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Other WWI Aviation Airfields, equipment, tactics, training, uniforms and all other WWI aviation topics

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Old 26 October 2010, 05:15 AM   #1
CivvyCivvy
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Aerial Photography

Could any of you Forumites out there, advise on the optimum height that would have been flown for aerial photography and spotting. I realise weather conditions would have an adverse effect on results. Did the camera gain technological advances as the war progressed, thus increasing height to photograph from?
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Old 27 October 2010, 08:09 PM   #2
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Amazon.com: Shooting the Front: Allied Aerial Reconnaissance and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front -- World War I (9781932946048): Terrence J. Finnegan, George A. Joulwan: Books: Reviews, Prices & more

I don't have a lot of time to try and answer the question in depth... but that book is the best answer I can give for your question. this book is absolutely awesome. I pre-ordered it for a hefty sum of money-- and I don't regret it. it's probably one of the most eye-opening books on WWI aviation I've ever read. it also gave me a new-found and abiding respect for the French Air Service in WWI.
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Old 27 October 2010, 09:19 PM   #3
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Could any of you Forumites out there, advise on the optimum height that would have been flown for aerial photography and spotting. I realise weather conditions would have an adverse effect on results. Did the camera gain technological advances as the war progressed, thus increasing height to photograph from?
G'day CivvyCivvy!
From what I have read it appears it varied quite widely, influnced by weather, conditions of Flack, presence of EA, particular Job etc, etc.
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Old 28 October 2010, 04:34 AM   #4
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Thanks

Thanks lads. Blimey, that book looks a bit of an epic. Expensive as well, but looks worth it. I'll try putting it on my Wish List.
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Old 7 November 2010, 07:47 AM   #5
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So, a quick rundown on vertical aerial photographic techniques. I'm a wee bit rusty, but I was involved in aerial survey, photogrammetry and airphoto interp for about 20 years which means that you should take what I write with a grain of salt.

Everything works backwards from the scale of image that you require and what you are trying to see. When the film format is fixed (size), the closer you are, the more detail you have but the less area you cover. For a given focal length in the lens, the higher you fly the more you can 'see' in a single frame. So, the higher you fly the more you can see in a single frame which provides a good overview but you will need to get closer for good detail, counting the troops, seeing camouflaged installations etc.

If you understand that the concept at the time was to have roving, aerial spotters, as opposed to tethered balloons or recon cavalry, you are in a good position to understand the rational behind the hardware and its application.

Most photo taking during the great war was to obtain monoscopic 'snapshots' of a given subject. Analysis was more subjective as in what is at this given location now. Only later in the war did either side clue into sequential cover to determine change in an area to define patterns and predict future behavior. Even then it was considered an unusual application (as was stereoscopic vertical photo) and dropped by both sides. The Brits didn't get back into sequentail coverage analysis until the formation of the PRU in 1940. The Germans never really did during WW2.

Large area coverage (ie photo mosaics) was really only used to update trenchline mapping but this did provide the start of aerial survey used for creating new mapping. As an aside, I am not aware that either side used mechanical shutter triggering devices (intervalometers) during WW1. I understand that it was based on good memory of the last photo while leaning over the side to check your position. I am also unaware of any stereo overlap block coverage programs to provide better analysis capabilities.

Back to altitude. A longer focal length will allow you to get more detail from a higher altitude albeit with less covered area, get the aircraft away from ground fire but with the tradeoff of less detail despite the 'zoom' factor of the long lens. This lack of detail is due to the grain size of the photographic emulsion. Similar to what happens when you over enlarge a digital photo and it pixelates. With continuous tone film the image becomes blurry and less defined.

I recognise that this doesn't give you a specific answer to your question but perhaps a little info for background.

Regards,
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Old 11 November 2010, 04:23 PM   #6
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Could any of you Forumites out there, advise on the optimum height that would have been flown for aerial photography and spotting. I realise weather conditions would have an adverse effect on results. Did the camera gain technological advances as the war progressed, thus increasing height to photograph from?
I do not know much about the technical specifications of the cameras, Sir, but I have read a good many memoirs and reminiscences of reconnaisance fliers. The impression I have gotten from this is that French and English machines photographed from about 6,000 feet during 1915 and 1916, and that during 1917 the usual height rose to about 10,000 feet, though at least initially poorer photographs resulted. Germans photographed from consistently higher altitudes, with photographic missions being carried out at 18,000 feet or higher during 1918.
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Old 17 November 2010, 02:49 PM   #7
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Fantastic replies again. Thanks for all that depth Maxim 08. Maybe the Germans photographed higher because of better lenses Old Man? Thanks again, a lot of food for thought.
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Old 27 November 2010, 02:18 AM   #8
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11 years ago I have checked ca 1000+ photographs of a German FFA in the year 1915. The altitude of the photographs taken was between 500 m and 3900 m (with an increasing average height during this time). The latter height was only possible with the introduction of better aircraft. The altitude seemed to depend on purpose or target of the photographic mission, weather conditions, enemy resistance by Flak or aeroplanes and the development of own lenses and cameras. The German reference work for observation with the camera by Helmut Jäger gives a lot of important information about the German organisation and technology in this field but, sadly, misses to quotate any report of observers doing the job in practice.

Based on the presented technology in this book and on German reports of captured Allied cameras one can assume that the German lenses and cameras were superior (no wonder, Germany was the world´s leader in this field of optical industry). The mentioned German reports did often underline the "low quality" of captured Allied cameras (lenses).

However, the top technology of German observation was the so-called "Reihenbildner". These film devices used nearly 1 million meters of film and photographed an estimated area of ca 7 200 000 km² (an equivalent of 3/4 of Europe) in WW1 - quotated by Jäger.
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Old 28 November 2010, 09:29 AM   #9
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Quote: Germans photographed from consistently higher altitudes, with photographic missions being carried out at 18,000 feet or higher during 1918. End quote
Except when Jimmie McCudden was around.
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Old 28 November 2010, 10:45 AM   #10
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Hi All,

Worth remembering that after Neuve Chapelle in 1915 General Haig said something about how no general had ever before been supplied with such a complete picture of the enemy dispositions before a battle as that supplied by the RFC in photographing the entire battle-front.....sorry, don't have the exact reference readily to hand.

Not sure how much these attachments help as they're a bit blurry. They are from 1918 and they might help give a clearer picture - if you'll excuse the pun.

If anyone else has the same pics but better it would be good to upload them here!

The originals are at the R.A.F. Museum, Hendon.

Cheers

Bob
Attached Images
File Type: jpg BW - Areas Covered Card resized.jpg (50.2 KB, 21 views)
File Type: jpg BW - Overlap Photos Card resized.jpg (49.9 KB, 20 views)
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Able Seaman J McCullagh, born Co. Wicklow, Ireland: my Great Uncle: Killed in action, SS Mavisbrook, 17th May 1918.

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