Aerial Photographer

Aerial photographers take pictures of physical features, buildings etc, from aircraft or Drones for news, scientific research, town planning, rural development, cartographic, economic or military purposes. They use various types of photographic and sensory equipment to produce black and white, infra-red, colour and three-dimensional aerial photographs and images for different purposes. They work in aircraft with specialized photographic equipment. 

From an aeroplane or helicopter or using drone technology everything looks small and boxy. From a bird’s eye view, cars look like ants and maize fields like small rectangular patches. Photographing these images to produce clear, accurate records, is the goal of the aerial photographer.

Aerial photographers take a series of precision Global Positioning System (GPS) controlled high and low altitude aerial photographs of homes and subdivisions of properties for estate agents and developers, industrial sites for corporate brochures, altitude and area mapping for surveys, horse and cattle operations for advertising purposes, as well as game for counting purposes in game and nature reserves, amongst other things. Also, during times of natural disaster and war, aerial photographs of places, buildings, landscapes and terrain that cannot be reached with ease on the ground are commonly used to help governments strategise military tactics.

Unlike maps or photographs, which portray physical and cultural landscapes, aerial photography reveals the terrain as it exists. All buildings, bridges, roads and other features in urban and rural areas are depicted at the time the photograph was taken. It shows physical features such as vegetation type and distribution, river widths and courses, shorelines and landslide areas in more detail than a map could ever do. Aerial photography is therefore extremely useful both for specific site evaluation and regional analysis, as well as for historical reasons. It is used by engineers, architects, city and regional planners, geographers, geologists and historians.

Aerial photographs are sent to specialised film laboratories which have the proper equipment necessary for processing and printing such photographs. It is possible for aerial photographers to process their own work, however they must have the right equipment, which is very costly. With recent advances in electronic technology, it is easier now for the aerial photographer to develop and scan their film, using flatbed scanners to produce computer-readable, digital images. After converting the film to a digital image, photographers can edit and electronically send these aerial images, making it easier and faster to shoot, develop, and transmit pictures from remote locations than it was in the past. These images can be stored on compact disks in the same way as music.

Although most aerial photographs are taken to assist in conducting a study or used for government surveys, computers and specialised software enable photographers to manipulate and enhance scanned and digital images to create a particular desired effect. Because aerial photography now involves the use of GPS computer technology, aerial photographers must have hands-on knowledge of this software and other related computer editing software. Employers usually hire aerial photographers with experience, a good eye and technical understanding of photography.

Most aerial photographers make use of helicopters when taking pictures. Due to the wide variety of assignments, photographers’ working hours and environments are extremely varied. Aerial photographers photograph a variety of terrains in different locations. In addition, some photographs are better taken at certain times of the day, such as early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Some photographs may also be taken at night for specific studies.

Personal Requirements

  • great manual dexterity
  • be detail-oriented
  • have a good sense of timing
  • have good eyesight and colour vision
  • have great communication skills and patience
  • enjoy composing and arranging bird’s eye view photographs

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate (matric) meeting diploma requirements for a diploma course
Compulsory Subjects: None
Recommended Subjects: Visual ArtsEGD or Design Studies are required in order to produce a portfolio

In addition, check the admission requirements to see if you qualify for the programme you want to do. 

What to Study

Diploma: The N.Dip. Photography - VUT, CPUT, DUT, TUT, NMMU. The course takes 3 years to complete. At some of these universities of technology, a fourth year of study will culminate in a BTech Photography degree.

Certificate: Some technical colleges and various private colleges, such as the National College of Photography, offer a one-year Diploma in Professional Photography.

Short courses are offered by the Professional Photographers of Southern Africa.

These days, it is important to learn about GPS technology, digital cameras and related computer programs in order to keep abreast of advances in these fields.


  • architectural and construction companies
  • design, surveying and mapping computer software firms
  • photographic studios
  • television stations, newspapers, magazines
  • legal firms
  • aerial photography and survey companies
  • oil and coal companies
  • government and police forces
  • may be self-employed and work strictly on a freelance basis

Further Information

Photographic Society of South Africa
Private Drone Association of South Africa 

Getting Started

  • arrange to speak to aerial photographers about his type of career and ask permission to observe them at work, possibly acting as their assistant, even if unpaid
  • work in a photography shop or film developing laboratory
  • look at Google Earth on Internet
  • practice all types of photography
  • volunteer to help produce high school and university newspapers and get some free experience

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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