Have you ever wondered what aerial photography is all about?
Simply explained it is about photographs taken from the air.
The photographer takes the pictures from small airplanes, helicopters or hot air balloons.
History of aerial photography
The first person to be mentioned in the field of aerial photography is Gaspard-Félix Tournachon alias „Nadar“. A French photographer who took aerial photographs for the first time from a balloon in 1858. Unfortunately none of the photographs still exist.
Two years later James Wallace Black took an aerial photograph from the tethered hot air balloon called „Queen of the Air“ from above Boston in a height of about 600 m (2000 feet), which became the oldest aerial photograph that survived.
In 1888 Arthur Batut used kites with mounted cameras to capture the view from above and took some impressive aerial photographs of his French home town Labruguière.
The American George Lawrence took the kite method even a step further, attaching large-format cameras with curved film plates to kites. One of his most famous photographs shows the damage caused by the earthquake and fire in San Francisco in 1906.
At the same time Alfred Maul, a German engineer experimented in launching gunpowder rockets and at the height of about 800 m (2600 feet) a parachute equipped with a camera was released to take photos during descending. Simultaneously the German apothecary Julius Neubronner strapped cameras to his prescription-delivering pigeons to track their flying routes to figure out more about their disappearances. He also used his pigeons to take aerial photographs of the Dresden International Photographic Exhibition in 1909, which he then turned into postcards.
The first image taken from an air plane
During the World War I aerial photography became a very important reconnaissance method. Starting of with kites, continuing with aircrafts equipped with cameras.
Cinematographer L.P.Bonvillain was the first known taking an aerial photograph from an air plane over Le Mans in France in 1908. The plane was piloted by Wilbur Wright who was one of the pioneers in flying powered aircrafts.
The use of the aerial photographs has risen to another level in the world War I when the military noticed the advantage of up-to-date information through the photographs of battlefields. This method of observation has been used ever since all over the world with rapidly improving equipment.
Development of the first camera for the aerial use
In 1915 it was Captain John Moore-Brabazon wit the help of the well known camera manufacturer Thornton Pickard who invented the first camera especially built for the aerial use. Inserted in the floor of the aircraft, the pilot could trigger the camera in intervals. John Moore-Brabazon also brought the stereoscopic technique to aerial photography to show the landscape in three dimensions and to estimate the height of objects.
Next to the military importance the aerial photography gained a major impact on cartography.
In the World War II there were entire Photographic Reconnaissance Units having a big influence on the course of the war with their gathered information through the aerial photographs and videos.
In the newspapers and magazines the reporting on the basis of aerial photographic material wasn’t possible to imagine without it any more.
Not long after the World War II the competition of the United States and the Soviet Union in aerospace achievements soon laid the foundation stone of aerial photography from outer space. Today more than 1700 satellites are orbiting the Earth giving us information of all kinds. Their benefits in the day-to-day life are inevitable just mentioning the weather forecast and navigation systems.
Aerial Photography as a business
Aerofilms Ltd. was founded in the UK in 1919 by two World War I veterans. Two years later they used vertical photography for surveys and mapping. The company was the first to implement the science of photogrammetry in the 1930s.
Also to be mentioned is the American Sherman Fairchild who was a pioneer in high altitude aircrafts and photography. He improved his techniques so that he could take a photo of about 1500 km² (600 square miles) from a height of about 9000 m (23000 feet) in 1936.
The use of aerial photography nowadays
The benefit of aerial photography has broadened over a huge field of possibilities. On the one side, the birds eye view always has an indescribable emotional impact on the viewer. Probably coming from the deep inside urge to be able to fly or just the fact, that it is such a rare view but still so real. The film as well as the advertising industry are using exact this emotional desire in the viewers and customers with aerial photographs or aerial films.
On the other side there is the aerial documentation which shows the unrestrained reality!
The fact how the humans influence the landscape.
The constant growing infrastructure, the scale of the forces of nature including erosion, flooding, storm and fires.
Aerial archaeology also uses the view from above to look into the earth. Certain soil and moisture conditions show through the growth of the plants above their shapes clearly. Those shapes then can be documented and analysed on the aerial photographs.
The field of architecture uses aerial photographs for simulation and planning purposes as well in the building as landscaping side. Also the documentation of building site progresses and developments regularly documented over years benefit from the aerial photography.
Further aerial photographs are the base of topographic maps which navigate the people on the ground all over the world.
There are many more purposes of aerial photography to be found from art via documentation of all fields to pure enjoyment of the birds eye view.
Methods of taking Aerial Photographs
On the one side the high up point of view is necessary. To reach this point it started with hot air balloons and kites, rockets and pigeons.
But the common aerial photography takes now place in manned aircrafts such as helicopters and airplanes of all kinds including balloons and UAVs (unmanned, uninhabited or unpiloted aerial vehicle) mostly drones.
The modern world of camera and lenses enable aerial photographs to be taken in all quality standards and angles from horizontal to vertical views and from satellite image or wide-angle to close-ups.
Combining the aerial vehicle and the camera the aerial photograph can be taken by almost everyone. But the quality reaches from the most outstanding photographs generated with high class and very expensive equipment and well trained and experienced photographers and pilots, to images from low budget drones with simple cameras for everyone’s use.
All photographs taken by Klaus Leidorf
© Klaus Leidorf