Types of Aerial Photography (and Tips You Should Know)

Source: Doruk Yemenici on Unsplash

Aim for the sky, they say. When you do decide to aim at the sky, or perhaps, ‘from’ the sky, here are a couple of things you should know to keep you up to speed.

Aerial photography involves capturing pictures from any airborne vehicle. This includes, but is not limited to, aircrafts, drones, balloons, and satellites. Aerial photography is also widely used in military operations. Other than that, they also have practical applications in topographical mapping, engineering, oil and mineral exploration, and environmental science studies. Currently, aerial photography has become digitized, such that values of reflected electromagnetic radiation are recorded in digital numbers.

While aerial photography might appear easy, breezy—pun intended—it is quite challenging for photographers who must consider different factors such as flight direction, time, season, atmospheric condition, and stereoscopic coverage, which affect the quality of photographs.

Aerial cameras have high geometric and radiometric accuracy. This means that they are able to expose a larger number of photographs in speedy successions.

Variations in flying height, coupled with tilt and relief displacements, affect the photograph’s scale. For reference, scale is the ratio of distances between two images on an aerial photograph and the actual distance between the same two points on the ground. In order to ensure high-quality aerial photographs, it would be best to use distortion-free cameras. These cameras boast image motion compensation devices that reduce, if not eliminate, the effects of forwarding motion.


Types of Aerial Photography

  1. Vertical Photographs: These are taken with the camera pointed down. This means that the lens axis is perpendicular to the ground. Vertical photographs cover a smaller area compared to other types of aerial photography.

  1. Low Oblique Photographs: These are taken with the camera tilted about 30 degrees from the vertical position. The ground area which low oblique photographs can capture is a trapezoid, but the photos will look like a square or a rectangle.

  1. High Oblique Photographs: These are taken with the camera tilted about 60 degrees from the vertical position. Unlike vertical and low oblique photography, high oblique photography captures a very large area. On the other hand, the ground area covered is also a trapezoid.

  1. Trimetrogon Photographs: These are three photographs taken at the same time: one vertical photograph and two high oblique photographs. All three are at a right angle to the line of flight.
  2. Angular Photographs: Angular coverage is a function of focal length and format size. These include:

o  Narrow-Angle (Coverage lens of fewer than 200 degrees) – used for general interpretation and mosaics.

o   Normal Angle (Coverage lens of 700-750 degrees) – used for general interpretation, mapping, ortho-photography, and mosaics.

o   Wide Angle (Coverage lens of 850 - 950 degrees) – used for general purpose photography on normal terrain, resource mapping, and mosaics.

o   Super-wide Angle (Coverage lens of fewer than 1100 degrees) – used for general purpose mapping of flat areas.


Tips For Your Next Aerial Photography Shoot:

  1.       Safety First: Before anything else, if you are shooting from a plane or any airborne vehicle, you must always make sure you are buckled and ready. It would not hurt to check twice. Go through each of your gear to see if you have left at the base or on the ground.

  1.       Have a Keen Eye for Inspiration: Try to really scrutinize—to see what might be unseen by most. Focus on the lines, curves, and edges. Look at the rows and ranges, and capture them from a perspective that people do not get to see very often. Sometimes beauty is hidden in what seems ordinary. It becomes up to you, as the photographer, to bring the mundane to life.

  1.       Use a Zoom Lens: Covering a range of focal lengths in a short span of time is a key aspect of aerial photography. Zoom lenses spare you from having to bring and change cameras or lenses.

  1.       Use a Camera with a Wide Range of ISO: Once in the sky, light can change in an instant. This makes it necessary for you to have a camera with flexible ISO settings. High ISO settings will put you at ease for the simple reason that it saves you from potential blurring.

  1.       Manage Rough Movement: If you have ever tried flying on an aircraft, you will be familiar with the feeling of vibrations reverberating through the vehicle. This can affect the quality of your photos; however, your camera can adapt to the vibrations. When choosing a camera for aerial photography, it is best to find one that has the image stabilization feature.

  1.       Pair Landscapes with the Time of Day: Capturing mountain ranges would be different from shooting the horizons of the harbour. For the former, it is advisable to begin earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon for that added dramatic shadow effect. On the other hand, for the latter, gearing close to the sunset will definitely provide hues of warmness.

  1.       Experiment with Drones: If you are not on an airborne vehicle yourself, drones would be another way to capture aerial images. Compared to owning or renting small planes and helicopters, drones are more accessible and affordable for the average photographer. Drones can provide many different camera angles that can also be matched with different lines and patterns. In this sense, drones can allow more flexibility to the user, so maximize this opportunity by doing whatever seems extraordinary.

  1.       Follow the Rules: No one wants to pay fines, especially when they are not cheap. A gentle reminder for your next aerial shoot, do remember to secure a permit. Aerial photos and videos also abide by a certain set of rules. This is done to protect other peoples’ privacy. For aircrafts and drones alike, they should be registered with the TCAA and have their path authorized. Keep it legal. Stay safe!

Aerial photography is challenging, just as it is thrilling. Have in mind to stay patient—practice and take time to get accustomed to the differences between shooting on land and shooting among the skies.