How is Aerial Photography Done?

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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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Aerial photography, or the art of taking photos of the ground from a point in the air, may seem like a modern invention requiring modern technology in the hands of a professional photographer, but it really began long ago. Aerial photography was first practiced in 1858 by French artist and photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon. Tournachon, who frequently went by the nickname Nadar, was a hot air balloon enthusiast. One of his earliest photos was taken from the air above Paris, and since then the art has grown in a variety of applications and methods. In recent times, aerial photography has expanded in use from art to cartography, archeology, surveillance and a variety of other fields.

Aerial photographs may be obtained by motion or still camera from planes, helicopters, satellites, hot air balloons or other airborne mediums. Due in part to modern technology, aerial photography today does not specifically require a live photographer. A radio-controlled aircraft may be furnished with a camera equipped with a timer, eliminating the need for a live person to be involved in the photography. Radio-controlled aircraft, unlike other forms of aircraft, can easily fly at low altitudes without problems, leading this to be the favored method of aerial photography for real estate agents trying to photograph a home, or organizations needing photographs of dangerous or difficult locations.


Outside of the business realm, aerial photography is also within the scope of reporters who may wish to capture and utilize the images in photojournalism assignments. Movie production as well as commercial advertising make frequent use of aerial photography to enhance their artistic projects with visually striking images of their chosen locations. Those specializing in professional photography may choose to experiment with aerial photography for a series or collection. There are also companies that can be hired by an individual to take aerial photographs of locations for private use, such as in art or research.

A variety of aerial photography, termed orthophotography, is the practice of taking vertical photographs of the ground and correcting the proportions so the images can be used as a geographically correct map. This type of aerial photography is commonly used in Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, in government applications, as well as computer software available to individuals, examples of which include Google Maps and Google Earth. Question about the ethics and legality of this practice have been brought up with varying degrees of success. In the United States, for example, any location or object viewed from a public space is allowed to be photographed, allowing individuals or companies to take aerial shots of even those locations deemed to be private property.


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