Aerial photography is the practice of taking pictures of the earth’s surface from overhead. It is a form of remote sensing that is distinguished from satellite imagery in that the pictures are taken from nearer surface altitudes than those maintained by satellites that orbit the earth in space. The first aerial photographs were taken from hot-air balloons in the mid-1800s. More recently, aerial photographs have often been taken from fixed-wing aircraft and today can even be taken from unmanned aerial vehicles (also knowns as drones).
This guide provides a listing of resources that serve as a starting point for researchers who are interested in using historic aerial photography in their work. ‘Historic’ here refers to negative, print and digitized aerial photographs that were not originally produced as digital orthorectified georeferenced data products (these are covered in the Remote Sensing guide). The practice of georeferencing ties objects that are represented on a photograph to a reference coordinate system so that they can be imported into a geographic information system (GIS) and overlaid with other geospatial data. The practice of orthorectification corrects distortions that exist in photographs that are the result of non-orthogonal (i.e. not taken from directly overhead) view angles and complex terrain.
Historic aerial photographs are perhaps most useful in combination with contemporary imagery to examine change over time. Examination can be either qualitative or quantitative. The quantification of change typically requires that aerial photographs from each time-period of interest first go through the georeferencing and orthorectification processes.
For assistance using this guide, or to schedule a consultation with a subject-matter expert on the use of historic aerial photography in your research, please visit the University Libraries Data Learning Center page: