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Aerial Photography- Images from Above

Updated on September 15, 2020

Aerial photography is the capturing of images from the air with a camera mounted (or hand-held) on an aircraft, balloon, kite, helicopter, rocket or any other similar vehicle. The use of aerial photography was expanded for military purposes during World War I. Aerial photography has a wide range of applications like cartography, archaeology, movie production, land use planning, espionage, conveyancing, and so on. This type of photography has been evolving since it was first practiced, from the use of balloons, kites, pigeons to today’s high-tech drones.

History of Aerial Photographs

Before the invention of drones, aerial photography was carried out using pigeons, balloons and kites. The first aerial photograph was captured by French photographer and balloonist, Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known as ‘’Nadar’’ in 1858. The idea of aerial photography grew in him in 1855 but it took him 3 years to experiment before capturing his first shot. The photo was that of the French village of Petit-Becentre taken from 80 meters above ground from a tethered hot-air balloon. Unfortunately, Nadar’s earliest photographs no longer survive. The oldest aerial photograph still in existence is by James Wallace Black from the 1860s. Black captured the apartment buildings of Boston from a height of 1200 feet in a hot-air balloon. This photograph taken by Black is of historical significance since much of the scene captured was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1872.

The first person to successfully attach a timer to a camera was Arthur Batut. He attached the camera to a kite and captured a photo of Labruguiere, France in 1889.

Julius Neubronner in 1903 attached a small camera to homing pigeons and the timer was set to capture images every 30 seconds. The pigeons proved to be reliable soldiers but was unfortunately shot down by hungry troops during wartime and eaten.

Six weeks after the devastating earthquake of 1906, George Lawrence took an aerial photograph of San Francisco by sending his 49 pound camera to an altitude of 2000 feet on a train of 17 kites. The cameras took many panoramic shots that were 48 inches wide!

The first aerial photograph from an aeroplane was taken in 1908 by L.P. Bonvillain in France. Since then, aviation photography has found its use in science, mapping and military reconnaissance.

James Wallace Black's aerial photograph taken in 1860
James Wallace Black's aerial photograph taken in 1860
Julius Neubronner's pigeons with camera in 1903.
Julius Neubronner's pigeons with camera in 1903.
Panoramic photo taken by George Lawrence in 1906.
Panoramic photo taken by George Lawrence in 1906.

Categories of Aerial Photography

Based on the orientation of camera axis, there are three types of aerial images.

Vertical photographs: These photos have no tilt in the camera axis and a small amount of area is covered in the image. Taking vertical photographs is difficult in unstable conditions. Therefore many photographers choose to take photographs with a tilted camera axis.

Low oblique photographs: In this type of photographs, the camera axis is tilted to more than 3 degrees so that the horizon is not visible.

High oblique photographs: The camera axis is tilted to as much as 60 degrees while capturing this type of photographs. Thus a large area is covered along with the horizon in the photograph.

Based on image scale, there are two kinds of photographs:

Large scale aerial photographs: When an aircraft is flying at a lower elevation, the camera captures images of a small area but the objects in the photos are seen in a bigger dimension. This is why low elevation photographs are known as large scale photographs. It is useful in measuring objects and mapping land features.

Small scale aerial photographs: When an aircraft is flying at a higher elevation, the camera takes images of a large area but the objects appear smaller relative to the ground dimension. These photographs are known as small scale photographs. It is useful in studying large areas where mapping or measurements are not required.

Conclusion

To move beyond the confines of Earth and view things from above highlights the advances of creative human minds. Whether from a hot-air balloon, aircraft, kite or pigeon, aerial images have altered the way we see ourselves and our planet. Drones are often celebrated for their ability to capture the beauty of our planet from high above. Since hundreds of years, airborne cameras have been taking awe-inspiring images of this planet, tipped the scales in combat and revealed the devastating effects of natural disasters. The history of aerial photography surprisingly dovetails with the last century of human history more broadly.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      4 days ago

      Thank you very much Eman. I truly appreciate your kind comments and your visit.

    • Emmy ali profile image

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      4 days ago from Egypt

      Thank you, Ankita, for sharing this informative article. I enjoyed reading it.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      4 days ago

      Thank you Sannyasi for reading and commenting.

    • Soumak Bhattacharya profile image

      Sannyasi Raja 

      4 days ago from Durgapur, West Bengal, India

      aerial view is of different quality

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      5 days ago

      Thank you Mohit for reading and commenting.

    • inspiredmohit profile image

      Mohit Kumar 

      5 days ago from India

      Amazing and helpful article.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      6 days ago

      Thank you so much Dream On for your kind comments and your visit. I am glad that you enjoyed reading this article. Have a wonderful day.

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 

      6 days ago

      You mentioned many things I never knew about aerial photography. You could expand your great hub and explain that today using Google Maps you can see virtually anywhere from the air. Now everyone gets to enjoy what years ago only a few could do. Thank you for teaching about the history of photography. Have an amazing day.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      6 days ago

      It is great to know that you have captured aerial images of the sea. Thank you very much for reading and commenting, MG. I am delighted that you enjoyed reading this article.

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh emge 

      7 days ago from Singapore

      I liked this article because I have a high end drone. I have some fine photographs of the sea off Abu Dhabi with my G friend on a power launch . Really needs some control with the breeze !!!

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      7 days ago

      Thank you so much Denise for reading and commenting. I appreciate your comments and your visit.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      7 days ago from Fresno CA

      I have long been intrigued by aerial photography and really wish I could afford my own drone. For now, I will just admire those who can utilize such tech.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      8 days ago

      Thank you very much Umesh Chandra. I am glad you enjoyed reading this article.

    • bhattuc profile image

      Umesh Chandra Bhatt 

      8 days ago from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India

      Well presented. Nice reading.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      9 days ago

      Thank you very much Devika. I appreciate your kind comments and your visit.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      9 days ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Nkita B Interesting about the aerial photography. Beautiful images and insightful.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      9 days ago

      Thank you very much Vanita for reading and commenting.

    • Vanita Thakkar profile image

      Vanita Thakkar 

      9 days ago

      Informative and interesting. Enjoyed it.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      9 days ago

      Thank you so much Chitrangada for your encouraging and lovely comments. I am delighted that you enjoyed reading this article.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      9 days ago from New Delhi, India

      An interesting and informative article. I learnt a lot from your well researched article.

      I love photography and any information related to it. Aerial photography gives us an overall and amazing view of different places.

      Thanks for sharing another wonderful and engaging article.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      10 days ago

      I appreciate your kind comments Prithviraj. Thank you very much for reading and commenting.

    • Prithviraj Shirole profile image

      Prithviraj Shirole 

      10 days ago from India

      Great wisdom on types of aerial photography. I was not knowing until now that pigeons were also used to click photos besides delivering messages. Thanks for the stunning facts.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      10 days ago

      True Liz. Drones have taken aerial photography to a new level.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Your comments are appreciated always.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      10 days ago from UK

      There are some amazing aerial photographs around these days. The development of drones has made aerial photography cheaper and easier.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      10 days ago

      Thank you very much Linda. I am glad that you found this article interesting and enjoyed reading it.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      10 days ago

      Thank you so much Chrish for reading and commenting. I truly appreciate your lovely comments. Have a wonderful day.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      10 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting article. The part about the pigeons was sad, but I enjoyed reading about the history of aerial photography.

    • Treshty profile image

      Chrish Canosa 

      10 days ago from Manila Philippines

      Im grateful to those who exist before me, those people who invent so much in this world so i can live a whole lot more simpler and comfortable life. They're Awesome people! Thanks for sharing with us your History detour Ms Ankita :-) I hope you have a fantastic day!

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      10 days ago

      Thank you FlourishAnyway for your kind comments and encouraging words.

      Yes the fate of those pigeons is really unfortunate and sad to know.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      11 days ago from USA

      This is a good article and I enjoyed reading. Well, except for finding out about the fate of those dutiful pigeons. Who would have thought they’d be capable of flying with a camera attached? Who would have thought that someone would see them going about their business and think “yum ... dinner”? Poor things.

    • Danny Fernandes profile image

      Danny 

      11 days ago from India

      Welcome Ankita

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      11 days ago

      Thank you so much Abby for your lovely comments which I appreciate. I am glad that you enjoyed reading this.

    • Abby Slutsky profile image

      Abby Slutsky 

      11 days ago from LAFAYETTE HL

      I was not really my topic of interest, but it was so well written that I continued reading. My husband likes to fly, so it was informative to read about airborne transportation being used for photography.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      11 days ago

      Indeed true Danny. Thank you so much for your insightful comments. Appreciated as always.

    • Danny Fernandes profile image

      Danny 

      11 days ago from India

      Ankita, not many people are pro at aerial photography. Aerial photos give you the minutest detail and every angle from which to analyze. This type of photography is excellent for covering heritage pots, Government, and defence sites.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      11 days ago

      Thank you very much Lorna for your kind comments. I am delighted that you enjoyed reading this article.

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      11 days ago

      This is an educational and interesting article Ankita and I particularly enjoyed the historical facts. Well written with great photos.

    • Ankita B profile imageAUTHOR

      Ankita B 

      11 days ago

      Thank you so much Eric for your encouraging words. I am glad you found this article interesting.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      11 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Really interesting and well written -- who would have know about the pigeons. This is a must read for my boy today.

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