The history of aerial photography

With the successful launch of the imaging satellite WorldView-3 by DigitalGlobe recently, featuring the latest technology in satellite imaging, it is a good time to take a look at where it all started.

The very first aerial photograph was taken from balloon by the French photographer and balloonist Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, in 1858 over Paris, France. However, the photographs he produced no longer exist and therefore the earliest surviving aerial photograph is titled ‘Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It’ and was taken by James Wallace Black in 1860, also from a balloon.
Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It.

Kite aerial photography was pioneered by British meteorologist E.D. Archibald in 1882.
The most interesting method of aerial photography is pigeon photography, a technique invented in 1907.

Pigeon photographers and aerial photographs.jpg

By World War I aerial imagery taken from aircraft was being used for reconnaissance and the technology matured rapidly as a result.

The first images from space were taken in 1946 from a suborbital U.S.-launched V-2 rocket.
In 1972 the United States started the Landsat program, the largest program for acquisition of imagery of Earth from space.

Historical imagery was introduced to Google Earth with version 5 in 2009.

The oldest imagery that can currently be found in Google Earth is from 1930, near Toronto, Canada. To view it in Google Earth you need to turn on “Historical Imagery” pan to the region around Toronto, Canada, then move the slider all the way to the left and the imagery will show up as black and white areas, or simply download this KML file. There is also quite a lot of historical imagery from the Second World War in parts of Europe, with significant portions of the UK having imagery from 1945 or earlier.

It is important to note that although satellite imaging has many advantages, for the highest resolution aerial imagery, airplanes are still used today and most of the high resolution imagery in Google Earth was captured from aircraft.

About Timothy Whitehead

Timothy has been using Google Earth since 2004 when it was still called Keyhole before it was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and has been a huge fan ever since. He is a programmer working for Red Wing Aerobatx and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

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