The history of flight

Aerial photography, or simply put, taking photos with a camera in the sky, is not a new phenomenon. In fact, its origins can be traced back as far as 1858 (you can see our aerial photography timeline below).

However, over the course of its history, it has been technically specialised work and extremely expensive.

The commercially mass-manufactured drone has now put the ability to create images from a bird’s eye view firmly within reach of so many people.

There has never been a better time to harness the power of aerial photography using drones for both creative and practical purposes.

The history of flight The history of flight
  •   1858 – Gaspard Félix-Tournachon (nicknamed Nadar) was the first to take a camera to the skies during a hot air balloon flight over Paris. Sadly, the resulting images are now lost to us.
  •   1860 – ‘Boston as the Eagle and Wild Geese See It’ is the earliest surviving aerial photograph. Captured by James Wallace Black and Samuel Archer King from a balloon at a height of 630m
  •   1882 – Back in the UK, a British meteorologist named E D Archibald was experimenting with loading kites with explosive charges on a time to create aerial photographs.
  •   1888 – The kite-borne camera was developed further by Frenchman Arthur Batut, leading Samuel Franklin-Cody to refine the process to a point where the British War Office started to take an interest in its potential.
  •   1912 – Frederick Charles Victor Laws continued this work and discovered that, by overlapping pictures taken from different viewpoints, stereoscopic images could be created. This ‘3d’ capability was enough to pique the interest of cartographers and intelligence officers alike.
  •   1914 – By this point, the Royal Flying Corps were recording their observations in photographic form with the entirety of the German trench system having been documented from the sky.
  •   1915 – With the benefits of aerial photography in terms of military intelligence being well established, Captain John Moore-Brabazon completed development of the first purpose built aerial camera.
  •   1918 – Aerial cameras were now developed with significant increases in focal power.
  •   1919 – The First World War was over but the potential for aerial photography for more than military use was recognised. Francis Wills and Claude Graham White established the first commercial aerial photography company – Aerofilms Ltd.
  •   1921 – Aerofilms had claimed Ordinance Survey as one of their customers and a pioneering form of stitching aerial images together was taking place – photogrammetry was born.
  •   1928 – Aerial cameras were freezing at the altitudes they were working at so electric heating systems were developed to allow them to keep working at height.
  •   1939 – The advent of the Second World War saw the military once again make use of their aerial photography capabilities as part of the war effort. Spitfires were divested of armaments and radios to make way for cameras and additional fuel to carry out large scale photography exercises.
  •   1945 – Present Day – Aerial photography has lost none of its allure and camera systems have been developed to allow increasingly detailed images to be captured form the sky. Model aircraft enthusiast took full advantage of the developments in transistor technology in the 1960s to develop their own aircraft capable of taking pictures without the expense of traditional manned flights. It’s an area that has so captured the imagination that an entire industry has grown around it.

The 2010 release of the Parrot AR Drone is largely credited with opening the possibility of ‘ready to fly aircraft’ to the general population who would control it via a tablet or mobile phone app.   From there, it was a logical progression to add photographic and video capability to these now far more accessible pieces of technology.

DJI – Da-Jiang Innovation Technology

Founded by Frank Wang in 2006 and ran it out of his dorm room at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. In 2005, HKUST granted him HK$18,000 (US$2,300) to conduct research and develop a drone, and Wang founded DJI.

He has been reported as achieving more than $2 billion in sales, and is worth an estimated valuation of $15 billion in 2018.

DJI’s release of the Phantom in 2013 meant images of unprecedented quality could be created form a commercially available read to fly drone and the aerial photography industry has continued to take flight from there.

Photography as Art

Photographers and artists are increasingly looking to the sky to create their work.  Even the most familiar landscape or landmark can look different form a fresh perspective and there is a great deal of beauty that can be found in the patterns and textures that only a sky-borne camera can capture.

Previously unseen details can be revealed, and they offer the advantage of being able to easily reach areas that would be difficult or impossible over land.

Aerial photography also offers significant advantages to the scientific and conservation groups.

Form a height, a geologist may be able to spot rock formation patterns that are not visible from ground level.  Many conservation groups also use drone aerial photography to monitor the land and animals they are taking care of.  A drone is able to combine the advantage of being able to avoid travelling across difficult terrain, the risk to ground level personnel and also they don’t disturb the wildlife.

Drone flights can be programmed to be repeatable at set intervals.  This means that the resulting images can be compared over time – an excellent way of keeping track of environmental changes or documenting projects from start to completion.

Aerial Photography – The Big Picture

Aerial photography, particularly by UAV, allows the viewer to quickly see the big picture.  A series of pre-programmed flights can mean that a drone can cover a large area quickly and comprehensively, with the resulting images being stitched together to provide thorough coverage.

Seeing a building or area from an aerial perspective can have some real advantages in a number of fields.  For example, an architect can use images of an area to plan their building or buildings to maximise the natural features and minimise any problems, and all without repeated site visits.

Planning can be carried out for road networks, facilities and even flood defences.

Aerial Photography and Business Marketing

Types of Aerial Images

Aerial Property Photography

Drones and Schools

As well as offering an impressive addition to a school, college or university prospectus, aerial images can actually be a great way of raising funds.   School photography is routinely purchased by parents but the outdated ‘line them up on benches’ format can man that images sales are not as high as they might be. An aerial school photo can be an innovative and exciting way to capture pupils and raise funds for the school as well.

Drones and Wedding Photography

As couples plan their big day, more and more are including aerial photography as one of the ways they are going to preserve their wedding memories.   An aerial view of the venue can capture it in all its glory and drone photography can also create a unique memento of your guests enjoying themselves. Some couples even have their guests create shapes or words that can only be seen from the air for an extra special image.

Aerial Photography and the UK Law