Photography from the air had been developed and used to a limited extent before the Great War, but with very few exceptions the work was done from kites, from balloons, and from dirigibles. Aerial photographs of European cities had figured to a small extent in the illustration of guidebooks, and some aerial photographic maps of cities had been made, notably by the Italian dirigible balloon service. Kites had been employed with success to carry cameras for photographing such objects as active volcanoes, whose phenomena could be observed with unique advantage from the air, and whose location was usually far from balloon or dirigible facilities.
As a result of this pre-war work we had achieved some knowledge of real scientific value as to photographic conditions from the air. Notable among these discoveries was the existence of a veil of haze over the landscape when seen from high altitudes, and the consequent need for sensitive emulsions of considerable contrast, and for color-sensitive plates to be used with color filters.
The development of aerial photography would probably however have advanced but little had it depended merely on the balloon or the kite. As camera carriers their limitations are serious. The kite and the captive balloon cannot navigate from place to place in such a way as to permit the rapid or continuous photography of extended areas. The kite suffers because the camera it supports must be manipulated either from the ground or else by some elaborate mechanism, both for pointing and for handling the exposing and plate changing devices. The free balloon is at the mercy of the winds both as to its direction and its speed of travel. The dirigible balloon, as it now exists after its development during the war, is, it is true, not subject to the shortcomings just mentioned. Indeed, in many ways it is perhaps superior to the airplane for photographic purposes, since it affords more space for camera and accessories, and is freer from vibration. It is capable also of much slower motion, and can travel with less danger over forests and inaccessible areas where engine failure would force a plane down to probable disaster. But the smaller types as at present built are not designed to fly so high as the airplane, and the dirigibles, both large and small, are far more expensive in space and maintenance than the plane. Eor this one reason especially they are not likely to be the most used camera carriers of the aerial photographer of the future. Inasmuch as the photographic problems of the plane are more difficult than those of the dirigible and at the same time broader, the subject matter of this book applies with equal force to photographic procedure for dirigibles.