by Sara Acosta
ES 555 Small Format Aerial Photography
What is Small Format Aerial
Small format aerial photography, or SFAP, is the
use of light-weight cameras (35 mm, 70 mm, or compact digital cameras) which
can be lifted by manned or unmanned platforms in order to take aerial photographs.
Manned platforms may include small airplanes, helicopters, balloons,
or blimps. Even simpler are unmanned platforms such as kites, blimps,
balloons, or model planes. This method differs from conventional aerial
photography, which employs large-format film cameras (film that is 9 inches
or 23 cm wide) and takes photographs by using computer programming along
with GPS information. With conventional aerial photography, large
aircraft are needed in order to carry all the equipment and to fly at heights
of up to 40,000 feet. This, however is very expensive, and can cost
up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. SFAP on the other hand is
very cost efficient with prices starting at just a few hundred dollars. Not
only is it inexpensive, but it is a simple way to obtain low-height, large-scale
Who uses Small Format
There is quite a variety of fields that utilize SFAP in their practice.
It can be used in engineering, architecture, archeology, agriculture,
water resources, forestry, and wildlife management, just to name a few.
It can be used in many applications such as detecting recent changes
in the land due to natural disasters, analyzing urban changes and land use,
or even to monitor and document movement of wildlife.
applications in Small Format Aerial Photography
SFAP has been used in many situations. One example is using kite
aerial photography (KAP) in order to conduct property surveys of a given
area (Aber and Aber, 2003). Many photographs can be taken and then
overlaid with each other to create a 'big picture' of the area. This
makes an accurate, easy interpretation of the scene. Once scanned into
digital format, annotations can be added to describe plots in the area or
define boundaries of properties. This allows for keeping a simple,
accurate, and easy to use database which can be easily updated.
Other potential uses for SFAP is for environmental situations. It
could be a great way to track shoreline erosion or pollutants in water bodies.
These aerial images are easy to acquire, and at such a low-cost, monitoring
changes over a period of time would be no problem.
SFAP has also proven useful for agricultural applications. Detailed
images of crops, soils, and field treatments are easily obtained. This
can aid farmers with information on how to increase crop yield and therefore
increase income by finding ways to improve field treatments and management.
KAP has been helpful in field studies to determine the canopy conditions
of a forest with accuracy at submeter resolution. Photographs can be
taken, not only with color-visible film, but also with color-infrared film
to aid in interpretation of vegetation. These photographs allows for
the interpretation of the canopy by close examination of shadows (Aber et
A very useful application of SFAP is to use the photographs in such a
manner as to be able to create maps. By taking vertical photos (views
straight down) of a subject and incorporating some type of ground control
points (points with known GPS locations), these aerial images can be registered
and rectified to obtain a scaled image. The ground control points used can
often be objects in the environment (road corners, buildings, etc.). With
the low-height aerial images acquired from SFAP, ground points are easy to
locate. Several images are often necessary to obtain a large area of
interest. These photos can be mosaicked together to obtain a full image
of the area. These images can be used in a geographical information
system (GIS) and then used to make maps.
at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge
Creek National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Missouri
River floodplain, in the northwestern corner of Missouri, and consists of
areas of native wet prairie grasslands, bottomland forest, wetland units,
agricultural fields, and loess bluff hills. The ES 555
class visited Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in order
to obtain blimp aerial photographs of the wetland units on the refuge. A
particular site was chosen because of much waterbird nesting activity in
The blimp was used due to little to no wind, unsuitable for kite flying.
Aerial images were obtained over two wetland units, including the very
active area, Pintail Pool. Images were acquired with color-print and color-slide film in a small, Olympus Stylus
Epic point and shoot camera. Digital images were also obtained using a Canon PowerShot 230 (digital elph). The color-infrared images were taken with a Canon Rebel SLR camera (shown at top of page).
Aerial image over Pintail Pool...tracks show where the airboat has been
the airboat to search for waterbird nests on Pintail Pool (photo
by J.S. Aber)
Pintail Pool has been the hot spot on the refuge for waterbirds this year.
Well over a hundred waterbird nests have been found of pied-billed
grebes (Podilymbus podiceps
), American coot (Fulica americana
and Least Bitterns (Ixobrychus exilis
) combined. Studies to monitor
these nests are in progress. It's possible that using SFAP could greatly
aid in these studies. This could be done by using a kite (as opposed
to the blimp) to photograph the pool. A kite would be more efficient
than using the blimp for a couple reasons. One is because of the ease
of movement and flexibility with the kite. It can be easily transported
to all areas around the pool to obtain full coverage. Another reason
it would be more efficient to use a kite is because, by using the blimp to
take vertical aerial photos, most pictures will be 'self portraits' because
the blimp flies directly overhead. Once the photos are obtained and
put into digital format, it is possible to mosaic the photos to create an
image of the entire pool unit. Then it can be registered and rectified
to be used in a GIS database. With GPS locations of nests, they are
easily overlaid onto the photo, creating a map of the pool unit with exact
locations of each nest. This would make navigation to nests for monitoring
much easier and quicker.
Least Bittern nest
Least Bittern defending its nest
(photos by S. Acosta)
SFAP is used in many different fields with many different applications
for each. The images obtained can be used in its raw state for interpretation,
or even more possibilities are available when images contain ground control
points that allow for it to be registered and rectified. It is cost-
and time-efficient, simple, and can provide outstanding results in image
clarity and resolution.
Aber, J. S. (2003). ES 555 Small Format Aerial Photography. ES
555 SFAP Introduction, URL: http://academic.emporia.edu/aberjame/airphoto/intro.htm
Aber, J. S. (3 January 2003). Professional Applications Kite Aerial
Photography. KAP applications, URL: http://geospectra.net/kite/applic/applic.htm
Aber, J. S., Aber, S. W. (April 2003). Kite
Aerial Photography Consulting and Sales. Kite aerial photography
consulting, URL: http://geospectra.net/kite/consult/consult.htm
Aber, J. S., Aber, S. W. 2003. Applications of kite aerial photography:
Property survey. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science
106, no. 12, p. 107-110.
Aber, J. S., Wallace, J. and Nowak, M. C. 2002. Response of
forest to climatic events and human management at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Kansas Geological Survey, Current Research in Earth Sciences, Bulletin
248, part 1.
Douglass, R., Aber, J. S. (December 1999). KAP Agricultural Applications,
Nagelhout, A., Hofstee, P. (25 July 2002). Creating a mosaic
using small format aerial photographs, International Institute for Geo-Information
Science and Earth Observation, URL: http://www.itc.nl/ilwis/applications/application26.asp
Region 3, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Squaw Creek National Wildlife
Refuge, URL: http://midwest.fws.gov/squawcreek (7/11/03).
Remote Sensing Research (1997). Utilizing GPS to incorporate small-format
aerial photography into a GIS database, URL: http://www.rsr.org/gps_gis.html
Tucker, Steve (2001). Environmental Applications for SFAP, a short
report for ES 555. SFAP Applications, URL: http://www.emporia.edu/earthsci/student/tucker4/sfap.html
This webpage was created to fulfill the requirements for ES 555
Small Format Aerial Photography
at Emporia State University
Created July 2003.