Aerial photographers take pictures of physical features, buildings etc, from aircraft for news, scientific research, town planning, rural development, cartographic, economic or military purposes. They use various types of photographic and sensory equipment to produce black and white, infra-red, colour and three-dimensional aerial photographs and images for different purposes. They work in aircraft with specialized photographic equipment.
From an aeroplane or helicopter, everything looks small and boxy. From a bird’s eye view, cars look like ants and maize fields like small rectangular patches. Photographing these images to produce clear, accurate records, is the goal of the aerial photographer.
Aerial photographers take a series of precision Global Positioning System (GPS) controlled high and low altitude aerial photographs of homes and subdivisions of properties for estate agents and developers, industrial sites for corporate brochures, altitude and area mapping for surveys, horse and cattle operations for advertising purposes, as well as game for counting purposes in game and nature reserves, amongst other things. Also, during times of natural disaster and war, aerial photographs of places, buildings, landscapes and terrain that cannot be reached with ease on the ground are commonly used to help governments strategise military tactics.
Unlike maps or photographs, which portray physical and cultural landscapes, aerial photography reveals the terrain as it exists. All buildings, bridges, roads and other features in urban and rural areas are depicted at the time the photograph was taken. It shows physical features such as vegetation type and distribution, river widths and courses, shorelines and landslide areas in more detail than a map could ever do. Aerial photography is therefore extremely useful both for specific site evaluation and regional analysis, as well as for historical reasons. It is used by engineers, architects, city and regional planners, geographers, geologists and historians.
Aerial photographs are sent to specialised film laboratories which have the proper equipment necessary for processing and printing such photographs. It is possible for aerial photographers to process their own work, however they must have the right equipment, which is very costly. With recent advances in electronic technology, it is easier now for the aerial photographer to develop and scan their film, using flatbed scanners to produce computer-readable, digital images. After converting the film to a digital image, photographers can edit and electronically send these aerial images, making it easier and faster to shoot, develop, and transmit pictures from remote locations than it was in the past. These images can be stored on compact disks in the same way as music.
Although most aerial photographs are taken to assist in conducting a study or used for government surveys, computers and specialised software enable photographers to manipulate and enhance scanned and digital images to create a particular desired effect. Because aerial photography now involves the use of GPS computer technology, aerial photographers must have hands-on knowledge of this software and other related computer editing software. Employers usually hire aerial photographers with experience, a good eye and technical understanding of photography.
Most aerial photographers make use of helicopters when taking pictures. Due to the wide variety of assignments, photographers’ working hours and environments are extremely varied. Aerial photographers photograph a variety of terrains in different locations. In addition, some photographs are better taken at certain times of the day, such as early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Some photographs may also be taken at night for specific studies.