Aerial images and satellite images are two types of photos that are taken from a vantage point above the ground…but that’s about where the similarities end. Though each can offer a wider view than traditional photos taken on land and both can be used for functions like mapping and identifying geographical features, they also have some distinct differences that set them apart.

Simply put, satellite images generally cover a much wider area and therefore have larger scale scientific applications. Aerial images, which are taken at a lower altitude and thus cover a smaller amount of area, are more suited to smaller scale applications like advertising and marketing. The differences become even clearer when you look at how each type of image is created and how they are used.

Aerial Images

As a much older process, aerial photography initially involved the use of traditional cameras that produced images on film. As technology has developed in recent years, aerial photography has become more digitized. Throughout history, aerial photographs have been taken using a number of different platforms, including balloons, kites, airplanes and even pigeons equipped with automatic cameras. In recent years, drones have become the most popular method as they offer more flexibility.

Different types of aerial images can be taken depending on the camera axis, the altitude of the craft and the type of film used. Everything from vertical photos that offer a real time view of a given area of land to more oblique photos that can highlight a particular object or landmark is possible within the realm of aerial photography.

Various techniques can also be employed to geometrically correct aerial photos and allow for more comprehensive mapping, such as that used in GPS systems.  These maps, called “ortho photomaps”, can help to depict an area in real scale, with distances, elevations and other measurements included. This same technique can be applied to aerial video footage, with location and date-time information incorporated.

Since aerial photography relies on the use of pilot controlled aircraft, it is generally taken at much lower altitudes, ranging from a few hundred feet for drones to as much as 30,000 feet for airplanes. Since the photos are taken at lower altitudes, the images produced tend to have more detail. This can have distinct advantages and makes aerial photography more useful for certain purposes including real estate sales, building inspections and advertising.

There are several advantages to aerial photography aside from the amount of detail the images can contain. Because they are taken much closer to the Earth’s surface, the clarity and resolution of aerial images is also much greater, making for higher quality pictures. Also, since it uses readily available resources such as drones and planes, aerial photography is much more affordable for the average customer, making it a perfect choice for marketing materials and other individual uses.

Satellite Images

In contrast, satellite imagery is a much more recent development, having first been implemented by the United States in 1960 as a means of spying on the Soviet Union. Traditional photographs were taken from space during both the Gemini and Apollo missions in the mid to late 60’s as well as the Skylab missions in the 1970’s and the Space Shuttle in the 80’s, but they lacked the technological complexity of images taken by satellites.

Satellite images are exclusively digital and are taken using a series of electronic scanners incorporated in satellites that orbit the Earth. Satellites generally operate at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet, resulting in much wider angle shots with less detail than aerial photos.

Since the early 70’s, satellite imagery has been used for meteorological measurement and storm tracking as these images can provide a large scale view of an entire weather front.  These satellites, called LandSats, collect a wide range of data using sensors that measure wavelengths of electromagnetic energy reflected by Earth.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employs a particular type of satellite sensor called an advanced very high resolution radiometer to collect data in the visible, near-infrared and thermal-infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. This data is collected twice a day to provide up to date images that can be used for drought monitoring, fire fuel assessment and identifying land surface characteristics.

While satellite imagery is, not surprisingly, out of the price range of most average consumers it still has several advantages when compared to aerial photography. Since satellite images are taken from the Earth’s orbit, they are not constrained by weather, which is why images can be taken even during severe storms to allow scientists to track their progress and assess their potential threat level.

Also, as most satellites orbit the Earth regularly, it is much easier to get repeated images from them, allowing for valuable updates for tracking and mapping purposes. With a much wider angle possible, satellite imagery can cover much larger areas than aerial photos and since they are exclusively digital satellite images can be more easily integrated into existing software programs.




Which To Choose?

Now you have a better idea of what these two types of imagery are all about, but where does that leave you?  While satellite imagery has certainly been a major technological advancement and it has some very valuable uses, for the average consumer it is not really a feasible alternative. In most cases, aerial photography offers a more affordable and more effective means of getting your message across with stunning images.

Whether you need to showcase a piece of real estate or a luxury yacht, or you need to get a closer look at your commercial property to locate and identify any potential problems, aerial photography can be a valuable tool. With the use of drones, the possibilities for aerial photography are almost limitless, allowing for a variety of angles and images that can suit almost any need. You can even incorporate video footage coupled with music for a more high-impact approach.

Aerial photography can make a huge difference for your business and JR Resolutions is ready to provide the top quality aerial imagery you need. With our expertise and eye for detail, we can help you get the most out of your business through still and video aerial images that speak volumes.

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