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What is Aerial Photography?

In 1858, the first aerial photograph was taken over Paris, France. It was taken by French balloonist and photographer, Gaspar-Felix Tourachon, better known as Nadar.

Aerial photography refers to taking photographs from a relatively high point above the surface of the earth. True aerial photographs are typically taken from something that is not supported by or attached to the ground. These objects are usually floating or flying, and the camera is either attached to them or operated by a photographer who is a passenger.

Here are a few examples of contraptions that can be used to take aerial photographs:

  • Fixed-wing airplanes
  • Helicopters
  • Hang gliders
  • Zeppelins and blimps
  • Satellites
  • Kites
  • Parachutes
  • Remote control airplanes
  • Hot air balloons


Besides being works of art, aerial photographs have many different uses. They can be used for creating maps and surveying the land, for instance. Large real estate companies also use aerial photographs to give potential clients an idea of what a particular area looks like. The military also has uses for aerial photographs, but something tells me that those uses are most likely classified.

What Does an Aerial Photographer Do?

There are two ways that an aerial photographer can capture aerial photographs. First, he can attach a camera to a flying or floating device, such as a kite or remote control plane, and snap pictures that way. He can also ride in or operate an aircraft – or lighter-than-air craft – and snap photographs that way. This method allows the photographer to have greater control over the looks of the final photographs, but it also requires the photographer to hover far off the ground. Because of this, there is no room for a fear of heights in this profession.

If a photographer operates an aircraft while taking aerial photographs, he should be able to do say very well. He should have extensive experience operating the craft and be able to deal with any of the several emergency situations that could occur. If he chooses to operate his own craft, he should also make sure that he can do so legally. For example, if he chooses to fly a plane or helicopter in order to take aerial photographs, he should have the proper licensure.

An aerial photographer also has a few different types of obstacles than a traditional photographer does. One major obstacle is getting a photograph without any parts of the aircraft in the picture. For instance, if an aerial photographer is shooting from a plane, he should make sure that no parts of the aircraft, like the wing, is in the shot.

There are two main types of aerial photographers. The first type is a vertical photograph, and it is taken with the camera pointing straight down toward the ground. These types of aerial photographs are typically used for military purposes, land surveying, and mapmaking.

Aerial photographs taken at an angle are often referred to as oblique photographs. Depending on the angle, these types of aerial photographs can be used in addition to vertical photographs for activities like mapmaking. However, many oblique photographs are more artistic, and they can capture certain elements that traditional photographs taken from land cannot. For instance, angled aerial photographs can capture wide expanses of farmland as well as a breathtaking sunset or sunrise.

Where Do Aerial Photographers Work?

When first starting their aerial photograph careers, many graduates may find that it can be a bit difficult to get work in this specific field right away. However, certain organizations and businesses, like government agencies and large real estate developers, may have a need for aerial photographers. Cartography companies and land surveying companies also usually need aerial photographers.

Some aerial photographers, however, prefer to view their work not only as useful, but as artistic as well. Aerial photographers that are interested in the more artistic side of this type of photography will typically work as freelancers. They may own their own aircraft or work with small aircraft owners in order to take their photographs, which they can then sell to publications. Travel magazines and book publishers, for instance, will usually be interested in aerial photographs of particular regions.

Art museums and galleries might also be interested in purchasing or showing aerial photographs. If a photographer is particularly talented and creative, he may be able to get his own show featuring his best work. This can not only get him recognition, but also help him find individuals interested in buying his photographs.

What Are the Education Requirements for a Successful Aerial Photography Career?

A good grasp of basic and advanced photography techniques is usually necessary in order to stat an aerial photography career. Individuals interested in pursuing this profession should consider earning a degree in photography. Most art schools and technical schools, as well as traditional universities, offer photography degree programs. Research photography schools to find what make best sense for your career direction.

Aspiring aerial photographers who wish to operate their own aircrafts should also take the necessary steps in order to do so. They should get their pilot’s license, for example, which will usually take several hours of training and flight experience.

Some aerial photographers might also need additional training or schooling, depending on their individual career goals. Those interested in aerial photography careers for the purposes of making maps, for instance, should earn degrees in cartography, or map making.

What is the Average Annual Salary of an Aerial Photographer?

Since it is a type of specialty photography, predicting the average salary of an aerial photographer can be somewhat difficult. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data specific to aerial photographers, but according to this organization, traditional photographers made an average salary of $35,980 in 2010. Scientific and technical photographers made an average salary of $32,630 in that same year. Also, aerial photographers interested in mapmaking may be interested in knowing that cartographers and photogrammetrists made an average salary of $60,970.

Predicting the salaries of aerial photographers focusing on the artistic element of this type of photography can be very difficult. Some of these types of photographers may never make any money from their photographs, for instance, while others may be able to make a more than reasonable wage.

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