History of Photogrammetry: Four Phases of Photogrammetry (Early History, World War I, Development, Commercial Aerial Photography) (Especially for GATE-Geospatial 2022)

Glide to success with Doorsteptutor material for NSO-Level-2 : get questions, notes, tests, video lectures and more- for all subjects of NSO-Level-2.

Examrace Books on Mapping, GIS, and Remote Sensing prepares you throughly for a wide range of practical applications.

Photogrammetry is, according to Bonneval, the technique that has the aim to study and to provide a precise definition of the shape, the dimensions and the position in the space of an object by using, essentially, measurements taken at a single or at multiple photos. Etymologically, the word “Photogrammetry” refers to the metrics of what is written by using light.

Historical Development of Photogrammetry
  • It is, at its core, the science used by photography to take measurements, and its application is extended to many fields of knowledge. Photogrammetry could be defined as the science that elaborates maps or planes on the basis of photos taken under certain specific determinants.
History of Photogrammetry
  • The most widespread of its possible branches is Aerial Photogrammetry (which, drawing from aerial photos taken under geometrical determinants, allows maps to be created accurately and with agility. For rustic lands, the profitability limit to choose between a photogrammetric project and a GPS one could be of approximately 200 ha.
  • In the case of urban land, the profitability limit would decrease substantially. However, it depends on the scale, accuracy and characteristics of the land in question.

Early History

  • Aerial photography was first practised by the French photographer and balloonist Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, known as “Nadar” , in 1858 over Paris, France. Kite aerial photography was pioneered by British meteorologist E. D. Archibald in 1882. He used an explosive charge on a timer to take photographs from the air.
  • Frenchman Arthur Batut began using kites for photography in 1888 and wrote a book on his methods in 1890. Samuel Franklin Cody developed his advanced ‘Man-lifter War Kite’ and succeeded in interesting the British War Office with its capabilities.

World War I

The use of aerial photography rapidly matured during the war, as reconnaissance aircraft were equipped with cameras to record enemy movements and defences. At the start of the conflict, the usefulness of aerial photography was not fully appreciated.


  • Germany adopted the first aerial camera, a Gorz, in 1913. Frederick Charles Victor Laws started aerial photography experiments in 1912 with No. 1 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps (later No. -1 Squadron RAF) taking photographs from the British dirigible Beta.
  • The Royal Flying Corps recon pilots began to use cameras for recording their observations in 1914 and by the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915, the entire system of German trenches was being photographed. In 1916 the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy made vertical camera axis aerial photos above Italy for map-making. By the end of the war aerial cameras had dramatically increased in size and focal power and were used increasingly frequently as they proved their pivotal military worth; by 1918 both sides were photographing the entire front twice a day and had taken over half a million photos since the beginning of the conflict in January 1918.

Commercial Aerial Photography

  • The first commercial aerial photography company in the UK was Aero films Ltd, founded by World War I veterans Francis Wills and Claude Graham White in 1919.
  • From 1921, Aero films carried out vertical photography for survey and mapping purposes. During the 1930s, the company pioneered the science of photogrammetry (mapping from aerial photographs) , with the Ordnance Survey amongst the company՚s clients.
  • Another successful pioneer of the commercial use of aerial photography was the American Sherman Fairchild who started his own aircraft firm Fairchild Aircraft to develop and build specialized aircraft for high altitude aerial survey missions in World War.
  • In 1939 Sidney Cotton and Flying Officer Maurice Longbottom of the RAF were among the first to propose the use of Spitfires with their armament and radios removed and replaced with extra fuel and cameras. They suggest that airborne reconnaissance may be a Cask better suited to fast, small aircraft which would use their speed and high service ceiling to avoid detection and interception. Although this seems obvious now, with modern reconnaissance tasks performed by fast, high flying aircraft, at the time it was radical thinking.


This led to the development of the Spitfire PR variants. Spitfires proved to be extremely successful in their reconnaissance role and there were many variants built specifically for that purpose. They served initially with what later became No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) . In 1928, the RAF developed an electric heating system for the aerial camera. This allowed reconnaissance aircraft to take pictures from very high altitudes without the camera parts freezing. Based at RAF Medmenham, the collection and interpretation of such photographs became a considerable enterprise.

Four Phases of Photogrammetry

So overall four phases of photogrammetry can be described which are directly related to the on-going advances in technology throughout the years especially with aeroplanes, electronics, computers and software.

  • The first generation was the invention of photography. The commencement of this exciting new invention followed many years of experiments and investigations, which led to the next phase.
  • The second generation was the era of Analog Photogrammetry. In this phase, the analogue rectification and the stereoplotting instruments were invented. Aeroplanes and cameras were now being used for the two World Wars. Within this time frame, Aerial survey techniques were established and continue to be the fundamentals on which the Photogrammetry is based on today. Photogrammetry became a reputable and popular surveying and mapping method.
  • In the 1950s the third generation was born with the invention of the computer. This phase was the Analytical photogrammetry generation. It was in this phase where serious attempts were made on applying adjustment theories to photogrammetric measurements. Block adjustment programs were developed and aerial triangulation was improved greatly. The analytical plotter was also developed in this phase but was only made available in the 1970s.
  • The fourth generation in photogrammetry is the current phase, called digital photogrammetry. In this phase, the transition from analogue to digital began. Photography is transformed into digital data and photogrammetric processes are done by specialized software on computers. Digital cameras are now used, thus the photography is already in digital format and therefore there is no need for scanning. The main reason behind the push to extend analogue and analytical photogrammetry into the digital realm is for the expectations of huge cost savings in producing typical photogrammetric outputs and the new ability for using this digital output as an input into other analysis systems. The implementation of automated data input, compilation and output should lessen the time needed to produce a given quantity of Photogrammetric output, like planimetric and topographic maps which will, in turn, have a direct effect on reducing the costs of that output.

Developed by: