Aerial Photography

Aerial photography describes any method of taking photos from the sky. Depending on the circumstances, aerial photography may employ planes, balloons, remote-controlled toy planes, rockets or helicopters to take pictures. For example, kite aerial photography, in which a camera is attached to a large kite, is a popular hobby.

Aerial Photography Applications

The first use of aerial photography was recorded in 1858, when French balloonist Nadar took photos from hot air balloons. However, with the outbreak of WWI, aerial photography played an integral part as a method of gathering information in military operations.

Today, aerial photography has a wide range of applications in a variety of fields, including:

  • archeology (to detect ancient foundations and other signs of human habitation)
  • cartography (to study the land and make maps)
  • movie production
  • the military (for espionage activity)
  • to study the environment and land use.

Small-Scale Aerial Photography

For industrial or military applications of aerial photography, photos are taken from helicopters, airplanes, drones (unmanned remote-controlled planes) and satellites.

However, in some circumstances, smaller pieces of equipment are adequate methods of taking aerial photography shots. Real estate advertising tends to use remote-controlled model planes to take pictures of property from the air, as regular planes are not allowed to fly low over residential neighborhoods.

The paparazzi also have taken advantage of aerial photography. Because anything or anyone that can be seen from a public place (including airborne locations) is deemed to be public (even if it occurs on private property), the paparazzi have taken advantage of this legal loophole and use small pieces of equipment to capture intimate celebrity photos.

Digital Aerial Photography

Although digital aerial photography has not replaced film aerial photography, digital cameras have become increasingly popular, because they are easier to manipulate than traditional film. In fact, digital aerial photography photos can be quickly enlarged using editing software to show more detail.

Increasingly, small (and therefore lightweight) digital cameras and camcorders have made digital aerial photography appealing to amateur photographers.

The one downside to digital aerial photography, at least from the point of view of the hobbyist, is the potential for damage. While a crashed kite or model plane may set the owner back a few dollars, a crash involving a digital camera will cost much more. Price and costs of repairs are a few reasons that digital technology has not fully replaced film for the aerial photography hobbyist.

Kite Aerial Photography

Kite aerial photography is one of the most popular choices for the aerial photography hobbyist. In fact, kites tend to be more popular with the aerial photographer because a large kite can reach greater heights than most model planes and can stay aloft longer than either radio-controlled models or model rockets.

As kite aerial photography requires that the kite support a camera and suspension mechanism in addition to its own weight, aerial photographers usually opt for large kites. Along with supporting the weight, large kites are more stable in stronger wind conditions. One consideration when using a kite is to be careful that the kite and equipment does not injure bystanders when it lands.

While digital aerial photography is increasingly popular, the most commonly used cameras for kite aerial photography are lightweight 35-mm cameras. When choosing a camera, be sure to get one that advances film automatically and that has a variety of focus controls.

Keep in mind also that cameras used for kite aerial photography must be triggered remotely. Either a gadget called an intervalometer takes pictures at a preset interval, or the user signals the camera by radio control.

Another piece of equipment you”ll need is a cradle to hold the camera steady. The cradle is attached to a suspension system that is attached to the kite line, usually several feet below the kite itself. The two most commonly used suspension techniques, the pendulum and Picavet mechanisms, keep the camera level as the line twists and moves.

What You Don”t See is What You Get

One of the most enjoyable aspects of kite aerial photography is the hobby”s unpredictable and surprising results. The photographer has only limited control over how the aerial photos will turn out and exactly what the photos will include.

The unpredictability of aerial photography remains true whether film or digital aerial photography is used. The challenge of taking the desired picture under such circumstances is what appeals to the dedicated aerial photographer.