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Advantages of Low Altitude Aerial Photography


Low altitude aerial photography is in its infancy. It needs a little growing time to get its feet firmly on the ground. Consequently, there are only a handful of r/c enthusiasts experimenting with it, and it has not yet caught the interest of the public.

Nevertheless, low altitude aerial photography has so many advantages over traditional aerial photography that it is bound to receive its glory. Advantages such as low cost, advancing technology, quality photos, and more angle options make low altitude aerial photography rightfully appealing.


Low Cost

The cost of taking aerial photos with electric r/c aircraft and digital cameras is considerably low.

For instance, it only costs a couple hundred dollars to purchase an electric r/c airplane and all the necessary equipment to fly it. As compared to the expenses involved with a full-size airplane, this is quite cheap.

There are no hangar or fuel costs for an r/c airplane. You may need to purchase an extra battery or propeller occasionally, but other than that there are not very many requirements.

Digital cameras are also low cost. They may seem expensive compared to film cameras, but actually they are not. For example, a 35mm camera may cost $50 and a digital camera $200, but there is no film developing cost with a digital camera.

With a film camera, it costs about $5 to get a roll of twenty pictures developed. This adds up to the price of a digital camera quickly. It also makes you careful with the pictures you take because you have to pay for every picture whether you want it or not.

With a digital camera, you can take as many pictures as you want. You can also delete the pictures you don't want and only print the special few.


Advancing Technology

The technology of the equipment for low altitude aerial photography is continually advancing. The equipment is becoming smaller, lighter, and less expensive.

For example, just a few years ago it was not possible to fly electric airplanes because the combined weight of the batteries and the on-board electronics was too heavy for the power of the electric motor.

Some gliders came with electric motors, but the motors were used sparingly – only enough to get the desired altitude and then were turned off because the batteries didn't last very long before needing to be recharged.

Now there are electric airplanes that take off from the ground, do acrobatics, and even carry small digital cameras. They do everything gas powered r/c airplanes do at a fraction of the size and weight. That is where electric aircraft have a big advantage.

Gas powered r/c aircraft are restricted to model airports because their weight, speed, and power make them too dangerous to be flown in public places.

Electric r/c aircraft, on the other hand, can be flown anywhere there is a little bit of room for takeoff and landing. Thus, no longer are aerial photos only of the model airports.

This continuing advancement of technology makes endeavors with low altitude aerial photography even more exciting.


Quality Photos

There is an ongoing frustration with traditional aerial photography – the quality of the photos is never quite what the photographer would like it to be. There are a couple of reasons for this.

With traditional aerial photography, the aircraft is required to remain above a certain altitude, which is usually 1000 feet above the ground. The higher the aircraft, the more atmospheric haze there is between it and the ground. Atmospheric haze makes the photos look dull.

Another problem is that in order to get a fairly close-in shot, a telephoto lens is needed. When a telephoto lens is used, a high shutter speed is required to prevent motion blur. When a high shutter speed is used, less light is let into the camera and the photos are not as sharp. Furthermore, depth perception is destroyed and the photos end up looking flat.

Low altitude aerial photography has neither of these problems. There is less atmospheric haze at lower altitudes so the photos are clearer and sharper. In addition to that, a telephoto lens is not required which allows slower shutter speeds that produce finer higher-contrast photos.

With low altitude aerial photography, close photos at any angle are possible thus giving that feeling of "being there".


The goal of the author is to make this site as comprehensive as possible while remaining within the scope of low altitude aerial photography. The intent is not to compile a how-to manual, but rather to provide material that will help the reader better understand concepts and skills. Along these lines, it should be mentioned that this site is a work in progress and more detail is being added on a continual basis. Furthermore, Thompson's Aerial Photography is not liable for any information that may be false or misleading resulting in harm.

Copyright © 2003 Thompson Aerial Photography
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