Discover the Image Makers of Aerial Work Aviation

Do you really know what aerial photography is? Put another way, do you know what this devoted Aerial Work aviation sector does? Patrick Ryan ‘captures’ the right aspect of this industry, highlighting many informative and interesting qualities of this unique sector.

Patrick Ryan  |  08th February 2022
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Patrick Ryan
Patrick Ryan

Patrick Ryan brings over 30 years of experience as a Senior Consultant helping government and busin1

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Photographer in Helicopter


You’ve probably heard it many times: “One picture is worth a thousand words”. In the case of Aerial Photography, that is the primary purpose or ‘focus’ of this sector of Aerial Work aviation, i.e., the effort of visually fixing time within the framework of space or to communicate and document moments in time using aerial imagery...

Aerial Photography is an interesting niche that the Aerial Work aviation sector uses for many different purposes, including countless types of Aerial Photography applications. In Aerial Work aviation, Aerial Photography refers to capturing different types of images or photographs from an elevated position using an aircraft.

So, what really is Aerial Work Aerial Photography? Symbolically, Aerial Photography has to adopt all the parameters of taking a good camera picture — that is, ‘Depth of Focus, Depth of Field, Composition, Light, and Focus.’

With this proven professional photographic approach to taking useful, informative, and effective pictures, the Aerial Photography sector is no different and aims to ensure that aerial imagery is captured safely and accurately for the average casual viewer.

Depth of Focus: What is Aerial Photography?

Aerial Photography is the endeavour or effort of taking photographs or video images (i.e., Aerial Videography) from a commercial aircraft, be it a manned or unmanned airborne platform.

Aerial Photography is one of the most conventional, versatile, and economic forms of remote sensing. Even more so today with the advent of unmanned technology. But, again, it is a means of fixing time within the framework of space. Aerial Photography was the first method of remote sensing and is still heavily used today in the era of satellites, laser scanners, and many other types of sensors.

Not to be confused with other types of elevated bird's-eye views or aerial imaging efforts, Aerial Photography typically refers to aircraft taking aerial images that focus on landscapes, earth surface objects, and man-made structures. 

Aerial Photography is not Air- to-Air Photography (which will be a separate article in the future), where aircraft are used as chase planes to photograph other aircraft in flight. Additionally, Aerial Photography is not the process of capturing elevated images from structures firmly fixed to the ground (e.g., pole-fitted surveillance cameras, Skycam at indoor events, or crane-mounted cameras).

The bottom line that ‘Aerial Work Aerial Photography’ captures an image from an airborne aircraft to satisfy a commercial purpose, i.e., a service provided to a private person, business owner, or government decision-maker.

Depth of Field: Where Did It All Start?

Even before the Wright Brothers took flight in 1903, aerial photographs were taken from hot air balloons as early as the mid-1800s. In 1855, Gasper Felix Tournachon took the first aerial photograph from a balloon over Paris. 

Progressively, improvements in photographic technology made it easier to take cameras into the skies. Besides hot air balloons, early innovators also used kites, pigeons, and rockets to carry their cameras aloft.

Following this, the first aerial photograph taken from an aeroplane was in 1909, by Wilbur Wright. Wilbur was in Italy, engaged in selling planes to the Italian government, when he carried a passenger who filmed motion pictures of a military field near Rome.

With the advent of World War I, Aerial Photography soon replaced sketching and illustrations provided by aerial observers. The majority of the battle maps used by both sides were produced from aerial photographs and, by the end of the war, both sides recorded the entire front at least twice a day. Additionally, with a constant demand for intelligence, new types of cameras and other remote- sensing sensors were specifically designed and produced for use in aircraft.

During World War II and the following the Cold War, Aerial Photography (i.e., Aerial Reconnaissance) continued to expand and provide critical intelligence to military and world leaders. New types of aircraft or modified aircraft, practices (flying high and fast) and imagery technology increased dramatically during this period. Examples of this evolution include:

World War II (Tactical Reconnaissance)

  • Spitfire PR (Photographic Reconnaissance) - Configured with two to five cameras (e.g., F24 cameras) and a camera bay heating system to prevent camera parts from freezing at high altitudes.
  • P-38 Lighting or F-4/F-5 Variants – Configured with four cameras (e.g., K-17 cameras) in the nose compartment replacing the nose-mounted machine guns and cannon.

Cold War (Strategic Reconnaissance)

  • Canberra PR – Configured with four cameras (e.g., two K-38 and two KC-1 cameras) mounted in the forward lower fuselage.
  • U-2 Dragon Lady – Configured with numerous types of cameras and sensors (e.g., SYERS, ASARS, H-Cam, etc.)
  • SR-71 Blackbird – Like the U-2 but a tad faster, it was also configured with numerous types of cameras and sensors (e.g., Operational Objective Camera (OOC), Optical Bar Camera (OBC), etc.)

As with so many civil Aerial Work sectors, the technological spin-offs from military Aerial Reconnaissance operations over the years have greatly influenced the commercial or non-military use of Aerial Photography in terms of manned and unmanned aircraft capabilities.

Today, the commercial Aerial Photography sector leverages the latest in aircraft and technology, e.g., digital avionics and cameras, gyro-stabilised platforms, and even data-link communications. 

The resulting images are of outstanding quality and include high-resolution aerial views that can be delivered right to a client’s laptop or a smartphone in near-real-time. Because of this, you’ll find Aerial Photography in high demand across many diverse needs and industries.

Composition: What are the Applications of Aerial Photography?

When it comes to identifying the types of Aerial Photography applications that support a diverse set of commercial, industrial, agricultural, governmental, and private clients, the sector seeks to provide Aerial Photography and Videography services to business owners, managers, and individual decision-makers. 

These end-users recognise the value of both visual and quantitative information to drive their decisions, or even private citizens wishing to memorialise a special event, occasion, or place.

Some of today’s primary, sought-after applications and services the Aerial Photography community provides are:

Mapping – Aerial Photography mapping allows for capturing almost any type of terrain, from construction sites to farms. Aerial Mapping is vertical aerial Photography (a.k.a., satellite view, aerial survey, orthophotos, or orthomosaics) taken straight-down (nadir) from an aircraft. Mapping images are used as workable data, such as for aerial photo maps, or to produce Digital Elevation Models (DEMs).

Inspection – Aerial inspection photography or videography provides the means to inspect construction projects, mining management activities, utility structures (tower, solar & windmill) from an elevated 2D and 3D perspective.

Volumetrics – Aerial volumetrics photography measures the volume of a subject, e.g., measuring the volume of dirt stockpiles, the amount of dirt removed from a hole, or checking an area’s flatness. Primarily used by the gas, oil, and mining industries, aerial volumetrics surveys acquire images, process data using photogrammetry, and compute stockpile volumes. Over the past ten years, unmanned aircraft have made this type of measurement quick, safe, and significantly less expensive than traditional ground or manned aircraft-based measurement methods.

Real Estate – Commercial and residential real estate aerial photography and videography provide imagery to help buyers and sellers assess and market their properties. Aerial Photography has been a part of the real estate market for a long time; however, images taken of property have traditionally been captured from manned aircraft and reserved for only the most expensive listings. Like volumetric photography, unmanned platforms have significantly reduced the cost of Aerial Photography and have expanded the demand for this type of service over the past decade.

Light: What are the aircraft used in Aerial Photography?

As mentioned before, the Aerial Photography sector has leveraged everything from fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, balloons, blimps, rockets, kites, and even pigeons.

Today, the sector has expanded even more. It takes images from various new platforms like unmanned aircraft, ultralights, and even the basic human body, i.e., skydiving and wing-suiting. Along with this, the cameras and associated capabilities have expanded beyond a photographer manually operating a camera to digitally controlling a camera remotely or pre-programming it to take an image at the right place and time.

Like any unique enterprise, many manned and unmanned fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft support the Aerial Photography (and Videography) sector. Aircraft and effective equipment are selected for individual tasks based on their suitability for the assignment and return on investment.

Manned Aircraft

Regarding manned aircraft, the primary class is light high-wing GA aircraft, i.e., from single-engine to twin-engine, light helicopters and ultralights, and from piston to turbine engine.

Besides many makes and models of aircraft used in Aerial Photography operations, the following aircraft can be observed regularly around the world capturing professional photos and videos:

Fixed-Wing

  • Cessna Aircraft Company – C-172, C-182, C-206 • Piper Aircraft – PA-23 Aztec
  • Diamond Aircraft Industries - DA62 SurveyStar Helicopters
  • Robinson Helicopter Company – R22, R44
  • Airbus Helicopters - Airbus H125 (Previously known as the AS350 B3e)
  • Bell Helicopter - Bell 206 JetRanger Ultralights
  • Lockwood Aircraft – AirCam
  • Blue Yonder Aviation - Blue Yonder Twin Engine EZ Flyer

Unmanned Aircraft

On the unmanned (drone) side of ‘Aerial Work Aviation - Aerial Photography’, the dominant platform for taking images is the rotor-wing type aircraft. Currently, unmanned rotor-wing craft dominate because of their stability and flexibility whether focusing on a target that can be captured indoors or outdoors. 

However, new Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) type fixed-wing aircraft designs will slowly compete with the rotor-wing drone community because of their ability to leverage the benefits of both rotor and fixed-wing capabilities.

As with manned aircraft, the following unmanned platforms are designed and steadily used to capture expert photos and videos for numerous types of clients in all industry sectors:

Quadcopter

  • DJI-Mavic2
  • Walkera - QR X800
  • Parrot - ANAFI 

Hexacopter / Octocopter

  • DJI - S1000 Spread Wings
  • Devourer - D130 X8 Titan
  • Yuneec - Typhoon H Professional 

Fixed-Wing

  • Wingrtra – WingrtraOne (VTOL)
  • Sensefly – EbeeX
  • Autel – Dragonfish
  • ALTI – Ascend (VTOL)

Focus – Who are the Image Makers of Aerial Photography?

Regarding the Image Makers who provide such critical Aerial Photography services, and like many Aerial Work aviation sectors, the industry generally consists of small, de-centralised manned and unmanned aircraft businesses with a one-person owner and operator, to a small staff and fleet of aircraft.

Along with this, some firms only provide Aerial Photography services while, for others, it is one of many services they offer, e.g., charter flights, flight training, aircraft sales, scenic flights, etc.

Additionally, when it comes to Aerial Photography, these firms will provide full-service video and photo pre-shot planning, production, and post-flight editing — or they may support existing teams that require their aerial expertise. Plus, some firms fly both manned and unmanned aircraft while others solely operate helicopters, drones, or light fixed-wing aircraft.

To get a better understanding of what these firms look like, here is a shortlist of businesses that are dedicated to providing Aerial Photography around the world:

  • BLUESKY INTERNATIONAL LIMITED – United Kingdom
  • COLOURFIELD - Germany
  • AERIAL SERVICES INC. – United States
  • HUNTER VALLEY HELICOPTERS - Australia
  • OFEK AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY – Israel
  • and many more...

The Last Image

Without a doubt, the committed photographers, operators, and aircrew members of the Aerial Work aviation sector of Aerial Photography guarantee the elements of taking a good camera picture of ‘Depth of Focus, Depth of Field, Composition, Light and Focus’ is reliable and detailed.

Also, the term ‘Aerial Photography’ for this Aerial Work sector is more than that. It consists of many practical applications or services that provide valuable information to commercial, industrial, agricultural, governmental, and private clients.

As you can see, the Aerial Photography sector of Aerial Work aviation is a critical ‘focal point’ of the imagery world and the aviation community. Without imagery and the birds-eye view, we would have a hard time learning about the past, understanding our current world, or planning for the future.

Read more about Aerial Works Aviation on our Multi-Mission Aircraft Hub

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