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Brief History of Aerial Photography

The science of modern aerial photography has progressed a great deal since the first aerial photograph was taken in August 1858 by 'Nadar' (Gaspard Felix Tournachon, a balloon enthusiast and photographer) from a captive balloon about 80 metres above a small village (Petit Bicetre) near Paris. Unfortunately, this photograph (reported to be a pale positive image using the wet-colloidion process invented by the Englishman Frederic Scott Archer) of a farm, an inn, a gendarmerie and 3 houses, no longer exists.

Nadar's Balloon Photography
Neubronne's Patented Pigeon Camera

The fascination of seeing a 'birds-eye-view' of the world stimulated photographer's ingenuity and by 1903 the German, Julius Neubronne, had patented a 70 gram, breast-mounted, timer-controlled camera (with 38 mm square frames) for homing pigeons. With this system, he photographed, amongst other subjects, a castle in Kronberg.

The use of rockets for aerial photography was patented in 1891 and in 1897, Albert Nobel appeared to have taken the first rocket-made  aerial photograph over Sweden. In 1904 the German engineer, Alfred Maul, produced the first successful rocket-launched system. He used a gunpowder charge to lift the 40 kg gyroscopically-stabilized camera system to a height of about 600 metres using a 2 metre tall rocket. At maximum altitude, the camera was blasted off and, with the aid of a parachute, the exposure was made using a timing devise.


The oldest surviving aerial photograph (again using wet-colloidion plates) is of Boston, USA, taken by James Wallace Black and S A King in 1860 at a height of about 630 metres.

The first aerial photograph in Britain was of London, taken in 1863 by Henry Negretti.

The English meteorologist, E D Archibald, is claimed to be the first person to have successfully taken aerial photographs with a kite around 1882. He used a number of kites in tandem, the last one in the line being the camera platform.

Oldest surviving aerial photograph by James Wallace Black in 1860






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