Twentieth Century

The early 20th century may be considered the golden age of kite aerial photography. At the beginning of the century, kites were the most widely available means for lifting a camera into the sky. Aerial photographs had been taken from balloons since the mid-1800s, but balloon aerial photography was a costly and highly dangerous undertaking and so was not widely practiced. Meanwhile powered flight in airplanes had just begun, but it also was quite a risky way to take aerial photographs. Kites were the "democratic means'' for obtaining pictures from above the ground. In the first decade of the 20th century, kite aerial photography was a utilitarian method for scientific surveys, military applications, and general viewing of the Earth's surface. Its reliability and superiority over other methods were well known (Beauffort and Dusariez, 1995).

In the United States, G.R. Lawrence (1869-1938) became a photographic innovator in the 1890s, using the slogan ''The Hitherto Impossible in Photography is Our Specialty'' (U.S. Library of Congress, 2007). He built his own large, panoramic cameras that he mounted on towers or ladders. He tried ascending in balloons, but had a near fatal accident when he fell more than 60 m. Thereafter, he took remarkable aerial photographs with kites. His best-known photograph was the panoramic view of San Francisco in Ruins taken in May 1906 a few weeks after a devastating earthquake and fire had destroyed much of the city (Fig. 1-6).

Some controversy has surrounded Lawrence's camera rig, which he called a ''captive airship.'' Some have interpreted this to mean he used a balloon (Beauffort and Dusariez, 1995). However, strong historical documentation exists for kites as the lifting means (Baker, 1994, 1997). Lawrence utilized a train with up to 17 Conyne kites that

Aarhus Aerial Photography

FIGURE 1-6 Panoramic kite aerial Photograph of San Francisco by George R. Lawrence (1906). Caption on the image reads: photograph of San Francisco in ruins from Lawrence ''captive airship'' 2000 feet above San Francisco Bay overlooking waterfront. Sunset over Golden Gate. Image adapted from the collection of panoramic photographs, U.S. Library of Congress, Digital ID: pan 6a34514.

FIGURE 1-6 Panoramic kite aerial Photograph of San Francisco by George R. Lawrence (1906). Caption on the image reads: photograph of San Francisco in ruins from Lawrence ''captive airship'' 2000 feet above San Francisco Bay overlooking waterfront. Sunset over Golden Gate. Image adapted from the collection of panoramic photographs, U.S. Library of Congress, Digital ID: pan 6a34514.

was flown from a naval ship in San Francisco Bay. The panoramic camera took photographs with a wide field of view around 160°. The remarkable quality of this photograph was due to a series of mishaps that delayed the picture until late in the day, when the combination of clouds and low sun position provided dramatic lighting of the scene.

On the same trip to California, Lawrence photographed many other locations in a similar manner, including Pacific Grove (Fig. 1-7). On the centennial of this event, we attempted to recreate Lawrence's panoramic view using modern kite aerial photography techniques. With a single, large rokkaku kite, we lifted a small digital camera rig from a position near Point Pinos. Because the city has grown substantially since Lawrence's time, we had to move outward (along the shore) to capture the cityscape. Nonetheless, we achieved a similar height, direction, and field of view (Fig. 1-8). At the top of his fame and fortune in kite aerial photography, Lawrence left the field in 1910 and pursued a career in aviation design.

The most daring method of this era was manned kite aerial photography undertaken by S.F. Cody in the early 1900s (Robinson, 2003b). An American who immigrated to England, Cody made a fortune with his "wild west'' show. Cody and his sons began flying kites in the 1890s. They

Aarhus Aerial Photography
FIGURE 1-7 Panoramic kite aerial Photograph of Pacific Grove and Monterey Bay, California by G.R. Lawrence (1906). View from near Point Pinos looking toward the southeast at scene center. Image adapted from the collection of panoramic photographs, U.S. Library of Congress, Digital ID: pan 6a34645.
FIGURE 1-8 Panoramic kite aerial photograph of Pacific Grove and Monterey Bay, California. Two wide-angle images were stitched together to create this picture. Photo by JSA and SWA, October 2006.

quickly progressed to larger kites and multiple-kite trains designed to lift a human. Cody experimented with kites and eventually developed a "bat" design, which is a double-celled Hargrave box kite with extended wings. He patented this "Cody kite'' in 1901, and it was the basis of his ingenious man-lifting system. He eventually succeeded to interest the British military in the man-lifting kites, and a demonstration was conducted at Whale Island, Portsmouth, England in 1903. At first one son ascended 60 m and took photographs. Then Cody went up to 120 m, and finally another son rode up to 240 m and photographed naval ships in the harbor (Robinson, 2003b). Further trials were undertaken in 1904-1905, and Cody achieved a record height of 800 m for manned kite flight. However, few others followed Cody into manned kite flying, because of the cost and enormous risk involved.

During the period 1910-1939, Rene Desclee became the pre-eminent European kite aerial photographer of his day (Beauffort and Dusariez, 1995). His main subjects were the city of Tournai (France) and its cathedral. Over a period of three decades he produced more than 100 superb aerial photographs, among the best kite aerial photography portfolios prior to World War II. Desclee's career marked the end of kite aerial photography's golden age. Rapid progress in military and commercial photography from airplanes reduced kites to a marginal role (Hart, 1982), and kite aerial photography nearly became a lost art during the mid-20th century.

The first photograph from a powered flight was taken by L.P. Bonvillain in an airplane piloted by W. Wright in 1908 (Jensen, 2007). They shot motion-picture film over Camp d'Auvours near Le Mans, France. The original film is lost, but one still frame was published that same year in a French magazine. Aerial photography from manned airplanes gained prominence for military reconnaissance during World War I. Aerial cameras and photographic methods were developed rapidly, and stereo-imagery came into common usage. A typical mission consisted of a pilot and photographer who flew behind enemy lines at relatively slow speed (Fig. 1-9). Tens of 1000s of aerial photographs were acquired by Allied and German forces, and the intelligence gained from these images had decisive importance for military operations (Colwell, 1997).

The first near-infrared and near-ultraviolet photographs were published by R.W. Wood in 1910 (Finney, 2007). Practical black-and-white infrared film was perfected and made available commercially in the late 1930s, and early types of color film were developed.

During the 1920s and 1930s, civilian and commercial use of aerial photography expanded for cartography, engineering, forestry, soil studies, and other applications. In his landmark paper on the potential of aerial photography for such applications, and especially for studies of what he termed landscape ecology, the German geographer Carl Troll (1939) highlighted the capability of aerial photographs for viewing the landscape as a spatial and visual entity and strongly advocated their use in scientific studies. Many branches of the United States government employed aerial photography routinely during the 1930s, including the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, Forest Service, Geological Survey, and Navy, as well as regional and local agencies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and Chicago Planning Commission (Colwell, 1997).

The advent of World War II once again stimulated rapid research, testing, and development of improved capabilities for aerial photography. Cameras, lenses, films and film handling, and camera mounting systems developed quickly for acquiring higher and faster aerial photography. Large-format aerial mapping cameras were designed for 9-inch (23 cm) format film (Malin and Light, 2007). The

Hang Gliding Hammondsport

FIGURE 1-9 Restored 1917 Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny" displayed at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York, United States. Commonly used for aerial photography during World War I and in the 1920s. The photographer in the second seat has a clear vertical view behind the lower wing. Photo by JSA, August 2005.

FIGURE 1-9 Restored 1917 Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny" displayed at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York, United States. Commonly used for aerial photography during World War I and in the 1920s. The photographer in the second seat has a clear vertical view behind the lower wing. Photo by JSA, August 2005.

most important innovation was color-infrared photography intended for camouflage detection. The global extent of this war led to ever-increasing types of terrain, vegetation, urban and rural settlement, military installations, and other exotic features to confuse photo interpreters. From Finland to the South Pacific, all major combatants utilized aerial photography extensively to prosecute their military campaigns on the ground and at sea. In the end, the forces with the best airphoto reconnaissance and photointerpretation proved victorious in the war, a lesson that was taken quite seriously during the subsequent Cold War (Colwell, 1997).

The art and science of aerial photography benefited substantially immediately after World War II in the United States and other countries involved in the war, as military photographers and photo interpreters returned to civilian life (Colwell, 1997), and surplus photographic equipment was sold off (Fig. 1-10). Many of these individuals had been drawn from professions in which aerial photography held great promise for further development, and it is not surprising that aerial photography expanded significantly in the post-war years for non-military commercial, governmental, and scientific applications. Meanwhile, as the Cold War heated up, military aerial photography moved to yet higher and faster platforms, such as the manned U-2 and SR-71 U.S. aircraft. Unmanned, rocket-launched satellite photographic systems, such as Corona (U.S.) and Zenit (Soviet), were operated from orbital altitudes during the 1960s and 1970s (Jensen, 2007).

Non-military uses of aerial photography continued to expand apace. As an example, the U.S. Skylab missions in the early 1970s demonstrated the potential for manned, space-based, small-format photography of the Earth (Fig. 1-11). Skylab 4 was most successful; about 2000 photographs were obtained of more than 850 features and phenomena (Wilmarth et al., 1977). Such photographs by astronauts and early satellite images provided dramatic pictures that inspired a new appreciation of the Earth's beauty as seen from above. The lessons learned during Skylab missions formed the basis

Aerial Photogrammetry World War

FIGURE 1-10 Surplus aerial camera for 5-inch (125 mm) format film of the type commonly available following World War II. The handle on top indicates overall size of the camera. Displayed at Moesgard Museum, near Aarhus, Denmark, in connection with a special exhibit on The Past from above: Georg Gerster's aerial photos from all over the world, and Aerial archaeology in Denmark, 9 October 2004-27 February 2005. Photo by JSA, October 2004.

FIGURE 1-10 Surplus aerial camera for 5-inch (125 mm) format film of the type commonly available following World War II. The handle on top indicates overall size of the camera. Displayed at Moesgard Museum, near Aarhus, Denmark, in connection with a special exhibit on The Past from above: Georg Gerster's aerial photos from all over the world, and Aerial archaeology in Denmark, 9 October 2004-27 February 2005. Photo by JSA, October 2004.

FIGURE 1-11 (A) Photograph of Skylab in orbit around the Earth taken from the manned rendezvous module. NASA photo SL4-143-4706, January 1974. (B) Near-vertical view of New York City and surroundings. Color-infrared, 70-mm film, Hasselblad camera; active vegetation appears in red and pink colors. NASA photo SL3-87-299, August 1973. Both images courtesy of K. Lulla, NASA Johnson Space Center.

FIGURE 1-11 (A) Photograph of Skylab in orbit around the Earth taken from the manned rendezvous module. NASA photo SL4-143-4706, January 1974. (B) Near-vertical view of New York City and surroundings. Color-infrared, 70-mm film, Hasselblad camera; active vegetation appears in red and pink colors. NASA photo SL3-87-299, August 1973. Both images courtesy of K. Lulla, NASA Johnson Space Center.

for the program of U.S. space-shuttle photography in the 1980s and 1990s. These trends culminated early in the 21st century with astronaut photography of the Earth from the International Space Station for scientific and environmental purposes.

Closer to ground, renewed interest in kites began in the United States following World War II. Aeronautical engineering was applied to kites, parachutes, hang gliders, and other flying devices. For example, the Flexi-Kite designed and built by F. and G. Rogallo in the late 1940s was the inspiration for many modern kites as well as hang gliders and ultralight aircraft (Robinson, 2003a). The Sutton Flowform, a soft airfoil kite, was invented as a byproduct of experiments to create a better parachute during the 1970s (Sutton, 1999). This kite has become a leading choice for lifting camera rigs.

Small-format aerial photography began to make a slow but definite comeback during the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in the United States, Japan, and western Europe. Unmanned purpose-built platforms for off-the-shelf cameras, in particular, were taken up again for archaeology and cultural heritage studies, and also in forestry, agriculture, vegetation studies, and geo-ecology. Since the 1990s, SFAP has become quite widely utilized for diverse applications around the world, from Novaya Zemlya (arctic Russia) to Antarctica. The late 20th century saw rapid development in methods and popularity for unconventional manned flight, including unpowered hot-air balloons, gliders and sailplanes, as well as powered ultralight aircraft of diverse types. All these platforms have been utilized for small-format aerial photography (Fig. 1-12).

Developments in computer hardware and software have encouraged the use of small-format, non-metric photography for applications hitherto reserved to large-format metric cameras, particularly photogrammetric and GIS techniques, and SFAP has expanded from mostly scientific studies into the service sector. Acquisition, enhancement, and communication of aerial images are now possible in ways that were unimagined only a few years ago, and rapid technical advances will facilitate continued innovation and development of SFAP in the near future (Malin and Light, 2007).

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Get Paid to Take Digital Photos

Reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information presented in this book is  accurate. However, the reader should understand that the information provided does not constitute legal, medical or professional advice of any kind.

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Responses

  • Sarah
    What equipment is Georg Gerster using?
    7 years ago
  • Taina
    How relevant is the application of aerial photograph in the 21st century?
    7 years ago

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