Introduction

ES 555 Small Format
Aerial Photography

Conventional aerial photography

Aerial photographs have been taken since the mid-1800s, beginning with manned balloons. Many innovations and experiments were undertaken in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Balloons, kites, and powered aircraft were utilized to lift cameras above the Earth's surface. These early airphotos changed the way people viewed the landscape from both practical and aesthetic points of view. Since World War I, aerial photography became standardized with large, geometrically precise cameras designed for resource mapping and military applications. The science of photogrammetry developed for transforming airphotos into accurate cartographic measurements and maps. Standard aerial photography today is based on the following.

This conventional approach is expensive--$10s to $100s of thousands to acquire airphoto coverage. This cost can be justified for major engineering projects and extensive regional surveys of the type often undertaken by provincial or national governments--soil survey, environmental monitoring, resource evaluation, property assessment, topographic mapping, and basic cartography.

Small-format aerial photography

Small-format aerial photography (SFAP) is based on light-weight cameras with 35-mm or 70-mm format film or compact digital cameras. Images acquired with such cameras lack the geometric fidelity and ground coverage of conventional air photos. However, the case for SFAP is based on cost and accessibility.

Low-cost availability of cameras, film, and lifting platforms is a combination that makes SFAP feasible for many people and organizations. Manned platforms include small airplanes, helicopters, ultra-light aircraft, balloons, and blimps. These are necessarily more expensive and require specialized training in contrast to unmanned platforms, such as kites, balloons, blimps, model airplanes, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Within the field of aerial photography, much innovation is taking place nowadays with all types of UAVs and imaging equipment. As a specially within remote sensing, SFAP fills a niche of observational scale and height between the ground and conventional aerial photography--a range that is particularly valuable for detailed site investigations of environmental conditions at the Earth's surface. SFAP is employed in various applications ranging from archaeology, to precision agriculture, to real-estate development and commercial applications.

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ES 555 © J.S. Aber (2016).