Aerial Photography- Images from Above
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.
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.
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.