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Taking a Look at Everything You Wanted to Know About Aerial Photography

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY LAURENT ABADIE A photo taken on September 9, 2014 shows a drone flying over vineyards of the Pape Clement castle, belonging to Bordeaux winemaker Bernard Magrez in the soutwestern French town of Pessac. Magrez is the first winemaker to have bought last February a drone equipped with a infrared camera to determine the optimal maturity of the domain's grapes and thus harvest them at different times. AFP PHOTO JEAN PIERRE MULLER. (Photo credit should read JEAN PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images)

Aerial photography, just as the name suggests, represents the process of taking pictures while in air, well actually just above the ground. Such pictures have plenty of applications and uses in many fields of research as well as in touristic and artistic photography. Aerial photography is important in interpreting, discovering and even mapping the world as we know it, aerial photography is important and appraised for its usefulness and extreme beauty, getting shots from angles you never normally see. We wanted to take a closer look at what aerial photography really means, offering you information and tips on how you can look to introduce aerial photography into your everyday life depending on your interests and photography skills – Plus who doesn’t like the idea of using a drone or getting in a plane etc. for some exquisite shots.

Aerial Photography History

The history of aerial photography is intimately linked to the name of Gaspar Felix Tournachon, who was a French photographer responsible for patenting the concept of aerial photography in late 19th century France. He photographed a small French village from in the air as he found it easier to map an area than the usual method of ground surveys. The interesting history of aerial photography also mentions the use of balloons, pigeons, kites and even rockets as means of aerial transportation for capturing the pictures – all this seems rather farfetched when you think that we now have mini drones, helicopters and more to do all of this for us.

Back in 1906, the post-earthquake Chicago aerial photos made people understand that they were on to something: aerial photography helped them capture easy-to-miss details, understand the landscapes like never before, survey an area easily and map it correctly. It was exactly what everyone had been waiting for and opened up a new path in landscape studies, archaeology, documentation, map compilations, environmental changes and so much more. Aerial photography was then developed as a separate science, which soon started to gain shape and insane popularity among researchers that were still trying to better understand the world they were living in. Archaeology was the first of the sciences to embrace aerial photography and many modern discoveries owe Tournachon their newfound life, as without it they may never have been discovered.

World War I, however, was when aerial photography was turned into a controversial subject: the risk of capturing on film sensitive details of a site, building, or a location that you weren’t supposed to. The military implications of aerial photography used for reconnaissance purposes were soon embraced as well and developed during World War II. The conflicting sides would often use aerial photography to keep under surveillance the enemy lines, to make sense of massive agglomerations of buildings, cargo, and troops – Aerial photography was no longer just about discovering new landscapes and mapping them, but instead, it was now being used to fight wars and plan strategies against the opposing forces.

After the second war, the world was taken by the storm by this new art of seeing anything they wanted from above and at a safe distance, and we probably have satellite imaging today because one man was smart enough to understand that some places and locations are unsafe or inaccessible for classic ground surveillance.

While satellite imaging and infra-red imaging took over aerial photography for obvious reasons, it is still used in military and strategic operations quite frequently. However, the process has become much friendlier and has moved to equally important fields of interest, such as archaeology and environmentalism.

Modern Applications of Aerial Photography

As we said, aerial photography eventually left the military and became an interest and hobby for civilians in the forever unquenched thirst for discovering the undiscovered. There are plenty of contemporary uses of aerial photography, and some of the most important ones are:

1. Archeology

Taking pictures from high above the ground has helped archeologists to locate lost monuments and hidden sites that were once thought to have been lost, track sites’ features which are not visible while scouting at ground level, discover treasures buried under the soil, sand or waters of earth, observe certain sites’ features which are only visible under certain conditions, map the surroundings of a certain site and often record remote, hidden, unsafe or impossible to reach areas in the world – all of this thanks to the advancments of technology and the discovery of aerial photography. If you heard about crop marks, soil marks or parch marks, then you know how aerial photography has been used throughout the years to document human history, culture, and development.

2. Urban Studies and Real Estate

Aerial photography is an all-time partner of landscape studies, sociology, urbanism, geography, mapping and architecture; it’s been a part of them all for years now. Low-level aerial photography is now used in the study of the impact new structures that are being introduced in an existent urban landscape have and explore the architectural, social and economical changes which occur naturally when new urban projects are being developed. In the world of real estate, the agents using aerial photography to their advantage have a lot of leverage on their competitors – Who aren’t taking advantage of aerial photography, as they can simply and clearly demonstrate the value or the beauty of a building or a construction site with pictures that speak for themselves; as the pictures you can achieve from the ground are limited, while aerial photography allows for new angles and views.

3. Environmentalism and Climate Change

A flying multicopter with raised landing gears and a camera with blurred crop field and farm structures on a background highlighted by a sunset

In recent years there has been a huge shift in climate and the powerf

ul environmental changes that affect the planet are being documented precisely and accurately thanks to aerial photography. Researchers would often use things like the drying of lakes, the expansion of waters, and the reducing size of the rain forest and so on to see the impact of climacteric changes. Aerial photography helps researchers conduct environmental forensic investigations, keep track of any and all changes we are going through, this includes everything from documenting invasive species which could be potentially threatening to the decimation of others, soil, water and landscape modifications.

4. Tourism

If you ever look at famous pictures of famous places around the globe, you’ll probably find many of them are taken using a mixture of aerial photography and ground level ones. This is easily explained by the fact that aerial photography allows people to see broader areas and make more sense of the context. While we all love a panoramic picture of an exotic island blessed by a surreal sunset, we may also remain breathless at the sight of a blue lagoon, a never-ending green pasture, or a famous touristic landmark taken at the right angle in the air, as we don’t get to see these angles regularly ourselves, making them even more special.

5. Art

Finding a gorgeous location and managing to capture it from a good angle at the right time of the day, with the right lighting can turn into a work of art. Artistic photographers are known for experimenting and trying creative ways to immortalise the beauty of our world, and aerial photography is one of the newest and most exciting ways they manage to achieve this.

One of the most famous modern photographers who made a contemporary art movement from aerial photography is Alexander Heilner, he’s well-known for his magic abilities to turn what seems like a dull landscape into an abstract painting that is packed with beauty. Like many artists, he is more than willing to play with angles, zoom, colours, special effects, contrasts, and locations in order to get the best shots he possibly can. Of course, for an aerial artistic photographer to capture amazing urban structures for example, it takes an equally visionary urban landscapist and architect to build them. An aerial photograph is only as good as the buildings and surrounding areas that they’re photographing, the various angles might look beautiful but don’t be fooled into thinking this is all down to the new angles.

 

Aerial Photography Know-How and Practice

Many people think that good aerial photography is as simple as taking a good camera in a helicopter and start shooting the ground below. However, professionals know there are many more things to consider with aerial photography than your sense of adventure or your fear of flight. Amateur photographers should first take a look at a comprehensive guide on aerial photography and have done a considerable amount of research. The first things you need to know and decide upon are generally the following:

  • Choose the delivery means: helicopter, plane, or drone – depending on the type of aerial carrier you pick you will have to adapt your gear and your photography skills in order to capture breathtaking images or relevant ones. The images caught from each will also differ as each method is capable of different feats, for example; a drone can get closer to a house or building while not being able to travel quite as high as a helicopter, while a plane will have to be moving constantly so you don’t have as much freedom to choose angles etc so easily when compared to a drone or helicopter.
  • Choose the right period of the year/month as a landscape often changes due to weather conditions and the seasons; your drone isn’t much use if it’s pouring with rain.
  • Choose the right time of the day – you need to orient your aerial photography project depending on the sun’s position in the sky; needless to say, night aerial photography is equally demanding, challenging but if you can pull it off, it’s definitely worth it.
  • Make an educated choice on whether you want to take pictures from above on a cloudy day versus a sunny day, a rainy day, or a hot scorching summer day; each of these situations comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.
  • Choose your gear: you have to be very aware that your optics, the risk of camera shake, the manual modes and custom parameters, the presence or absence of a gimbal, the image composition, the angles and the supplementary equipment you bring on board are all variables of the equation.
  • Other things you need to know and consider: mapping the area, timing your flight, safety regulations and flight legislation, drone use legislation, health precautions for flights and so on.
  • The most important thing you need to keep in mind when experiencing aerial photography is the oblique angle versus the vertical shooting. There are tons of papers on the science of oblique aerial photography and the vertical one, but the main idea is this: oblique is mostly used in archeology as it offers a wider context and depth, while vertical is used for topographic reasons and artistic ones. The oblique aerial photography is more demanding, as you need to keep a steady angle of 45 degrees. However, you can test and have fun with your own degrees, depending on the flying machine you use and how much versatility it allows you.

Aerial photography takes a lot of practice if you are into it for the art and the fun, but always keep in mind that in order to become a professional you have to test and retest your settings, change altitudes and angles and be comfortable with flying. If you can master all these details, you can discover an entirely new world through this type of photography.

 

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