Aerial Photography

Aerial Photography

tribhuvan international
Photo: Photo: Tribhuvan Internationl Airport ( त्रिभुवन अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय विमानस्थल, IATA: KTM, ICAO: VNKT), Nepal

Aerial Photography

Aerial Photography is a technique of taking photographs of the earth’s surface from the air using aircraft as a platform. Aerial photography can be accomplished with everything from hot air balloons to space shuttles, but mostly helicopters, lightweight aircraft, unmanned air vehicles (UAVs or drones) are used for modern commercial purposes.

Photo: Cockpit windshield aerial view from CRJ-200 aircraft at RWY 02 of TIA, Nepal.


The first attempt of aerial photography was carried out by a French photographer ‘Nadar’ by using balloon in 1858 over Paris, France. In early 1900s, aerial photography was practiced by using flying kites. After the development of airplane in 1903, problems in aerial photography were solved to some extent. For Motion Picture, aerial video was taken over Rome in 1909. Aerial photography from aircraft received highest attention during world wars. It is used for recording enemy movements, map sketching, strategic plans and so on. After world war, aerial photography is used for various purposes in respective fields. Nepal used aerial Photography in 1952 for the first time.

Photo: Aerial View of HongKong
Photo: Aerial View of HongKong


Aerial Photography provides a wide view of ground surface over specified area. It is used in Cartography (map making), surveys, land-planning, forestry, agriculture, disaster monitoring, weather and geology investigation, urban planning, road planning, wildlife management, archaeological features and so on. It is also used for entertainments like aerial videos, movie making and other artistic projects. Besides, it is used by Military forces and Government agencies for aerial surveillance and aerial reconnaissance.

Aerial View
Photo: Aerial Photo showing some part of The Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh


Most commercial aerial photography is done between 1000 to 5000m. Helicopters are the easiest platform to work for aerial photography. Helicopters fly slowly than planes and they can hover in one place. Helicopters also have turning characteristics so you can circle back to shoot at different angle. The most popular helicopter used for aerial photography is Robinson R22. Surveillance aircraft are operated by Military forces. RQ-4 Global Hawk is an UAV surveillance aircraft that can survey over 100,000km2 of terrain in a day. Surveillance aircraft also includes tethered balloons (TARS) and sometimes modified civilian aircraft. Reconnaissance aircraft consists fighter and bombers aircraft equipped with cameras. The Lockheed U-2 is ultra-high altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by USAF (United States Air Force). Nowadays, most of the strategic role are done by satellites and also UAVs. Aerial Photography is done using Ultralights and Fixed Wing aircraft like Cessna 172 Skyhawk. Though, they are not maneuverable as a helicopters, but they are still very competent shooting platform under right circumstances. Fixed Wing aircraft costs one fourth less than what the helicopters will cost for the purpose of aerial photography.

As a Photographer:

A photographer must be well organized in the case of aerial photography. You should be clear about what you want to photograph and how you will accomplish it. You also need to decide about which side of aircraft to shoot from? What altitude to acquire? When will be the time for best lighting situations? Often, one flight may not be enough for producing good shots if these decisions aren’t made wisely.  You should move with your budget for hiring an aircraft and a good pilot, the one having experience working with the photographers. A photographer and pilot should communicate well in order for the photographer to get the desired images. Simply, much less expensive way is to always ask for a window seat and away from the wings when travelling by plane. It doesn’t always work because of clouds, haze, sun etc. The windows are filthy and scratched that makes hard to get a decent picture. But you have to be satisfied with the uniqueness you have got in your picture.

Article: Sangam Timilsina (4th Year)   
Mechanical Engineering, IOE, Pulchowk Campus                                               Photography Enthusiast