So, How Much Do Aerial Photos Cost?

So, How Much Do Aerial Photos Cost?
June 26, 2008 Kirk Fisher

When in need of quality aerial photography, everyone wants to know how much it will cost. Unfortunately, this question depends on a number of variables. This means you usually have to call your provider for a price. This article is intended to help you better understand how aerial photography is priced.

Location: Where do you need photography?

Depending on your location, mobilization costs (moving aircraft and crews to/from the acquisition site), staff, and equipment may be a significant factor.

Good news is, firms like Aerial Services have aircraft flying projects all over the Nation on a daily basis. Therefore, even if your project area is not near the location of your aerial photography provider, sometimes transit costs can be reduced. On the other hand, if your location is remote or requires special equipment be flown to the site, costs may be higher.

Quality: Do you want the best?

The quality of aerial photography providers differs markedly. Do they use metric (or calibrated) cameras? Will they be on-site at the next available weather window? Will their photography be high quality? Will they communicate well with you the status of the project? Factors like these can make a large difference in the value obtained from the provider. If quality is the largest concern, remember, you are purchasing a professional service and price should not be the only factor considered when comparing options.

Weather/Season: When do you need photography?

The time of year you are requesting photography and the related weather can play a large role in the project.

First, many projects must be flown in the Spring or Fall when there is little or no leaves on trees and shrubs. Pricing may be higher during these times. If your project can be stalled to other less busy times of the year, then pricing may be more beneficial. Second, typical aerial acquisition requires specific weather and sun conditions for the highest quality product. Partly cloudy days, while perfectly beautiful to most observers on the ground, mean aerial photography cannot be flown for most applications. Both clouds and the shadows they cast can appear in the imagery. Contingencies for such issues are often discussed in your contract prior to your proceeding; however, when aerial photography companies are bidding projects this is a common concern.

Resolution: What resolution photography do you need?

The key factor affecting the price of your photography will depend on the needed resolution of photography. The resolution is the size each pixel (in ground units like “feet” or “inches”).

Higher resolution photography (perhaps 3″, 6″, or 12″ pixel resolution) requires low altitude flights of anywhere from 500′ to 6000′ above ground level (AGL). Lower resolution flights (perhaps 1′ to 2 meter pixel resolution) allow for higher altitude flights above 6000′ AGL. Low altitude flights require more flight time to acquire the same amount of area than the higher flights but allow greater positional accuracy. Since flying a plane is expensive, the less time the aircraft has to be in the sky, the cheaper your photography will be. For this simple reason, low resolution-high altitude flights will cost less than high resolution-low altitude services. The trade-off is that the less expensive, high altitude flights will allow less positional accuracy.

To reduce your cost, think about what the end-use of your photography will be and how it will be used. Do you need 6″ resolution to see detail, or will slightly less detailed 1′ or 2′ photography suffice? How much positional accuracy is required?

Delivery Time: How quickly do you need your photography?

The turnaround of photography can be tied to the price. Sometimes you need photography and orthophotography immediately, while other times schedules are more flexible.

If equipment and staff are available and within range of the location, most firms like Aerial Services can shoot a project within 24 hours. However, delivery can vary and be affected by other issues such as the total area to be covered, favorable weather, post-processing needs (orthorectification or mapping), etc.

Post-Processing: Do you need any value-added services to your photography?

Of course any additional services you request for your photography will add cost to a project.

Many clients request processed orthorectified aerial photos which have been aerotriangulated, laid over a digital terrain model (DTM), and georeferenced so you can view and use them as a map. This process can take extra time and require more funds.

Further, other clients also require mapping services such as planimetric detail, contours, or a combination of the two. These labor-intensive services can add significant time and cost to your project, but can also yield an accurate base map which can be served up to you and your end-users. Accurate base maps are invaluable in that they form the foundation of all further GIS activity and mapping. Any layers of data overlaid on the base map should be of less positional accuracy than the base map. If this is achieved, the cost of ownership goes down substantially because the base map can be used and reused throughout your organization by multiple departments for many uses.

The Best Of Both Worlds: Licensing geospatial data reduces costs

The new data licensing model is becoming more common and can be used to lower the cost of a project by upwards of 50%. Previously, most geospatial contracts are written as “fly once, pay once.” The geospatial professional provides services and data at a high price to a single client. The client in turn owns all rights to the data. The provider has no rights to it and cannot reuse or resell the data.

Today, with the emergence of geospatial services over the internet that also need data, it may make more sense to license the data with your provider than purchase it. Typically these licensing agreements allow the client to have unlimited use of the data in-house and with key partners, but does not allow them to give away or sell the data to non-affiliated users. In turn, the geospatial provider is free to resell the data to anyone. This is a win-win situation for the provider and client. The provider is able to re-use and resell the data and make additional income, spreading the cost of the services over multiple buyers, and the client is able to obtain the data at a steep discount and has very few restrictions on its use. The client can then apply these savings to more frequent acquisition or to higher quality (more accurate) geospatial services or some other budgetary use. The licensing of some or all geospatial data may become the standard vehicle for geospatial projects in the near future and offer exciting budgetary opportunities for all concerned.

“Summing” It All Up

As you can see, aerial photography costs can vary widely based on a large number of factors. No wonder you may be confused!

This said, experts like those at Aerial Services are happy to weigh these issues and provide an estimate for you to consider. Feel free to rely on your trusted professional provider for assistance.

Thanks For Reading

We hope this article helped shed some light on aerial photography costs. If you have questions about this article, feel free to contact Aerial Services, Inc.’s experts for advice with no obligation. We are here to help you.