Cameras and settings for aerial surveys in the geosciences : Optimising image data

O'Connor, James and Smith, Mike J. and James, Michael (2017) Cameras and settings for aerial surveys in the geosciences : Optimising image data. Progress in Physical Geography, 41 (3). pp. 325-344. ISSN 0309-1333

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Aerial image capture has become very common within the geosciences due to the increasing affordability of low-payload (<20 kg) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for consumer markets. Their application to surveying has subsequently led to many studies being undertaken using UAV imagery and derived products as primary data sources. However, image quality and the principles of image capture are seldom given rigorous discussion. In this contribution we firstly revisit the underpinning concepts behind image capture, from which the requirements for acquiring sharp, well-exposed and suitable image data are derived. Secondly, the platform, camera, lens and imaging settings relevant to image quality planning are discussed, with worked examples to guide users through the process of considering the factors required for capturing high-quality imagery for geoscience investigations. Given a target feature size and ground sample distance based on mission objectives, the flight height and velocity should be calculated to ensure motion blur is kept to a minimum. We recommend using a camera with as large a sensor as is permissible for the aerial platform being used (to maximise sensor sensitivity), effective focal lengths of 24–35 mm (to minimise errors due to lens distortion) and optimising ISO (to ensure the shutter speed is fast enough to minimise motion blur). Finally, we give recommendations for the reporting of results by researchers in order to help improve the confidence in, and reusability of, surveys through providing open access imagery where possible, presenting example images and excerpts and detailing appropriate metadata to rigorously describe the image capture process.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Progress in Physical Geography
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The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Progress in Physical Geography, 41 (3), 2017, © SAGE Publications Ltd, 2017 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the Progress in Physical Geography page: on SAGE Journals Online:
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? unmanned aerial vehicledigital imagephotographyremote sensingaerial imagestructure-from-motionclose range photogrammetryunmanned aircraft systemdigital photogrammetrysoil-erosiontopographyphotographyacquisitioncalibrationearth and planetary sciences (misc ??
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Deposited On:
18 Oct 2017 10:24
Last Modified:
13 Apr 2024 00:25