Aerial Photography vs. Remote Sensing

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  • 0:04 Air or Space
  • 0:39 Remote Sensing
  • 1:48 Aerial Photography
  • 3:39 Satellite Imaging
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll look at aerial photography and satellite imaging, both forms of remote sensing. In particular, we'll discuss some key features of each and how they are used.

Air or Space

Looking at this lesson's title, you might be thinking to yourself ''Isn't aerial photography a form of remote sensing?'' You would be absolutely correct that it is. However, in this lesson, we will compare aerial photography with remote sensing from the even more remote distance of space. That's right, we're talking about satellite imagery. So when is it more appropriate to use a plane and when should we rely on satellite images? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each that must be considered? What special features might either of them offer? We'll discuss all this and more.

Remote Sensing

Remote Sensing, which includes aerial photographs and satellite images, refers to data collection taken from a significant distance from the subject. This often refers to photographs and video taken from above at a significant altitude. Remote sensing produces images of a much larger area of the Earth's surface than a person on the ground can photograph. It also shows the position and relationship between objects and geographic features within the area in the image. Combining special sensors with remote imaging can help determine the health of forests, movement of camouflaged military vehicles, and study changes in geographic features.

While these images from above might remind you of a map, they would make a very problematic guide to find your way around. That's because the tilt of the camera and the curvature of the Earth creates distortions in the image. To compensate for this, professionals alter them in a process called orthorectification to make them accurately portray a map. These orthophotos, as they're typically called, are used for revising maps to include the addition of geographic features not noticeable from the ground.

Aerial Photography

The first form of remote sensing began in the 1860s, even before the Wright brothers first flew their plane. Using balloons and kites, geographers photographed the Earth from above to capture a larger area than they could from the ground. With the introduction of airplanes, aerial photography could capture images from much higher. Today, the altitude of aerial photographs ranges from only a short distance above the ground to heights a little more than 60,000 feet. The lower the altitude of the photograph, the more detail it will capture, meaning that at maximum height the fine details will be obscured, but a wider area and the relationships between features will be shown.

While early aerial photography used black-and-white images, the introduction of natural-color photography revealed significant problems, namely haze. Ever notice how objects close up are easy to see, but objects in the distance look like they are faded out? That's moisture or other particles in the air that are so thinly spaced that you need to look through a significant depth of air for them to start obscuring your vision. Now, imagine being 60,000 feet up and trying to look down through that or even through some cloud cover. Black-and-white photographs can easily compensate by adjusting the contrast, which is why many aerial photographs today are still in black-and-white.

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