Aerial Photography by Drones and UAVs

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.

DJI Inspire 1 Pro
DJI Matrice M600 Pro
  • 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.

Photo by The Drone Photo Company – www.thedronephotocompany.com

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 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.

Picture by Flightsight Ltd
Picture by Flightsight Ltd at www.flightsight.co.uk

Aerial Photography and Business Marketing

From a business standpoint, aerial photos can provide some powerful and extremely engaging marketing material in so many areas

  • Hospitality Industry – showcase your building, grounds and facilities

  • Property Management – set your property portfolio within its environment

  • Construction Projects – regular flights can show progress, demonstrate your project management skills, keep stakeholders informed and demonstrate the quality of your work

  • Property Marketing – estate agents can create engaging marketing material to set the homes that are on their books apart from the competition

  • Golf Courses – few venues look better from the air than the sweeping greens of a golf course. Showcase your facilities, promote to new members and use as a resource for existing members.

Types of Aerial Images

There are two main types of aerial image.  Those taken from an angle to the ground are called Oblique images and those taken with the camera pointing straight down are called Vertical images.

Photogrammetry

Vertical images can exist on their own of course but they can also be digitally stitched together to create large image maps or photogrammetric images.  These allow measurements to be taken for survey or mapping purposes.

Stereo Aerial Photography

3d images can be created through taking several aerial images of an area from different points. Originally designed for military intelligence purposes, this type of aerial photography also has benefits for surveying and cartography as well as creating images for artistic purposes.

Orthophotos

Orthophotos or Orthophotomaps take an aerial image and geometrically correct it in order that it can be used as a map. Google Maps would probably be the largest user of this technique.

They take it even further by then layering images over a digital elevation model to simulate the 3d landscapes we are all used to navigating in Google Earth.

MEDIA TECHNICHE Ltd 3D Image
Pictures by Aaron Sneddon https://aerialscotland.co.uk/
Image by Aaron Sneddon at www.aerialscotland.co.uk

Aerial Property Photography

Estate agents and building managers can use drone aerial images to great advantage when it comes to marketing properties.  Seeing a home or group of homes with the surrounding area can highlight features and facilities such as road access and nearby amenities. 

Aerial photography can also help to engage potential home buyers from the first digital viewing. 

High quality aerial images can really showcase a property, particularly those with extensive grounds, and make them stand out from the crowd in today’s competitive real estate market.

Image by Emerald Sky Media at www.emeraldskymedia.info
Emerald SKY Media Richard-Gilmore

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.

Image by Drone Media Imaging at www.DroneMediaImaging.co.uk

Aerial Photography and the UK Law

Drone photography UK laws are designed to protect the safety and privacy of the general public. Data protection laws known as ‘GDPR’ have increased privacy protection in the UK.

The first important thing to understand is the difference in laws applying to amateur flyers and commercial drone operators. Anyone offering services like drone roof inspections and drone wedding photography for payment must have approval to operate from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Approval comes in the form of a PfCO and if you’re hiring someone to carry out photography on your behalf, you should check that they have this.

Amateur drone users don’t need to pass exams and tests currently, but changes are coming. Some may resist this, but drones can be dangerous in the wrong hands so it’s reasonable that all users should have an understanding of the risks and how to mitigate them. Public perception of drones is quite negative, so steps to improve safety can also help the drone industry to be viewed more positively.

If you plan to sell or profit from pictures of identifiable people they need to give their consent. Naturally you need to be sensitive to photographing children without parental consent, and bear in mind that some may be under protection and can’t have their images published online.