Skip to Main Content

Maps & Aerial Photos

How to read an Aerial Photo

An aerial photo is any photograph taken from the air. Most aerial photographs in the UCSC collection are vertical images (straight down) and nearly all flights include stereo pairs. Each flight includes a flight data sheet that describes:

  • Geographic extent of the flight
  • Altitude of aircraft, scale of the resulting images
  • Format and other important data 
  • Read more: What is an Aerial Photograph?

Types of photos:

  • Black & White - Good contrast and detail. 
  • Color - Sometimes easier to identify familiar objects using the color. Earliest color photos are from 1973.
  • Color-Infrared - Shows landscape features that otherwise aren't very clear. See Understanding Color Infrared (CIR) Aerial Photography 

What is scale?

  • Scale is the ratio between the size of the object in the photo compared to the actual size of the object, indicated by: 1:4200, 1:7200, etc. The smaller the number after the colon, the closer to the ground the picture was taken. 
  • For examples, see UC Santa Barbara's explanation of Aerial Photography Scale 

What can you see?

  • Larger features (e.g. shores, mountains, the larger rivers, etc.)  If the scale is under 1:15,000, possibly roads, parks, individual buildings, etc.
  • Sequences of aerials of the same area 
  • See Introduction to Aerial Photo Interpretation 

What can't you see?

  • Small features if scale is over 1:15,000
  • Buildings and structures that might be obstructed by trees

Using A Stereoscope

Need aerial photos outside our five county area?