[Interview With a Drone Pilot] Tom Watson and His Platform for Stock Drone Photos

TDW talk with Australia-based Tom Watson – a drone pilot who runs a platform for stock drone photos and videos!

  • Meet Tom Watson – a drone pilot since the early days of drone technology!

  • Find out more about his new platform for stock drone photos and videos called SkyStock.

  • Do you know a drone pilot or a drone business you’d like to read more about? Feel free to reach out to The Drones World.

The need for quality photography has never been greater. Whether it’s for marketing, design, or some other purpose, we often turn to stock photography as a graphic solution. Shutterstock, Adobe Stock Photos, and other websites that offer generic photos, illustrations, and icons, come to mind almost instantly. So, it was about time for a platform for stock drone photos to see the light of day.

SkyStock is a platform or a directory of drone photos and videos from many locations from all over the world from talented drone photographers and videographers. So, you can buy the one(s) that catch your eye and use them in your line of work just like regular stock photos.

To find out more about it, we talk with the man behind SkyStock – its CEO, Tom Watson.

A Drone Pilot with a Vision

Australia-based Tom Watson has been involved in aviation as a commercial pilot (“Still flying,” he adds). Also, he has been a drone service provider since 2014. But to focus his attention on SkyStock, he had to sell his drone service business.

“I had a keen interest in aviation, photography, and new tech,” he tells us. So, when drones started showing up, he purchased a cheap and basic one. It didn’t take long for him to get hooked on flying UAVs.

However, he wasn’t always an experienced drone pilot who was into the business of stock drone photos. His first photo, according to Tom was a very poor-quality photo. He took it way back in 2014 on a cloudy day while taking his dog down to the local park that had some nice open spaces to safely fly.

“Drone photography has come a long way since then,” says Tom. That’s why now one of his latest photos was captured thanks to his DJI Mini 2.

Moreover, he was on a family holiday at a famous search surf spot – Bells Beach on the Great Ocean Road. “I enjoy the challenge of trying to snap an action shot with a moving scene,” he comments on the photo.

Additionally, we asked him about his favorite drone shots. He told us he is exceptionally proud of the shots he took during the time he spent in Tropical North Queensland, Australia. Tom reminisces, “The beautiful striking colors of the turquoise ocean and shades of greenery from the rainforest never got old.” Indeed, one of his favorite locations is the beachside town of Bramston Beach, an hour south of Cairns. Other areas in the region such as Port Douglas, Palm Cove, the Daintree Rainforest, and the Atherton Tablelands were also fantastic locations to photograph, in Tom’s opinion.

See also:

Australia by Drone: Enjoy the Land Down Under Like Never Before

Massachusetts by Drone: Explore the Bay State

Visit Switzerland by Drone: The Land of Confidence & Strong Will

A Glimpse into Tom’s Work Ethic and Experience

TDW: If we go with you on one of your drone flights, which drone would we see you use? Do you use other equipment?

T.W.: I started with a very basic, no-name, cheap drone which didn’t last long. My first significant purchase was a DJI Phantom 2 Vision with its incorporated camera. This was closely followed by a couple of Phantom 2’s.

One would run a GoPro on a Zenmuse gimbal for video, while the other had a Sony RX100 on a tiltable mount, so I could fire the shutter remotely.

Using the Sony for photos while everyone else was just using a GoPro put the quality of my work above some of the other operators in the area, and helped launch my drone service business.

Over time I used the whole range of DJI equipment including Phantoms, Inspires, Mavics, and Osmos. I also tried other brands such as 3D Robotics and Parrot for various purposes.

I would hate to go back and see how much I have spent on all these drones over the years! Fortunately, running the business there was income coming in to help offset the costs associated with purchasing the latest models.

Back when I started, DJI was making great advancements each year, so an upgrade was compulsory. For example, the Phantom 3 Pro basically combined the best bits of a GoPro and my complex Sony RX100 set-up into one camera. That’s why I decided that it was a must-have.

TDW: What do you love most about your drone? Do you have favorite accessories?

T.W.: Since I have sold my drone service business, my fleet of drones is no longer. All I have left is the very capable DJI Mini 2. I love how far the tech has advanced to provide a very capable camera in such a small package.

My favorite accessory was always my lens cleaning wipes. Operating in the hot tropics meant the occasional smudge would occur when changing over lenses. Sweat drops on those very humid days are quite common. Of course, a dirty lens will ruin a picture. So, the cleaners are a must!

drone for taking stock drone photos and videos

TDW: With plenty of years of flying drones and running drone businesses, you surely have some interesting stories with your drone…

T.W.: Being a drone operator in a regional area allowed me to work with a wide range of people in a variety of industries. Furthermore, this included filming for Netflix, creating imagery for billion-dollar government proposals, to doing environmental and industrial surveys.

One of my favorites was using drones to track turtles with indigenous ranges, off uninhabited islands off Cape York in Northern Australia. This was a unique project where we witnessed the habitat of some very large turtles and the threats they face from apex predators such as the saltwater crocodile.

TDW: That sounds incredible. After the drone shooting is completed, the time comes for editing and post-production. Is photo editing an important part of how you present your work, especially when it comes to stock drone photos?

T.W.: Sure is! Just some minor touch-ups can take the quality of your photography to the next level. My personal favorite is Adobe Lightroom and using the free SkyStock preset. Moreover, the preset gives you a good base to make your colors pop. Then, you can experiment with some of the settings such as exposure and saturation to get the result that you are looking for.

Remember that presets are just a fixed batch of settings. As a result, they aren’t perfect for every photo.

TDW: In your line of work, you interact and network with a lot of colleagues. Would you say you admire and look up to some (drone) photographers?

T.W.: One of the reasons we set up SkyStock was due to the high-quality content we kept seeing. As drones become more assessable and easier to fly, there was some great content out there on social media. Two of my favorite photographers would be Tim and Prithvi. Interestingly enough, both are winners of photography competitions we have held on SkyStock.net.

A Platform for Stock Drone Photos and Videos

TDW: We have mentioned SkyStock a few times now. Please tell us a bit more about it is.

T.W.: SkyStock, in a nutshell, is a better option for aerial photographers. As operators, ourselves, we saw the poor commissions offered by other stock platforms. Personally, I received a $0.25 commission once, which just doesn’t make sense.

Since recently, we wanted to develop an operator search function to grow on the basic set-up we currently have. The current options in the market are not really liked by the industry, so we are trying to find a better solution.

In the end, our goal is to provide customers with ready-to-buy photos or videos. That way if they can’t find exactly what they like, they can then engage with a local operator.

platform for stock drone photos and videos

TDW: What was the original idea behind it and how did you come up with such a platform?

T.W.: SkyStock acts differently from other stock platforms as it focuses on location. I had customers contacting me asking if I had photos of specific locations because they were looking for a particular landmark or building. 

Using keywords and having hundreds of photos for customers to sort through just wasn’t practical. As a result, our solution was to read the GPS location data which most cameras register automatically and used this to plot our photos on a familiar Google Map.

Keywords are still important, and they are on our development list. We are reviewing solutions to do this using artificial intelligence to keep our upload process efficient for contributors.

What we are finding now is many new drone businesses come and go, struggling to gain any market share. The best option for those interested in drones is to incorporate them into their current line of work.

Tom Watson, CEO of SkyStock

TDW: That sounds great. So, who can join the platform as a contributor? How can they do that?

T.W.: You can register for free here. Anyone can join and start uploading photos or videos instantly. Approvals are usually completed within 24 hours. 

Selling stock photos and videos can be a good side income. We have the platform ready to go with a commission rate currently set at 75% of the sale for the photographer. Indeed, our platform has everyone from quality artists, established aerial businesses (drone and aircraft) to your hobbyist drone pilot.

platform for stock drone photos and videos

TDW: SkyStock features a variety of aerial photos from different locations. Which locations are available right now? Do you plan to expand these locations?

T.W.: Building up SkyStock has been a bit of a slow burn. We launched in Australia in 2018 and our first platform collapsed due to the large number of sign-ups and content uploads we had. It was a good problem to have!

We are now in the final stages of finishing off our new platform to be released back on market. Subsequently, we are starting to see more contributors joining from around the world, and this will be one of our focus areas with the new platform.

TDW: How would you describe your experience so far? What is it like running a business that works with drone technology?

T.W.: Drone technology has been very exciting for me. It provided an opportunity to set up my own business combining several of my passions. It was amazing to see the advancement in this technology in the last decade between each new model released, and I am interested to see how the industry now matures for the next decade.

His Take on the Drone Industry

TDW: What are your general impressions about the drone industry right now in Australia and the world? Are drones used enough?

T.W.: The advancements in camera technology that we experienced in the last decade have started to slow down. Also, as the industry matures, we are starting to see a much bigger uptake of the technology within businesses. Companies are starting to incorporate drone technology into their operations to assist with various tasks.

For example, at SkyStock we have established a nationwide client that utilizes thermal drones to help find lost pets. This was something I didn’t even consider a couple of years ago and now it’s a weekly occurrence for us.

TDW: Absolutely! It only gets better when you think about the future, right?

T.W.: Yeah, I expect a bigger focus on industrial solutions. The manufacturers have proved they can get some pretty cool technology into a small package. Nowadays, it’s about developing software solutions combined with the hardware to have a practical use for industry. An example of this is Skydio setting up their latest drones to conduct automatic inspection scans.

The natural beauty of Australia seen by drone

TDW: Undeniably, drone laws and regulations play a huge role in this? What’s your take?

T.W.: Undoubtedly, regulators were caught on the back foot with the explosion in the popularity of drones. They seem to be playing catch-up now and finding ways to make drones work in a regulatory environment acceptable to all airspace users.

TDW: In your opinion, how well do people accept drones and their uses? Have you had any incidents maybe during a flight?

T.W.: Some people love them, and some people hate them. So, this will never change. One thing the development of drones has allowed is making a smaller impact on operators. Where I would have previously used a larger DJI Inspire, I can now use a smaller DJI Mavic series drone, meaning I can get in and out of some locations without disturbing neighbors.

TDW: Speaking of that, what is the main purpose of drone photography (and stock drone photos) for you? Also, how do you think it changed the world of photography?

T.W.: People are still amazed at what drones can produce. It provides a nice gap filler between ground photos and helicopter photography which is out of budget for many people. Even just a little bit of elevation can provide a great photo.

TDW: When we talk about the industry, we can’t neglect one of the biggest topics and news – NFTs. Are you familiar with non-fungible tokens? What do you think of drone photos as NFTs?

T.W.: There is a lot of buzz about NFTs and it will be interesting to see if it continues. Moreover, I think it provides a great option for artists, and it is on our development list to include NFT sales within the SkyStock platform.

stock drone photos and videos
Some of the stock drone photos and videos on SkyStock

Tips and Tricks from a Drone Entrepreneur

TDW: It’s time for some tips. What advice would you give to our readers based on the lessons you’ve learned yourself? Should they start a platform or a business that engages drone technology?

T.W.: I was fortunate to start a drone service business in a regional location before drones were so common. What we are finding now is many new drone businesses come and go, struggling to gain any market share. So, the best option for those interested in drones is to incorporate them into their current line of work. For example, if you are a building inspector, purchase a drone to assist with roof inspections.

If you have a great idea for a new platform, go for it! As the industry matures, it is time for practical solutions to be developed.

TDW: What’s next for you?

T.W.: Soon, we are going to relaunch our new platform for selling stock drone photos and videos, which will see a period of expansion and growth. The team is very excited about what’s next and chuffed with the industry support we have received.

We, at The Drones World, would love to see more individuals and businesses using stock drone photos and videos and supporting drone pilots and artists. We sincerely thank Tom for his time and his honest and detailed answers, and can’t wait to read more about his future achievements.

Do you know a drone pilot or a drone business you’d like to read more about? Tell us in the comments!

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