings?

ME: I generally don’t accept wedding jobs unless the venue truly warrants it, like a cliff side wedding where using a drone would add the wow factor coming in from the cliffs. I truly don’t want to ruin the wedding experience for the guests with the noise of the drone, especially for those having traveled a good distance to the venue, or to ruin the videographer’s shots with people looking up at the drone instead of the bride and groom.

DG: What drone project is your favorite, and why?

ME: My wedding venue videos have been my favorite. It’s a labor of love coming up with the music, shot list, angles, and the closet thing I can compare it to is directing my own movie — except there are no actors.

DG: What’s one tip most people haven’t heard for shooting better drone videos?

ME: Pick out your music ahead of the shoot and listen to it while flying. You will find your video and music will flow together.

DG: If you could give a young woman one piece of advice, what would it be?

ME: Don’t be concerned about being perfect, in personal and career life. I heard a report that men will apply for a job with only 65% of the job qualifications, whereas women will apply only if they have 100% of the job qualifications. That resonated with me. Embrace your imperfections, and as I like to say, “Drone For It!”

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