Drone to 1K Season 3 / Episode 3: Chris Dantonio from Chris Dantonio Drone Photography


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Chris is the owner of Chris Dantonio Drone Photography


Chris says he got in a “little late” and “by accident”, because he started about four years ago at 43 years old. His parents bought him a little toy drone that had a small camera. He flew it for a week, broke it and knew he needed something better. He then bought a $100 drone and broke that in about a month. The DJI Phantom 3 Standard was his first real drone. He started taking pictures around Philadelphia just as a hobby, and really enjoyed it because he’d grown up around photography. His father, a photograph teacher at the local high school, would set up backgrounds to do portraits in the living room.

“Photography has always been a part of my life and to be able to do it with a drone and be able to show people things in the city, especially that you didn’t even know were there, is nice.”

He could show people things that are very rarely seen from the ground level, which intrigued him more. He started an Instagram account, which has been a godsend, Chris says, because it’s free. It doesn’t cost any money and, with good work and hard work, you get followers. Chris just hit 10,000 followers a couple of months ago.

After that, Chris knew he had to get licensed in order to sell pictures. Sure enough, he bought a study guide, studied for six months and took the test.

“It’s because of the study guide, I did really well. For those of you wondering ‘Should I get a study guide?’ I’d highly recommended it…”

Then the business started, almost by accident.

David: What year did you get your first Phantom and when did you say, ‘let’s get rolling on this’ and decide to get your Part 107? Do you do drones as a full-time gig or do you have a full-time job or some other supplemental income to go along with your drone business?

I got the Phantom in 2016, started studying in 2017 and took the test in early 2018. This is a part time thing for me. Leaving my day job is really far off. I’m also an executive chef for an elite school outside of Philadelphia, so I have a job that allows me to do the drone thing, since nights and weekends are perfect for drone work.

David: It’s nice to have something that covers your bills and provides the freedom to experiment and pursue things without pressure to make immediate income. There’s pressure to get it going, but you don’t want so much overwhelming stress that you’re just going to crumble.

Chris agrees that it adds stress to a day job—in addition to family and everything else going in in his life, but it’s also nice to pick and choose what jobs you want to do because your next mortgage payment isn’t relying on that. Chris hasn’t bought a drone with his own money for two years; the business has paid for all of the equipment.

In early 2018, Chris got an email from an Instagram follower who worked for American Idol who was from Philadelphia and had seen Chris’ work. That was his first real big job. He had to join ICG Local 600 to shoot as a contractor for the show, which he pays dues for, but found out how beneficial it would be down the road for future work.  The show was high stress, they worked all day, but got a very high reward. The third shot of the opening of American Idol was their shot.  When subsequent clients came, it helped because they knew that we had already worked for a popular show.

David: With American Idol were you just shooting content and handing it over and their guys were editing it?

For all his major jobs, Chris gave them raw footage and they had somebody in their organization that handled all of the editing, cutting and doing everything with it. This was the case for Comcast, American Idol, and NFL films.

David: What happened next? How did your next client find you?

The next person to call was Comcast who wanted to purchase rights to footage for unlimited use. Chris says every job they’ve had—big or small—has all found them through Instagram. Chris says, “it’s a smart business tool that doesn’t cost money…the key is getting reposted to get your name out there.” With Comcast, a higher-up had been following him for a while, seeing Chris post shots of cool and different angles of the city. He has never really done any outbound sales activities to pursue clients.

“I would be out there shooting regardless. If I had a thousand followers or less, I would still be out there shooting that much because I love it, which makes it easier.  if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

David: One of the things people love on this podcast is specifics and numbers. It inspires people to know what’s possible. Can you tell us what you make?

His daily rate early on (for American Idol) was $1500 for an all-day shoot. Comcast wanted five photographs and five 15 to 30 second videos. He quoted $500 per still/$1000 per video. He said he’d give them the whole package for $6,000—they didn’t bat an eyelash and wrote the check.

To come up with those numbers, Chris researched what rights he was giving up for unlimited use. If it had been exclusive—where he was never allowed to use that footage—the number would have doubled because he’d lose all future profit from that footage. He did a lot of research as to what Getty images charges for a single image and then cut the deal. Chris says,

“It’s extremely important to go online and research things, as well as talk to friends in the photography industry, who you will meet through Instagram. They will help you figure out what your service is worth to you.”

Later, a photography director for NFL films reached out, asking for footage of the NFL films building for the opening of a new show. He shot all kinds of things for three hours, getting paid $1500. He got to work with cameramen who’d shot some of the most important sporting events of our time. They knew exactly what they wanted, which made it so much easier on Chris to be directed in that way.

David: It sounds like you’re getting pretty good pricing per gig. How many jobs are you flying per month and what are you getting paid these days?

Chris tends to average two or three jobs a month, but sometimes those jobs have multiple flights. His pricing has increased a little bit—his hourly rate is now $300/hr; his daily rate is $2000.

David: One of the biggest questions is ‘How do I find clients?’, ‘How do I find work?’

For Chris, many commercial projects have come from family members or people he knew in high school. He got a Land Rover Jaguar job from a high school friend who is now the sales manager there. He knew Chris was into this because he posted on Facebook constantly. It was all about getting the word out that that he’s “the drone guy” on social media.

David: Obviously, it pays to have really good photos that are worth sharing…Do you have any strategies when you’re posting on Instagram? Are you also posting to Facebook or doing them independently?

Chris does not post to Facebook every time because he has a separate Facebook account just for the drone business. Philly Drone Shots is the only Instagram account he has, and it’s listed as a business. He usually posts directly and separately to Facebook. Chris’ advice is,

“When posting to Instagram, hashtagging and tagging are how you get seen with little followers. If you’re just starting out on Instagram, hashtag and tag large accounts in the city you live in with things like #gameofdrones, #photooftheday, #dronephotography. When people look at those hashtags, they see your photos, whether they follow you or not. That’s how you build your followers.”

He got 500 followers just from a repost from a local news organization that has 213,000 followers.

Last words from Chris… “If you keep working at it, they WILL come. They will find you and they will see you.”

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