A recent article in the Scottsdale Times talks about the influence Google Earth, Google Maps, and other mapping tools showing aerial and satellite photography has boosted the business of aerial photographers. After you ignore the bit of sensational speculation at the beginning of the article (speculations about using aerial photography for spying), there are some very interesting points. The aerial photography business has traditionally only been accessible to firms who could afford the high cost of aerial photography which involves flying planes, processing expensive photographic and positional data, and managing huge databases. Ian Erickson of AnalyGIS says: "What Google Earth has done is put that technology up for free, to the world."
What does this mean to the aerial photography business?
You might think all this free overhead photography would negatively impact the aerial photography business. But, according to Rob Decker of AirPhoto USA in north Phoenix “Generally, imagery that you can find for free is usually much older than the images you would find in a professional application”. Google Earth photos are usually 2-4 years old (some are older, and a few are less than 2 years old). If you need to see something which has changed more recently, then you will probably need to consult an aerial photography company or a satellite photography company like Digital Globe (the primary satellite photography provider for Google Earth). These companies are continuously updating their databases and may have newer data already on hand for what you need.
The cost of aerial images are priced according to currency and resolution. So, the more recent the photo, the higher the cost. But, if you are a realtor with a large number of listings you may not want to drive out to check out all the properties in your database. Having access to recent photos showing the property can be worth the cost.
Some of the aerial firms are selling their data to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc. who are all offering aerial photography to enhance their mapping tools. And, now that so many people have been made aware of the value of aerial photography it seems these new free tools are actually helping grow the aerial photography industry.