History of Aerial Photography

History of Aerial Photography

Brian Madeira, Sawyer Green

Fall, 2016
ES555 Small Format Aerial Photography
Dr. James S. Aber

Table of Contents
Famous Pioneers
Today's Platforms
Drone Regulations


DaVinci had wrote about the physics behind photography, however, the first photograph was developed in 1826. Felix Tournachon is credited for taking the first aerial photograph in 1858. His platform consisted of a tethered balloon, and photographed Bievre Valley which is located in France. However, those photos have not survived the times, so the oldest survivng photos are from James Wallace Black, who photographed areas of Boston in 1860. Through history, the enhancement of photography has progressed with out imagination to capture and hold moments in time. Aerial photography has predominantly been used for research purposes, for it provides a vantage point not typically seen, and like the evolution of camera technology, aerial photography formats have improved substantially from the low tech kite format.

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Famous Pioneers

Arthur Batut - Arthur is credited for being the first photographer to attach a timer to his camera rig. In 1889 he used a lit fuse to take timed ariel photographs from a kite of Labruguiere, France.

Figure 1. Arthur pictured with his kite camera rig. (Modified from UCSB).

Julius Neubronner - Famous for successfully capturing, and attaching timed cameras to homing pigeons. For it being 1903, during World War I wartime, many bird casualites resulted from bystanding troops. Also to note, his timed photographs were captured every 30 seconds and the camera rigs were mounted to the birds breast.

Figure 2. Here is an image of Julius with his unorthodox camera rig, the homing pigeon. (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2009).

Figure 3. Seen in this aerial photograph are the wings of the homing pigeon that was piloting the attached camera mount. (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2009).

George Lawrence - Accredited for the devastatingly beautiful image of San Francisco after the earthquake in 1906. He used a 49-pound camera that was lifted by a fleet of nine kites. His rig came equiped with an eletric wire that was used to take timed photographs, allowing for him to create large panoramic displays.

Figure 4. Standing next to his Mammoth camera rig, weighing an impressive 900 pounds . (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2009).

Figure 5. Famous photo from George Lawrence of San Francisco in ruins after the 1906 earthquake. (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2007).

L.P. Bonvillain - Piloted by Wilbur Wright, Bonvillain took the first aerial photograph from a plane, capturing an image over Italy. Since their endeavors in 1908, aerial photography by plane became a popular format for scientist, and military.

Figure 6. Images of the "Flyer 1" biplane, which was crafted out of wood and had a wingspan of 40 feet. (Photo from UCSB).

Captain Albert Stevens - In 1935, a ballon named "The Explorer II" was utilized by Captain Albert Stevens to capture the curvature of the Earth for thie first time. The Explorer II is also known for setting elevations records at 72,395 feet, however, the photo taken is not available online.

Figure 7. (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2008).

Figure 8. Explorer II gondola, located in the National Air and Space Museum. (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2009).

John T. Mengel - Following the success of the Explorer II balloon, v-2 rockets, which were originally German built long-range guided missels, were launched in 1946 from White Sands, New Mexico to capture the first images from space.

Figure 9. (Photo from NASA, 2003).

Figure 10. First images of Earth from space, stitched together to create panoramic photographs. (Photo from NASA, 2009).

Corona Project - Then starting in 1959 and progressing through 1972, the CIA operated the Corona Project which set the framework for satellite imagery.

Figure 11. Detailed image of the Corona satellite. (Modified from Wikimedia Commons, 2005).

Figure 12. Reconnaissance image of a location in Russia taken from the Corona satellite . (Photo from CIA, 2015).

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Today's Platforms

Within the past few decades, there are a variety of methods used for aerial photography: blimp technology, kite photography, and drone/UAV photography to name a few.

Corona Project

Aerial photography with a blimp - This method can keep the camera more stable so it would be less likely to jostle or move around an excessive amount. Blimp Aerial photography uses helium to lift the blimp and the kite rig would be tethered to the blimp. The spatial coverage can be around 50 to 250 meters. The images taken can be georeferenced and corrected based on reference points collected. The downside to a blimp, however, is the amount of space needed and buying the helium. Also, it takes more time to set up a blimp than it does a kite or drone in most cases

Figure 13. This is the blimp we used for aerial photography in Fort Dodge. (Photo by Jack Ferris, 2016).

Kite aerial photography - With this method, the camera rig is attached to the kite after the kite is up quite a ways in the air, say 100 meters or so. The rig of the camera and the type of camera used is entirely based on the objective or purpose of the flight. The kite used should be the one with maximum stability, in order to keep the camera stable while in flight. There are limitations to kite photography. The wind should not exceed 20mph, otherwise one will risk the camera being in danger.

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Drone/UAV photography - Photography with a drone or a UAV is an exciting technology that has emerged within the last couple of decades. Even in the last decade, this method of aerial photography has grown rapidly in popularity. Why is it so popular? Well, UAVís and drones are popular for a bunch of reasons. For starters, they can be automated, that is to say one can program a drone to follow a specific flight path. This can be especially useful in agriculture, due to the time saving and efficient manner of which a drone operates. Next, they can be used for taking a photograph at a specific angle in mid-flight. The drone would have to be manually operated in order to do this. The real advantage is to be able to program the drone to a specific path, and not spend any more time than one needs to.

Figure 14.This is the DJI Phantom Drone: It has 4 rotors, and is made primarily for hobby use, and also for gathering data over a predetermined flight pattern.

Sual's Mound.

Figure 15.This is the IRIS 3DR drone: has 4 rotors, made for gathering data over a predetermined flight pattern.

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Drone Regulations

There are some disadvantages of using a drone for aerial photography. There are quite a bit of rules and regulations to follow, and some people may think that the rules are too limiting. Another reason is that drones can be pricy. Talking upwards of around 2 or 3 thousand dollars for a decent drone, not to mention the cost of the batteries and camera and other accessories. Also, in order to fly one of these drones commercially, one would need to obtain a pilot's license.

Do the benefits outweigh the costs of drones? It basically depends on the situation and application of the purpose. If the equipment fits the needs, it would be worth looking into a drone for aerial photography.

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Central Intelligence Agency. "CORONA: Decalssified." News and Information. 19 March, 2015. Web 01 Dec. 2016

Dunbar, Brian and J. Wilson. "NASA Electronics Pioneer Dies at 85." NASA News. 23 November, 2007. Web 01 Dec. 2016

Hopkins, John. "First Pictures of Earth From 100 Miles in Space, 1947." NASA TV. NASA Administrator, 31 July, 2015. Web 01 Dec. 2016

UCSB. "First Photos from a Plane." Wright Brothers. UC Santa Barbara, Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

UCSB. "Arthur Batut." Kite Remote Sensing. UC Santa Barbara, Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Photo Sources

Captain Albert Stevens. Wikimedia Commons. 2008. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_William_Stevens#/media/File:CPT_Albert_Stevens.jpg. Accessed on November 30, 2016.

Corona Satellite. Wikimedia Commons. 2005. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corona_(satellite)#/media/File:Kh-4b_corona.jpg. Accessed on November 30, 2016.

Explorer II. Wikimedia Commons. 2009. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_William_Stevens#/media/File:Explorer_II_Gondola.jpg. Accessed on November 30, 2016.

George Lawrence. Wikimedia Commons. 2009. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_R._Lawrence#/media/File:Lawrence_with_Mamut.JPG. Accessed on November 28, 2016.

Homing Pigeon. Wikimedia Commons. 2009. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dr_Julius_Neubronner_patented_a_miniature_pigeon_camera_activated_by_a_timing_mechanism,_1903.jpg. Accessed on December 1, 2016.

Julius Neubronner. Wikimedia Commons. 2009.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Neubronner#/media/File:Julius_Neubronner_with_pigeon_and_camera_1914_cropped.jpg. Accessed on December 1, 2016.

San Francisco. Wikimedia Commons. 2007. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_R._Lawrence#/media/File:San_Francisco_in_ruin_edit2.jpg. Accessed on November 28, 2016.

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