Why Aerial Photography

Ever since its inception, aerial photography has contributed greatly to our knowledge of the world around us, finding its application in archaeology, geology, geography and wider landscapes, environmental, rural and urban studies. Recognizing its creative potential, a variety of artists incorporated aerial imagery into their work setting the scene for a century of elevated viewing.

Once aerial photographers started deliberately seeking out, framing and creating patterns, rather than creating work that simply serves documentary purposes, they have broadened the field of aerial photography to aerial art.


Photographers have been taking cameras into the air almost as long as the camera has existed. Early practitioners, such as Nadar, who rose 260 ft. above the Paris suburbs in a balloon in 1858, and James Wallace Black, who photographed Boston from an elevation of 2,000 ft. in 1860, had to apply a chemical solution to their glass plates and then develop the picture in a mobile darkroom in the balloon basket.

Aerial Photo

Thanks to advances in digital imagery and cameras hard-weared into drones, today’s photographers, whether they are covering Typhoon Haiyan, in the Philippines, or trying to sneak in on a secret wedding, they are increasingly moving us into airspace.

Aerial Boston

Drone Photography

Flattening the image, aerial photography reveals variation in pattern and scale on the earth’s surface.

In their aerial photography, these photographers sought to transcend journalistic and documentary goals in order to capture their own version of what Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment”. Expanding our understanding of patterns and their meaning, photographers recognized that the medium offered far greater creative opportunities than the picturesque conventions of representing natural and human landscapes, developing an interest in abstract patterns and in documenting human interactions with the natural world.

Becoming more sophisticated, cheaper and more accessible, drones, along with satellites, have moved from warfare technology towards a constant state of Orwellian nervousness. In this growing debate, regarding surveillance and privacy issues in the midst of ever-advancing technology, the role of the artists seems seminal. Contemporary aerial artists continue to use photography to create images of extraordinary reach and power, deepening our understanding of the world beyond its surface appearance and the way we relate to it.